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How Old is Old Enough?
I've been having a debate with several mothers lately on the age that it's appropriate to expect children to do different chores. Some think I'm too hard on my kids, but I don't think so.

Read Little House on the Prairie and see what Laura was expected to do when she was really young! Our kids have it easy. All over the world little children have tremendous responsibility at a very young age. I'm not saying that I advocate child labour; only this idea that kids aren't able to do tasks young is an entirely North American phenomenon.

They're not able because we've never taught them and we haven't raised them in an environment where they would expect to have to work. They think life is about being entertained.

I just can't understand 13 and 14-year-olds who go off to summer camp for a few weeks, for instance, who don't pack their own suitcases. Why is mom packing for them at that age? And what about a 10-year-old who doesn't know where to start when it comes to cleaning their room?

So I'm going to suggest a few ages for things, and I'd love comments on what you think. This is a rough guide; I may revise it later. But here is what I think is reasonable to expect from children (which means that you have to teach it to them at that age, of course):

Age 4: Put toys away. Dust a coffee table. Clean the outside of the stove and the bottom of the fridge. Get dressed by yourself.

Age 5: Brush teeth by yourself (especially with an egg timer there). Start putting dishes in the dishwasher. Choose your own clothes (not for boys, though. I don't think they ever get that color-coordinated thing).

Age 6: Make your own bed.

Age 7: Dry dishes. Put your own laundry away after Mom folds it.

Age 8: Clean room by yourself. Tidy anywhere in the house. Clean a bathroom. Wash dishes while standing on a stool (no pots). Pack for yourself if you're going away.

Age 9: Wash dishes. Fold laundry. Make cookies by yourself, and cake from a mix.

Age 10: Put a load of clothes in the washing machine. Mop a floor.

Age 11: Vacuum. Make three different meals (spaghetti, chicken pie, ham, for instance). Supervise younger siblings by yourself.

Age 12: Baby-sit. Sort out the organization of your own room, or a linen closet, or a front hall.

Age 13: Be pretty much self-reliant. Need Mom more for advice about any household task, but already know how to do them all. Start to become independent by using a clothing allowance.

Age 14: Start to buy your own toiletries, with allowance if parents prefer. You're responsible for your shampoo, deodorant, toothpaste, etc. Allowances can be given on monthly basis for this.

I think that's it. What do you think? That's what I'm aiming for, because I believe that what we want to do is raise children who will be capable of being independent at 18. That doesn't mean we don't help or give advice when needed, but we need to raise kids who are capable of looking after themselves. And they can't learn everything starting at 16!

If we do all of these things for them, then they also grow up thinking that it is the mother's job to look after them, and they can't be expected to do any work. If that's what they think, they're likely to become lazy adults, or selfish adults, who don't realize when they are putting other people out. We all know people like that; people who take advantage of your hospitality, or who expect you to bail them out of a jam, because they don't realize how much work is involved. Or maybe they just think they deserve it, because someone has always done everything for them.

Being a Christian mom does not mean that we do everything for the family. It means we work hard to work ourselves out of a job. I know not every family would be able to work towards that timeline. Learning disabilities, or maturity levels, would also play a part. Some children will be ready for things before others. I just encourage you to think about what you want your children to be able to do, so that they do become teenagers who are motivated and helpful.

So please comment: is this list fair? Have I left anything out? Am I too easy on the kids? Too hard? I'd love to know!

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At 9:17 AM , Blogger Mom of TWO Princesses said…

I just posted, on my own blog, about allowances. Some might consider my kids way to young to get an allowance, but I, honestly don't think it's ever to young to teach the value of money.

I think your list is a great one. Many of the things listed, are things that I have my 2 yr old & 6 yr old doing now. So if people think YOU'RE to hard on your kids... they'll think worse of me, lol.

