My mom grew up as a migrant worker picking fruits and vegetables in the fields of Texas and Michigan as early as 4 years old. She and her family would wake up with the sun and start picking until it was time to go to school. After school, they went back to picking until sundown. My mom did this every day, including winters and summers, until she was old enough to get a waitressing job at a local restaurant to contribute money to her family. Her entire life has been about work and even now, as an accomplished immigration and criminal defense attorney, she still puts in seven day weeks.
This baby bath set from editor-favorite brand Pipette includes tear-free shampoo + wash, nourishing daily lotion, and a hippo toy to make bath time extra fun.
Because of her over-worked childhood, she was jaded about giving me and my brother chores when we were little. She wanted us to focus on schoolwork and extracurricular activities — all of the things she missed out on as a child. As a result, we weren’t expected to do much around the house besides cleaning up after ourselves and keeping our bedrooms tidy.
Looking back, I do wish I had more responsibilities growing up. I truly believe they would have helped me with time management and personal accountability – all things I had to learn the hard way in college. Now, as a mother of two, I know that assigning chores to my children will not give them a dreadful childhood but, in fact, will help them build self-reliance and responsibility.
Donna Volpitta, a parenting expert and co-author of The Resilience Formula: A Guide to Proactive, Not Reactive, Parenting, agrees, telling us that, “Chores are important because they are critical for healthy brain development. When we contribute, our brains release neurochemicals that make us feel good. Think of neurochemicals as text messages to the brain. When kids perform chores or successfully complete a task, they get messages that say, ‘Wow – that felt good” (dopamine), ‘Wow- you are really good at that’ (serotonin), and ‘Boy, you are loved’ (oxytocin).” When kids are not given the opportunity to experience that, she says, we are priming their brains to seek that elsewhere. “I love to say to parents that self-esteem is not a gift you can give,” Volpitta mentions. “It is a neurochemical reaction that you rob your child of when you don’t allow them to struggle.”
Could my struggles with anxiety and depression stem from a lack of chores growing up? There’s no way to really tell, of course. I’m sure there are many things I could unpack from my childhood that are likely contributors, but if assigning chores to my children will assist in the avoidance of anxiety and depression, then let’s get the chore chart out!
But what are age-appropriate chores, and how early can children begin doing them?
Michael Delman, CEO, and Founder of Beyond BookSmart says to “Explain to your children very early on [as early as two] that chores are simply part of being a member of the household. It’s a simple fact that the house won’t run itself, and everyone needs to contribute a fair amount. The reward for all is if everyone can count on each other to do their jobs, then everyone benefits.”
Delman also explains not to expect kids to perfect their chores from the get-go. “As kids get older, don’t assume they will just magically know how to do things like taking out the garbage or loading a dishwasher. These often need to be broken down in pieces and explained and modeled bit by bit so a child really understands what the completed task should look like.” Children gain a sense of pride, ownership, and responsibility when they know they have contributed in a meaningful way, he tells us.
Below is a list of some age-appropriate chores to help inspire you to teach your children self-reliance and responsibility.
- Put dirty clothes in laundry basket
- Put clothes away in drawers
- Put trash in trash can
- Match and fold socks
- Pick up toys
- Stack books on bookshelf
All of the above, plus
- Clean up spills
- Water houseplants
- Make bed
- Feed pets
- Set and clear the table
- Help put groceries away
- Replace toilet paper roll
All of the above, plus
- Fold laundry
- Load and unload dishwasher
- Take out the trash and recycling
- Take trashcan to the curb
- Bring in the mail/newspaper
- Wipe down kitchen and bathroom counters
- Rake leaves and weed
- Change lightbulbs
- Walk dog
All of the above, plus
- Mow lawn
- Babysit younger siblings
- Cook simple meals
- Clean bathroom
- Mop floors
Click the graphic below to download a printable PDF of age-appropriate chores for your family!