When are kids old enough to do household chores?

chores - messy room

No idea of money or wastage

My five-year-old, like most five-year-olds, has no concept of money – where it comes from, how hard you have to work to get it, why you shouldn’t waste it, what things cost, and so on. She prefers coins to notes, because they feel more like money. And as a result, she requests ‘a teensy weensy present’ whenever we go shopping and doesn’t fret if something breaks or gets lost, because ‘we can just get another one’.

But I’ve seen what this attitude becomes in adult form, and it isn’t pretty.

As such, my littlie is now expected to earn monthly moolla, so she can learn about saving, delayed gratification and how you have to put in effort to get nice stuff.

Chores for my five year old

To structure this, she’s been given chores: making her bed each morning, feeding three of our four cats once a day and taking her plate or bowl to the sink after finishing a meal. For these activities, she receives a princely sum of R20 a week. Which has to be saved up over several weeks if she’s to buy anything good. Cos not even a ‘teensy weensy’ Tinkerbell figurine costs less than R20 these days.

chores - boy washing up

How to achieve compliance

I’ve had a lot of moms ask me how we ‘get’ her to comply. Here are some tips, not all of which are mine, and which reflect a diversity of views and approaches:

1. Cash remuneration for a weekly ‘full house’
This works for us so far. But I need to see how she does with delayed gratification.

2. Treat charts or star charts
We use charts for behaviour (manners, listening, truth-telling), but not for chores.

3. Tasks that are easy-ish and age-appropriate
She battles a bit with the far end of the bed, but we coerce her to continue. And even if the bed is made poorly, at least she’s made it. She’ll improve over time.

4. Very specific sets of instructions
We’ve shown her what to do and how to do it, with repeats, so she’s clear on it.

5. A sense of family obligation
There’s the sense that, if she doesn’t do her bit, other stuff doesn’t get done either.

6. Working together as a team
This is her best part: having one of us ‘keep her company’ while she works.

7. Constant reminders, follow-ups and nudges
She’s too little to be trusted to remember, so we rely on lots and lots of nagging.

8. Time out for blatant disobedience
We don’t give time-outs (5 minutes) for chore avoidance, but for tantrums/rudeness.

So, how’s she doing with it?

She’s doing pretty well, with a lot of reminding. But I’m determined. I never did a chore in my life and when the time came to run my own home one day, I got a nasty shock. My husband, a lifelong chore-doer, nearly headed for the hills early on.

Plus, chores are not a punishment. So, for us, it’s important to celebrate her ‘growing up’ and ‘being old enough to do chores’. By telling her grandparents, teachers and friends. By cheering her on. I want her to feel like chores are a gift, to help her to become a responsible, capable, self-sufficient, other-orientated adult.

And there’s surprise and delight.

At least, for me. I’m impressed by her pride in ensuring that the duvet isn’t ‘skronkled’ in the corners and that the kitten doesn’t steal food from her geriatric step-grandfather. It turns out that my five-year-old rather enjoys helping. And prefers things to be in their place, safe and sound, nice and straight. Who knew?

Do your kids do chores? What are they? And do you reward them? If so, how?

This article was originally written for Jozikids by Tiffany Markman in 2016

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Tiffany Markman

Tiffany Markman

Tiffany Markman is a copywriter, speaker, trainer and mom. She was South Africa’s Freelance Copywriter of the Year in 2020 and one of the world’s ‘Top 50 Female Content Marketers’ in 2021, but she's still working on securing an award for her Mommying. She likes her coffee strong and black, her paragraphing short and tight, and her apostrophes in all the right places. Visit her website.

7 Responses

  1. Morning Tiffany

    How soon does one start this my daughter is only turning 3 in September I definately want to teach to be responsible.

    so far she likes cooking. when I cook she takes out pots and cooks on the kitchen floor

    1. Thats a good start. Next time you make scrumbled eggs let her mix them. Or u making a salad let her help you. When u make a mess give her a cloth and ask her to help mummy tidy up, make the bed together. Pack up the shoes. She can pass you the pegs as you hang laundry etc. All within reason of course. Just remember to make it fun.

  2. My boys 9 and 2. My 9year old started when he was 2 using a dust pan n brush. now he vacuums, knows how to make breakfast and uses microwave for cooking. As soon as he hits 12 cooking on stove will kick in. My 2 year old can sweep and tidy up and do his bed. Creche has also helped as what is a game there becomes a reality at home. They are never too young for chores just make it fun and the results are awesome.

  3. I am a single mom, so chores where instituted in my house from when my son was 4. It started small and the responsibilities have grown with him. He earns pocket money – R100 a month. It has taught him how to save and how to be responsible with his things and money, because when he loses something like a lunchbox at school, he has to pay half for the new one. Thank you for your article it has given me more good ideas on implementing and complimenting.

  4. This is wonderful. I recently put together a new reward system for my kids. Using a token jar. Each chore earns a certain number of tokens depending on the time it takes and difficulty. Once a week we count out tokens. R1 for each token. Or i have a treat box as well and items can be exchanged for tokens. Have a look at my blog . For bad habits – lying disobedience name calling a token is lost. Its been workig wonderfully. My kids also feel whats lost can be easily replaced. So now if i find items theyve earned from the treat box on the floor it goes back into the treat box and has to be earned again. This works wonders. They have learned to value their goods now

  5. I am furious that I never managed to do this with my kids when they were younger. Now at 14 and 18yrs – I am still going to give it a try, inspired by your great article Tiffany. Thank you.

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