Three year olds should be given household chores, experts say

Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock 

As a single mum, I'm big on giving my kids chores. Even if it wasn't teaching them a single life skill, I figure I could still do with a hand or three around the house.

I have friends that refuse to ask their children to do anything around the home, claiming it would be robbing them of their carefree childhood. And look, I can see their point – what kid wouldn't want to live that glorious existence? – but I'm trying to run a household and hold down a full-time job. There's no way I'm doing everything on my own with three incredibly able humans sharing my lodgings.

My children – aged 13, seven and five – all suck at doing chores, but I see my patience at hastily vacuumed floors and spotty mirrors as an investment in my future. Five years from now, my house will be spotless and I'll be sipping piña coladas by the pool. (The fact that I don't have a pool cannot ruin this fantasy for me.)

If you've been looking for a more solid reason to use your children for home labour, here it is: a US study has confirmed that starting children on chores when they're three or four years old can make a dramatic difference to their behaviour and development.

The Washington Times reported the University of Mississippi research found that routine, responsibility, and rigour of home chores allows children to understand the needs of others, and what it means to have regular commitments. This can lead to better study habits, professional work ethic and reaching of personal goals.

See? It's way bigger than just getting your dishes put away and your laundry folded.

Deb Hopper, Clinical Director and Occupational Therapist at Life Skills 4 Kids says, "There are many advantages to giving your kids chores, including developing self-esteem, creating a sense of belonging and community within a family unit, learning practical life skills, developing problem solving and sorting skills as they learn to organise their environment, teaching the importance of completing a task to a level of competence, and developing a pattern and routine."

She says she understands why some parents might be reluctant to interrupt childhood with jobs.

"Kids' primary occupation is that of play," says Deb. "It is where they learn, problem solve and have fun.

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"However, learning to do chores and being responsible within a rhythm of household routine teaches skills that cannot be learnt through play."

Deb says chores can also teach children that not everything in life is fun, and that sometimes jobs have to be done because there are other rewards, such as a sense of accomplishment, earning money and other delayed gratification.

"Creating the expectation that children need to complete tasks regularly and be responsible is very important," she says. "Adults are (well, should be) the leaders in their home, and children respond to and actually thrive on adults setting good, solid and known boundaries.

"Children who don't have chores or who don't have clear boundaries for tasks often feel more insecure."

If you're looking for ideas for age-appropriate tasks for your children, Deb suggests the following:

3-4 years old

  • Pulling covers up on bed
  • Taking clothes to laundry and putting in (if front loader)
  • Picking up toys and helping to sort; for example,Lego, big blocks, dolls
  • Feeding pet
  • Matching socks
  • Putting plate on sink after dinner
  • Putting away clothes that have been sorted and piled for them

5-7 years old

  • Make bed neatly
  • Set and clear table
  • Carrying small bags of groceries and helping to sort to put away
  • Sorting laundry and putting away in own drawers
  • Making sandwich for lunch
  • Helping to cook dinner
  • Watering plants
  • Turning on washing machine (putting black dots on machine controls can be helpful in knowing what is the normal setting to use

8-12 years old

  • Stacking and emptying dishwasher
  • Taking clothes off the line
  • Cleaning toilet and bath
  • Sweep or vacuum floor
  • Wipe down table or benches
  • Get mail from mail box
  • Wash dishes
  • Take clothes off line and sort (such a help for adults!)
  • Take out rubbish

12–18 years old

All of the above, plus:

  • Clean shower and bath
  • Cook a meal from scratch
  • Wash and vacuum the car
  • Mop floor
  • Supervise younger siblings
  • Mow lawn