Chores ‘r’ Us: How to Teach Your Children to Do Household Chores

Let me start by being a Filipino.  It is common practice for Filipino families to hire a helper at home.  The helper cooks, cleans, washes dishes, washes laundry, etc.  The adults (parents and extended family), usually, chip in, here and there, when they feel like it or if they really like doing the chore. 

I, myself, grew up in this environment.  We have household help, who is also my yaya (nanny) and we, all, called her Ate Leng.  She did everything except for cooking since that is my mom’s forte.  We had a few simple chores of our own until Ate Leng had to leave.  I was 9 years old, then.  All of a sudden, I was assigned to clean the house and wash the laundry with help from my mom.  On my own, I had to sort and fold our clothes, set the table, heat our food, and cook rice.  Alternately with my kuya (older brother), I had to wash the dishes, water the plants, and the list went on!  Sometimes, I cried while washing the dishes… I hated it during that time!

Now, I am singing a different tune.

I am, now, obliging my son to do the very same thing I hated back then.  My son is also 9 years old today and he has been our Designated Dishwasher since summer started in March.  He also sets and clears the table before and after eating.  He can make juice, cook instant noodles and fry crackers and egg.  He makes his bed, and sometimes, our bed if he slept in with us.  And he says he hates every bit of it! Since he is an only child, he usually asks why it is always him. But, if you ask me, I think he is a little behind in the chore charts, considering his age.  

Please do not judge me and my mom-ways.  It just so happened that I am also an OT.  And despite being both, I am just like you, a parent, who wants the best for their kids.

Why are chores important for the kids?

children, school, laughing

Let me give you my 5 best personal and professional reasons:

  1. Regularly doing chores gives them a sense of responsibility.
  2. It makes them feel that they belong and that they contribute to the family
  3. It, therefore, teaches them team work
  4. While completing the chores, they learn to be patient, persistent and persevering.  After completion, they see the value of hard work and this gives them a sense of accomplishment.
  5. It is an important life skill and it is never too early to learn.

Since this post is not about the Whys, I will not expound on the above reasons.  Read more about them here.  This is another mom’s perspective on this topic.

Teaching household chores to kids, how to get started?

As they say, start them young.  Start them simple. 

Did you know that it is easier to teach younger kids than older ones? For younger kids, you just have to build a routine and the rest follows.  For children 2 to 4 years old, the very first chore we can have them do is packing things away.  

  • After playing, let them put their toys back in their boxes. 
  • Before bathing, guide them to put their soiled clothes in the hamper.
  • After eating a banana, or a candy, let them throw the wrapper in the trash bin.  They can also do this with their soiled diaper after changing.
  • It is also easy to train them to put their milk bottles or sippy cups in the sink after finishing their milk.

The image below is what I use as a guide.  Not a bible, but a guide to know which chores are appropriate for your child’s age. 

Credits to and for this image

Now, some of you may feel that it’s too late if you haven’t started early with your children.  But, no worries!  You can start anytime, just as long as they are still living under your roof. *wink* *wink*

After looking at the checklist, I bet, you are planning on starting to train your child to do them all so you can start ticking the boxes.  Wait!

You must observe and follow your child’s lead.  Put him in his area of interest first.

baby, happy, birthday

After requiring your older children to learn how to clean after themselves (toys, clothes, wrappers), this is the next best step.  Tick the boxes of the chores that you have seen your child do.  It means he can do it, but does not, since he is not required to, at least not yet.  On this list, try to identify the one that he is most interested in.

  • Does he like playing with water?  Have him water the plant or help in washing the dishes.
  • Is she artsy, loves origami?  Does she love clothes, buying and trying them on? Assign her in folding her clothes and organizing them in the closet.
  • A pet lover? Train him to feed and bathe your dogs.
  • Or a food lover? Have her help in meal preparation and baking.

I tell you now that doing this will make life easier for you and your child.

Aiming to train my son to do household chores, I had my share of trial-and-error stints.  When my son began to choose what he’ll wear (only when he was 6), I tried to train him to fold his clothes and organize them in his closet.  The first week with assistance was good.  The second week with less assistance was fair.  When I let him do it on his own, we ended up with a rubble of clothes in his closet.  No matter how we kept on trying, I always ended up re-folding and re-organizing his clothes in the cabinet.  So we decided to skip it and move on to another chore.

Don’t expect too much. Lower your expectation at the start.

water, play, kids

If you are a perfectionist, try to loosen up for a bit while you are still training your child.  It would not help if your child gets scolded after trying to help around the house. You may offer praises and then, matter-of-factly, give feedback for the work he has done.  On his next try, gently remind him what must be done to avoid committing the error he has done the last time.

My son has started washing the dishes on weekends when he turned 8.  When he was starting, the sink area, extending to 2 meters are filled with puddles of water. The bottle of diluted dishwashing soap is also almost always empty after he finishes washing.  Nonetheless, I thanked him each time for helping me and I told him to try to save water and soap the next time.  This quarantine, he has gone from making still-oily to squeaky-clean plates in two months of consistently washing after our every meal.  And since he is used to it, the whining has also stopped.

Be consistent in schedule and amount of work.

bicycle, relationship, parrent

As with my son, his quality of work, as well as, his behavior towards the job, improved after consistently doing the task.   Of course, I also tried to be consistent with regards to my feedback to him.  Initially, I just thanked him.  Later on, I was praising him for the dry floor, for the clean and shiny plates and for no longer whining.  He has also leveled up.  When I did not require him to wash the pots and pans at the start, today he includes them in his washing and even knows how to use the steel sponge to remove stubborn grime.

Chain, fade and ease your child into the job.

You don’t just tell your child to clean his bedroom.  We know that it is a complex and multistep task:  make the bed, organize books on the shelf, put clothes away properly, sweep the floor, dust the surfaces, etc. What we ought to do is to break down the task into smaller chunks and let our child do these first until he can do everything in one go.  This is called chaining.  See, while your child is learning patience, you also do.  I promise, that by giving him little by little, he will tend to learn more.

You know how while you’re training your child to do something, you naturally provide a lot of help at the start?  And then, you slowly lessen the help that you give when he gets better at it?  This is prompt fading.  Prompts and cues are behavior modification techniques we use when we assist our children.  Giving and fading these is what makes it so useful when we try to teach our child to do something he is unfamiliar with.

Give rewards or consequences.

child, dog, pet

A reward as simple as a praise is definitely appreciated by children, especially younger ones.  When they get old, though, they might start to seek for compensation for the job they do around the house.  If you want to incorporate chores with teaching your child financial management, then this is a good way to do it.  If, however, you choose not to monetize it, then you can use tokens that they can collect for a gift or an activity that they desire.  Treat it as if you’re a partner at Starbucks and your child is collecting stickers for a planner.

My son has no compensation for his chores, but I plan to develop a token system one of these days, when he learns how to clean his room.  What he has, right now, are consequences if he does not do his work properly.  He gets time away from screens if he forgets to set the table or if he does not return his things to their proper places.

Lastly, be your child’s model.

If we both agree that teaching our children to do household chores is good for them, then we have to prove it to them by doing it ourselves.  Even if we have help at home, take up a chore that you love doing and show your child how you want it done. 

love, dad, silhouette

For some of us who chose not to hire help, let us remember that we don’t just train our children for personal gains.  Sure we get to sit when they are the ones doing our job but this is something bigger than our rest.  It is preventing ourselves from doing all the job at home so our children learns to contribute to the smallest unit of society, our family. 

This, I believe, is an important aspect of parenting. It is bringing up responsible and hardworking individuals who can take care of themselves when they grow up.

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