My girls are responsible for cleaning their room & the living room (their stuff only). They also have to feed the dog & cat. They both brush their teeth on their own, but I do supervise the 2 yr old. My 6 yr old has to make her bed, she also helps with the dishes (only plastic cups, bowls & plates.) She also helps fold her clothes & put them away on laundry day.

I had a friend in highschool that didn't know how to use a washing machine & was very quickly forced to do so when she went into Army bootcamp! I don't want that for my kids. I know I was dusting, vacuuming, doing dishes & laundry at a very young age.


At 10:25 AM , Blogger Barb, sfo said…

I don't think that's too hard. I have been working on a rotating chore schedule this summer so that my 3 children (ages 16, 12 and 6) get a taste of all age-appropriate (and ability-appropriate) tasks. Everyone gets a night to help in the kitchen, but only the older 2 actually cook--and the 12-year-old needs supervision to do that.
It is VERY HARD FOR ME to let go of my need to be in control, especially of what happens in My Kitchen, but in terms of housework as a whole, because for so long that has been my domain. But I do need to teach my children all the skills they will need to survive on their own, so that when they grow up I will be a reference for the occasional recipe and hint for weird-stain removal, but not the fallback person for every little thing.


At 11:15 AM , Blogger pedalpower said…

It's a great list, and if I had it to do over I'd have my kids doing a lot more. I know I didn't have my kids doing enough and when they reached teen years we were trying to play catch up.

Why? Partly because I'm a control freak and like things done my way (I'm getting over that one) and partly because I fell for the idea that since I was a stay at home mom I should be able to do it all, all the time. If you are a young mom, don't let anyone tell you that you shouldn't need help....the kids (and sometimes the dad!) need to learn too, and there more than enough work to go around.


At 12:09 PM , Blogger Christian said…

Growing up my sister and I weren't taught to do stuff like that! So learning to cook and clean and be a mom has been a long road for me, and I don't want that for my daughters, or sons. There is a great book from Growing Kids, it is called "What Every Child Needs to Know." I am constantly amazed by how much I underestimate my kids and what they can learn/do for themselves. Sometimes, selfishly, I want to keep them little and babyish, just to enjoy it longer, but really that isn't good for them or for our family. Great post!


At 12:53 PM , Blogger Katrina said…

I think it's a great list! I was doing chores pretty young, and started doing my own laundry at 12. I think nowadays so many parents are just too lazy to teach their kids skills that they need to be independent.
I will definitely be starting my kids young. They need to learn responsibility and hard work early, or they will turn into lazy adults. =)


At 2:45 PM , Blogger Tiffany said…

I wrote a super long comment then it was lost when my connection failed.

I guess it is better saved for a day when I can write my own post about it.

Suffice it to say, in our house, each job you listed would be about 2 years earlier. Teaching kids how to earn things, including summer camp and designer shorts, gives them a sense of a job well done. Fun is more fun when it is earned and deserved. And don't save the fun jobs for them. Make them pick strawberries for a day, or even a couple hours, in the hot sun. Scoop horse stalls, clean dog poop, weed a garden that is full of weeds.

Teach them to do hard things.And do them yourself.



At 3:14 PM , Anonymous Heather said…

That list doesn't seem to hard at all. I had my husband look at it as well and we both agreed that it seemed pretty reasonable.

We have a 3 1/2 year old and a 1 1/2 year old who are already learning to help out around the house.

Alex our older child clears his place and if the dishwasher is empty put his plate and flatware in the dishwasher. After dinner he helps my husband to clear the table. We just started this in the last month, but he loves working with his daddy. He is also learning to dress himself. We can't give him his clothes and leave the room yet, but he is getting better everyday. He can brush his teeth with supervision and take his own shower, also with a little supervision. He picks up his own toys. He puts his clothes in the hamper and loves to help by putting diapers in the diaper pail for me.

Our younger daughter has also started to help out. She has started to take her plate to the sink after meals (with help from mom or dad of course) She is starting to put toys away. After her bath she puts her bath toys away all by herself. She puts her clothes in the hamper and diapers in the diaper pail.

