How Chores Help Kids Build Independence

Girl takes out the trash as part of her chores

Picture this: The sink is full of dirty dishes. Laundry hampers are overflowing. Shoes and backpacks are strewn about. Snack wrappers and half-empty cups clutter the living room. The TV is blaring while your kids are lounging on the sofa. You ask your kids to tidy up, and all you hear is “I’ll do it later.” Or “I don’t want to.” Or even “I did it last time.” If this hits a little too close to home, you’re not alone.

Getting kids involved in household chores can be tough sometimes. It’s more than likely faster and easier to do things around the house ourselves. But when we don’t give kids chores, and just do things ourselves, it takes away opportunities for them to learn real-life skills and build confidence, independence and ultimately resilience (able to handle life’s ups and downs). Learn more about why chores are good for kids, how to assign kids chores and how to navigate resistance to chores.

Helping with household chores can help kids: 

  • Build independence 
  • Establish routines, which creates a sense of comfort and security 
  • Become more responsible 
  • Develop a sense of confidence (or improve their self-esteem) 
  • Learn time management and/or organizational skills 
  • Understand the importance of teamwork 
  • Cope with frustration and delayed gratification  
  • Develop resilience, so they can deal with the realities of life  

  • Start young. Giving kids chores starting at a young age can help them learn family expectations. Many kids like feeling a sense of purpose and responsibility, and teaching them how to help around the house at a young age can have a lasting impact.
  • Explain the purpose of chores. Help kids understand that everyone in the family has a role in maintaining the home, and that everyone is responsible for contributing.
  • Begin small. Regardless of how old a child is, it’s important to start slowly with small, manageable tasks before we build up to something more complicated or time consuming. Try starting by first showing them how to do something. Next, have them help and do it together. Then, let them try it on their own. Allow them to get used to one chore before adding another.
  • Keep chores age appropriate. Give kids chores that they’re capable of completing. If something is too difficult, it can backfire and hurt their confidence, making them less likely to want to do chores in the future.

Try starting with these age-appropriate chores, but keep in mind that you know your child best. Assign chores based on their skills and abilities, as well as your comfort. 

  • Ages 2 and 3: Put their toys away, put their clothes in a hamper, help an older child or adult feed a family pet 
  • Ages 4 and 5: Help set and clear the table before and after meals, make their bed, dust 
  • Ages 6 to 8: Put groceries away, help prepare meals, wipe down counters, sweep floors, load the dishwasher, put away their laundry, feed a family pet 
  • Ages 9 to 12: Vacuum, wash the dishes and load the dishwasher, change their sheets, take out the trash, clean the bathroom, pack their lunch 
  • Age 12 and older: Make a meal, do laundry, do yard work, wash the car, care for a family pet (including feeding and walking them), help with errands 

After determining age-appropriate chores, there are things we can do to help set kids up for success. Here are a few things to try: 

  • Be clear about expectations. Kids can’t read between the lines, so don’t leave anything up for interpretation. Be clear and direct about the expectations. For example, asking a child to clean their room is vague. Be clear about what a clean room means. For example, put away clean clothes in drawers or their closet, place dirty clothes in their hamper, put books on their bookshelf, etc. Some kids may also benefit from having a chore chart or other visual reminder of what chores they are expected to complete and when they’re expected to complete them. 
  • Create routines, and be consistent. If something is inconsistent, it’s hard for kids to understand the expectations, which can cause confusion or frustration. Try to be consistent when it comes to when and how chores are completed. For example, make the bed every morning and put dirty dishes in the dishwasher after meals. 
  • Be a good role model. Kids are more likely to do something if they see us doing the same thing.
  • Try to have fun. It’s normal for kids to dislike doing chores. Many grown-ups feel the same way! But simple things, like playing music, can make cleaning more enjoyable. Get creative by turning chores into games. Make sorting laundry into a basketball game by tossing lights and darks into separate laundry baskets, or set a timer and try to beat the buzzer (complete the chore before the timer goes off).
  • Encourage self-praise by asking kids how they feel when they complete their chores. Do they feel satisfied, accomplished or proud? If giving praise, try to focus on their effort rather than the outcome. For example, instead of saying, “You’re doing a good job!” Try saying, “I notice that you’re working really hard to get that surface cleaned.” 

It’s normal to feel frustrated if our kids aren’t completing chores the way we’d like. Some kids may procrastinate, and others may resist all together. This is normal and to be expected. Instead of getting angry and assuming they’re being difficult, try to get curious to better understand what’s going on. For example, are they unsure of the expectations? Is the chore developmentally inappropriate for them? Are they having trouble focusing long enough to complete the chore? Or is there something else going on entirely? Once it’s clearer what’s getting in the way, figure out how to problem-solve and work through it together.

Learning to complete chores is an ongoing process, so it’s important to have realistic expectations and remember that all kids need time to learn. Keep in mind, the goal is to build a child’s confidence so they can learn to see themselves as capable and independent. Try to be patient as kids are learning, and resist the urge to jump in and take over if it’s not going well. If a child needs help, ask if they’d like suggestions, or offer to do it with them a few more times so they can see how it’s done.