Kids and chores: If they can walk, they can do chores

Parents, can we talk about that word that makes children run screaming?


There, I said it.

I’m often called a “tough mom,” and I am.

One of my parenting philosophies is, “If they can walk, they can do chores.”

Young kids can help load the washing machine. Credit: Getty Images

I will never forget my mother’s reaction when she was at my house and heard me tell my oldest it was time to do his chore.

He hadn’t turned 1 yet. It was time for lunch then nap.

Her jaw dropped and the next thing I heard was, “Oh, he is too young to start doing chores!” You have to imagine this in her very Puerto Rican sass.

Just one chore

Teach toddlers to put away their toys. Credit: Getty Images

My son’s chore? Pick up his toys and put them back in the toy box.

I wasn’t asking him to follow through with my very meticulous sorting and organizing scheme. I just wanted him to pick up his own mess.

But even at nearly 1, he wobbled around the living room and picked up each toy, one by one, and put them in the toy boxes.

I, of course, gave him much praise for this and served him his lunch.

My dearest mother was flabbergasted.

Make chores a routine

Kids can help keep the house tidy. Credit: Getty Images

It’s never too early to start children on chores, as long as they’re age-appropriate. Eileen Kennedy-Moore, a child development expert, said chores are more like habits that become routines.

Today, if I tell my kids it’s almost dinner time or we are leaving the house soon, they start to clean up, with minimal fuss, usually.

The fuss we get isn’t in the habit of cleaning up their toys, it’s that they don’t want to stop playing.

Giving dad a helping hand. Credit: Getty Images

And honestly, with three young boys at home, I don’t have time for that. I’m sure you don’t either.

We didn’t stop at teaching them to pick up their toys. Little by little, we introduced more age-appropriate chores, like helping me with rotating the laundry. I pull it out of the washer and place it on the opened dryer lid, they push it in. Simple. Easy. Fun.

Chores is a learning process, and it should be fun, Kennedy-Moore said.

“Working alongside you not only helps children develop skills, it also makes chores seem more tolerable.”

Kids are ‘valuable contributors’

Children help parents with dishes. Credit: Getty Images

Family counselor and author Alyson Schafer urges parents to view chores as a team effort instead of unskilled, free labor.

“What if, instead, you saw your children as being valuable contributors who have strengths, talents, and skills that could be used to help the family?”

It makes them feel a sense of deeper belonging and feel respected, she said.

I certainly don’t like staring at the stack of dishes every night. But they have to get done. So we have a rotating schedule where each child gets to help. For each boy, we work on a different skill, but more importantly, it’s fun and we are bonding. We are a team.

Learning personal accountability

Mother and daughter washing dishes. Credit: Getty Images

Renowned child development pediatrician T. Berry Brazelton said children should be started on chores by age 2. It gives children personalized accountability. Even a 2-year-old is capable of clearing their plates from the table, he said.

The key is starting them young and giving them praises rather than rewards. But clear consequences are needed if they refuse to help the family team.

Ultimately, Brazelton said, chores are habits that should be fun. Using songs and dances like “The Cleanup Song,” along with good role modeling, teach kids what personal accountability is.

No arguments here, and hey, “The Cleanup Song” is very effective in my house.

Watch: Add a baby to laundry day and get instant cuteness!

Like All the Moms?

Follow us on Facebook.


The truth about managing messy kids, in 6 steps

Dad’s response to wife not keeping a cleaner house is THE best ever

Stop taking recess away, experts say it’s harmful for learning

Best wines to pair with your kids’ snacks, from Goldfish to Cheerios