Responsibility is a good thing. It’s easy for parents, who’ve got more than enough, to forget this, but it’s fundamentally empowering for a young kid to have prescribed way to contribute to the wellbeing of their family or community. Giving children chores is good for kids because it allows that to be proactive and to learn what it means to take responsibility. It’s good for parents because it gives them an appreciation of the work that goes into keeping a family happy and healthy. What it doesn’t do is contribute meaningfully to houses labor because, on their own, kids are absolutely terrible at doing chores. That changes over time if kids want to do right by their families. The important thing is to instill the urge to help at an early age–earlier than you’d think.
READ MORE: The Fatherly Guide to Chores
Here’s what researchers, scientists, and experts recommend on giving children chores.
Chores for Kids Rule #1: Start Early With Low Expectations
- Assign chores to your kids by the time they’re in preschool. Research says kids who have chores well before their teenage years are more likely to receive better grades, have a stronger career trajectory, higher IQ, and stronger relationships.
- Chores help when parents take a proactive approach early and break a sweat (also, when parents don’t expect measurable success).
- Play isn’t the opposite of work. The two are, as anyone who has ever hung out near a water cooler or startup ping-pong table can tell you, entwined. There’s no harm in making chores fun.
Chores for Kids Rule #2: Get Them Outside (If You Can)
- Because it is relatively high energy and relatively low stakes, yard work is a great way to get little kids working.
- Kid-sized watering cans with small holes allow kids to give a drink to outdoor plants, flowers and vegetables, though parents should expect their kid to get wet, so appropriate yard-work attire is recommended. By 5 or 6 years old they can start using the hose.
- Kids will enjoy collecting yard debris that could affect lawn mowing by putting seed pods, sticks or rocks in a bucket and moving them to a dump pile. They can use the spade and bucket to help move mulch. They can move dirt to flower and garden beds and help plant by using the trowel.
Chores for Kids Rule #2: It’s Not About Money
- Praise your child genuinely when they’ve earned it and specifically recognize their acts of kindness, respect, and consideration by name. Beware of them asking, “Did I do a good job?” That’s a sign of praise expectation. Don’t encourage that behavior.
- There’s nothing wrong with negotiating over the price of a bigger job if you want to give a child a monetary incentive. It feels weird to negotiate with kids, but it helps them understand the value of labor and gives them a sense of worth.
- If you want to give kids an allowance, make sure it is earned and that there are expectations on how the money should be used. Studies indicate parents who guide their children on their spending will steer them away from entitlement as they get older.