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Household chores will change your child's life - here's how!

Alex O'Donoghue

Written by Alex O'Donoghue

7 min read

Kids who help around the house are more likely to become successful adults. Sounds too good to be true? It's not (even if time consuming at first)!

What we know 

One of the most incredible studies on happiness and success is the Harvard Study of Adult Development (also the longest longitudinal study ever run).

The results highlight that children who help out around the home early on learn core skills which lead to later success. The study has made landmark findings about the factors that drive human happiness and one of these is surprising! People who did more chores and housework in childhood are happier later in life. 

And this is corroborated by former Dean of Freshmen at Stanford University and author of How to Raise an Adult, Julie Lythcott-Haims.

In her well-known Ted talk, she says: "If kids aren't doing the dishes, it means someone else is doing that for them. And so they're absolved of not only the work, but of learning that work has to be done and that each one of us must contribute for the betterment of the whole."


Helping out builds confidence 

Helping out and tidying up builds confidence as children start to understand how to do things themselves rather than following nagging instruction.

Although parents often believe their little ones are too young to take on responsibilities, they are doing them a disservice by closing the opportunity for children to show how capable they are - both to themselves, and their parents.

When a child masters a new skill, or manages to do something ‘grown up’, it gives their self-esteem a huge boost. This is particularly pertinent for toddlers, who are individuating and trying to prove their capability. 

Progress over perfection 

Keep expectations realistic when children are very young or chores are new: the goal is establishing the routine and teaching responsibility, to let your little ones learn and feel as though they're helping. 

It's quite time consuming to start - teaching a child to press the washing machine button or put laundry powder in is FAR less efficient than doing it yourself. But, the research shows these same little kids turn into proactive and helpful older children, teenagers and then adults.

In the beginning, they will need your help and as they grow a bit older, they will just need supervision.

How to tidy up with your kids 

Child tidying up their coloured LEGO into a basket

Be specific with your instructions and be consistent.

For example, don't say "tidy up the room" and do this on an ad hoc basis. If you are vague or give children chores that they don't know how to do or what you mean, they will ignore you or become frustrated and disengage.

You will need to specify the task so the child understands, and keep going until you see results. A more specific way of talking to your child is something like: "every day we clean up our mess. Let's put the LEGO in the LEGO box" or "let's put the books on the bookshelf, and the toys in the toy box."

Time tidy up time carefully.

Another very important factor is to use chores as transition times, after relaxing activities. Closing down screen time and getting your child to tidy up won't work. Do this after a bath, after lunch, or after play time. Like adults, kids do not want to be interrupted during fun or watching TV and clean up a room! 

Create a place for everything and label it with words or picture.

Show your child through repetition and explanation where things go. Children between 3-5 years of age love numbers and organising shapes and objects. So, ask your child to put six books away, or take three cars to the LEGO basket.

Make it fun through song.

Clean up songs for kids means fun replaces 'work'. Treat tasks and chores as games and not burdens. Sing with your child, dance, turn tidy up into a race! And don't forget to praise your little one during and after. The popular clean up song is used by thousands of parents successfully, even though for adults it can be a bit trying!

Start with laundry.

On the surface laundry can seem monotonous, and a task that we just want to get done quickly. However, this activity provides plenty of opportunity for you and your child to bond while learning new skills in the process.

Laundry can involve games such as sorting clothes by colour and finding matching socks. Sorting from a young age helps children develop everyday maths skills. 

Bring your kids into the kitchen.

Research shows that children who are invited to join food preparation have better self-efficacy and are more interested in the foods that they help to prepare. This also gives children the curiosity to try new tastes and flavours which has a knock-on effect for good nutrition and healthy habits later on. 

Talk to your child while you’re cooking: identify the names of different vegetables, fruits, or dry ingredients. Let them try new smells and tastes as you go. They will also love to mix, mash, and stir with a plastic bowl and wooden spoon - all excellent for gross and fine motor co-ordination.

If you have younger children, give them non-breakable pots or pans to play with and 'wash' as you finish using them. This helps them not only feel involved but see the connection between an activity followed up with a tidy up. 

How to decide what your child can handle

Two toddlers cleaning a bathroom mirror

How many chores you give your children depends on their age. While children are very young (18 months to 24 months) one chore is enough.

Early years expert Dr Gilboa has recorded a fascinating podcast episode hosted by Parenting Bytes in which she explores how she approached chore division with her four boys. Instead of allocating by chore type, she gave whole responsibility to her sons by age - until each child grew into the next stage. She also advocates starting young (18 months) and not rewarding children with pay.

We've broken down some ideas based on your child's age. However, these are not prescriptive or set in stone. You know your child best, and if he or she is ready to set the table at age five or six, don't think there are developmental issues. Children are unique and special, and grow at their own pace.

Toddlers putting their toys back into their toy box

Ideas for toddlers (18-36 months):

  • Pick up toys and books.
  • Put clothes on clothes hooks.
  • Set placemats on the dinner table.
  • Wipe the table down after dinner with help.
  • Help in the garden by pulling out weeds.
  • Dusting the house.

Ideas for pre-schoolers (3-5 years):

  • Make their own bed.
  • Help with preparing meals, under supervision.
  • Pass wet laundry to parents when hanging out washing 
  • Help with grocery shopping and putting away groceries.
  • Help in the garden by raking dirt (with a mini rake!) or water plants (this can simply be with a cup and a bucket).
  • Help to fold washing.

Raise your child with the expectation that we always clean up our own mess. It might take much longer to get little children involved and helping in the beginning. However, as they grow older, you will save hours of work for yourself, and see your children become responsible, self-sufficient young adults.

Happy toddler laying on green grass during the summer

Keen for more ideas and helpful games?!

We’re super excited to have launched our new IOS parenting app - it’s ready for you to download! The EasyPeasy App is full of  ideas to help you in meltdown moments or hacks to bring the play back to brushing teeth, getting dressed and more.

Download now!