I have a lot of people tell me that I expect too much out of such a young child, but she wants to help, probably because she sees her big brother helping and she loves to do whatever he does. I figure if she wants to help I might as well work with it and get her used to helpings so that it is second nature when she is older.



At 4:07 PM , Blogger Mandie said…

I agree with you completely!!! Our youth expects way too much and is failing to take care of themselves. I know more and more grandparents that are taking care of their grandkids. That is rediculous! I think that parents have good intentions. But don't realize that they are actually holding them back. It is refreshing to know that others expect things out of their children as well.


At 6:53 AM , Blogger Terry said…

My youngest is almost 2, and she HELPS me pick up her toys. I fshe can pull them put, she can pick them up, in my opinion. Am I a child abuser? LOL!

Great post.


At 9:36 AM , Anonymous Jennifer said…

This is a great list. I think we're already seeing the results of parents who didn't teach their kids to be responsible for themselves and make them do chores.

My 5-1/2 and 3-1/2 year olds are very excited to help me around the house. They'd love to do more, but I've pretty much given them all the non-chemical involved chores I can.

They both clear their places from the dinner table, and then they work together to get the kitchen picked up: the 3 yr old wipes down the table and chairs, the 5 yr old vacuums the kitchen floor; the 3 yr old mops, the 5 yr old puts away clean utensils (not sharp ones), the 3 yr old puts away the clean kid dishes, the 5 yr old takes out the trash.

They are also repsonsible for making their beds (on which I must accept the fact that the beds aren't perfect, but they're "made"), tidying up their room and the play room, getting dressed, putting way the clean and folded clothes, and pulling the big trash cans out to the curb on trash days and retrieving the empty cans later.

I also often have them pick up baby sister's toys and clean clothes, feed her cereal, play with her, and bring her wipes and diapers to me if needed. They love to be my big helpers with her.

I figure it is our job as parents, not to do everything for our children, but to teach them how to do for themselves and be responsible, productive, compassionate members of society. If we fail in our job as parents, then society will fall apart.


At 9:26 AM , Anonymous Latayne C Scott said…

I'll tell you what worked for me and made our household a welcoming, sane place:

When my children were age 3 and 4 (girl and boy), I bought inexpensive dishes (heavy plastic at first) for everyday use. i put them in lower cabinets. Every night after dinner one child would wipe the table and then set it for the next night's meal -- napkins, silverware, glasses, everything. The other child would empty/load the dishwasher. Later, one would take out the trash and the other would empty the cat box. (They would switch these tasks the following week.) That way, when I got ready to serve dinner the next night, the table was set and looked pretty all day and the dishwasher was ready to go. Just setting the kitchen up at children's level for their tasks made my life so much easier.

--Latayne C Scott


At 8:07 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said…

I don't think you are too hard on your kids at all. My 4 & 5-year-old girls do all the things on your list from the 9 year & younger lists except the cooking. They assist me with cooking & baking but I do all the hot parts. My 2-year-old son is able to clean up the toys. There is no reason that any child cannot do these tasks if they are given proper instruction. However, we do need to allow them to do the chores to their abilities and not expect them to do it exactly the way that we would. If we praise them for their efforts, they will enjoy the responsibility and sense of accomplishment. Helping around the house allows them to feel like a contributing member of the family.


At 11:37 PM , Blogger Writer said…

I have two children, one is three and one is five. They both fold their laundry and put it away. They both empty the dishwasher and put the dishes in the dishwasher. They both do the hand dishes and clear the table. And just like the Mom of TWO Princesses they get an allowance. They both like to clean the house and spent a great deal of today dusting. I feel that children need to start young doing chores, because then they think it is fun. I know older children who never had to do chores and now they don't want to do anything. I think it is great when parents include chores with growing up.


At 6:56 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said…

Great stuff. I'm trying to get more organized and get my three "angels" on board and teach them how to work. They do some jobs but not on any schedule (yet).

