You can’t exactly expect your baby to start pitching in with the dishes and mowing the lawn until she’s a lot older, but when exactly can you start asking her to do little chores around the house? Is it best to assign responsibility to teach her life lessons, or should you let her enjoy being a child while she can?
Being a kid is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and you probably don’t want all of your baby’s childhood memories to be of sweeping the floor. Some parents steer clear of chores early in their children’s lives because they don’t want to put pressure on them too early. They don’t give out little jobs around the house because they think their child’s full-time job is being a child, running around outside, and trying new things. Some parents also don’t like framing things such as putting away toys or clearing the table as chores - they’re just good manners.
However, assigning responsibility is a great way to teach children about independence, dependability, and expectations. Plus, kids and adults alike love a good compliment, and chores allow parents to give concrete praise for a job well done. The U.S. Department of Education says it’s important that children learn that being a part of a family means they need to accept responsibility. It’s up to each parent to decide what that means, but chores are one way to teach children about commitments. As they get older, they’ll hopefully be able and willing to take on more responsibilities and understand the consequences if they can’t keep a promise.
So, what kinds of responsibilities should you give a toddler? Some parents like to give children chores that hold them accountable for their own actions, such as cleaning up after themselves at dinner or straightening up their bedrooms. At around 2 years old, you might want to start introducing chores as if they’re games. If you have a play area, you can divide the area into two and see who can finish cleaning up their section first. You can also give your baby a couple plates to dry while you’re doing the dishes, or you can have her folding washcloths and towels as you do laundry. The important thing here is to demonstrate how to finish a task and make sure it’s done well - the actual task doesn’t matter too much.
At 3 or 4, it’s probably best to stick with simple chores like watering plants and feeding the family pet. Once children are around 5, they can probably handle more complicated tasks like putting away dishes or folding some easy laundry (no fitted sheets just yet). By 7 or, they can take out the garbage and bring in the mail; at around 11 they can do the dishes and do laundry; and once they’re teenagers, they can start babysitting and mowing the lawn.
At the end of the day, you’ll be able to figure out what works best for your family by trying out a variety of things and seeing what you like. What kinds of responsibilities your child has at what age is totally up to you, and every family is different.