Do you have any posts with more thoughts regarding allowances? I am having to teach myself about budgeting and want to give them some teaching too.

Thanks for your ministry!!
annaed2 AT yahoo DOT ca


At 1:46 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said…

Sounds like my house. Some think we are too hard on our children, while others think we aren't hard enough. It's really a matter of personal preference and what the chlid is capable of doing. I do think that not enough parents are teaching children these things at all. I've met adults who couldn't do laundry, wash dishes, or even balance a checkbook. My 5 year old can wash dishes by hand, dry them, and put them away. She cooks (supervised & assisted)too. Both my children know how to do laundry. My oldest is only 8. The only thing they haven't learned is using the vacuum. In our home we all pitch in too keep things going smoothly.


At 9:16 PM , Blogger Jenn @ Beautiful Calling said…

My two year old doesn't really have any assigned chores but she helps rinse the plastic dishes when I wash, she helps carry laundry to the wash, she puts her own socks, tights, undershirts and PJ's away (though not as neatly as I would lol). She also sets the table.

Whatever I am doing, if she is interested (and she usually is), she helps along. In this post is a link to our chore chart which works quite well for us!


At 11:26 PM , Blogger Dottie said…

I have 9 children, the oldest being 21yrs and the youngest 1 yr. The 1 yr old is learning to get his diapers for a diaper change. He is learning to wipe his face and furniture surfaces with baby wipes.
My goal has been that the children be able to completely care for themselves and the home by the time they are 12.
Through the years parents have complained and criticized me for this. BUT, when their children reached about the age of 13 and 14, they would have called ME to ask if my children (of the same age) would come over and "help"aka babysit, their children of the same age!!! They felt their children would not be able to work the microwave, remember to look after the younger siblings, argue with one another, or as one mother said, "They don't seem to have the same amount of common sense as your children do!"
I don't think it was lack of common sense so much as training.
So, keep up the good work!

Dottie ONeil


At 1:39 PM , Blogger Kristen said…

I don't have kids, so take this with a grain of salt, but I think activities like folding socks and putting away magazines/books can be activities for even younger kids. Setting the table, for instance. Our friends' 2 year old son helps set the table all the time -- "Put this napkin at Mommy's place." "Put this cup at Daddy's place." They might not be independent, but to them, it becomes a game!


At 10:54 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said…

Hi, I would just like to say how wonderful I think your website is. Your ideas and charts, etc are very interesting. I have one issue on your ideas for things kids should be doing at certain ages. I have a 19 year old girl who is independent and at University. I have a 16 year old girl who is at College and living at home with us who is also indpendent in looking after herself and chores. We also have an 11 year old boy who is getting there! He does a lot of things for his age but has to be reminded most of the time! We are working on that with more specific charts for him.

The only one thing I disagree with is babysitting! I do not believe anyone should be allowed to babysit until at least 18-20 years old. I do not believe such a responsibility should be put on anyone so young. If anything was to happen I feel that the burden on that child so young would be too traumatic. I have concerns about you stating that at 11 a child could babysit.

Sorry but that is my personal opinion.

Thanks again
Lisa from the UK


At 12:58 PM , Blogger Joy said…

Children can be taught to clean up after themselves even younger! My daughter is 17 months old and already capable of putting away her toys with a little help and guidance. I don't mean that as bragging, I'm just saying it's completely possible to train children to help you, not to mention that it's a lot more fun for everybody when the kids feel involved in the process instead of me just expecting them to entertain themselves while I work around the house. I love having my girl pull up a chair next to me while I work at some task. She wants to be a helper and I love it!

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Name: Sheila

Home: Belleville, Ontario, Canada

About Me: I'm a Christian author of a bunch of books, and a frequent speaker to women's groups and marriage conferences. Best of all, I love homeschooling my daughters, Rebecca and Katie. And I love to knit. Preferably simultaneously.

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