5 Chores Our 5-Year-Old Tackles Without Having to Be Asked

published Oct 12, 2021
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For my husband and me, one of our highest priorities as parents is to raise a child who not only knows how to help themselves, but can also identify when to jump in and help others. We’d read article after article on the impact of chores and responsibilities on kids in the home, and were completely on board. Chores, when introduced at a very young age, help children learn responsibility, and provide a feeling of accomplishment for completing the task at hand, which helps to foster self-esteem. All major milestones of child development, with the benefit of having a helper around the house.

How my daughter began helping around the house

For us, it started organically around age 2 or 3 when we began to notice our daughter wanting to be helpful with little tasks. One day, while working at my computer, I noticed she was wiping the windows with wet wipes. After a few minutes, I realized she’d used the entire pack of wipes to “clean” what she could reach of the windows. Initially, I was frustrated she had wasted an entire package of wipes, but after stepping back I saw it for what it was, and was overjoyed that she was trying to be a helper — all on her own. I gave her positive reinforcement, and any time thereafter when I saw that she wanted to clean the windows, I handed her a towel and a tiny spray bottle filled with water. 

Did she do a great job? She did as well as you could imagine a 3-year-old could do!  Now that she’s a bit older, it’s one of her chores and I have her use an all-natural window cleaner to clean the areas she can reach. She even has a spray bottle and towel in a cleaning caddy that we made especially for her. It’s not an everyday chore, but one she knows to do when the windows get smudged with puppy noses and kid handprints. Over the past year and a half as we’ve spent more time at home, we’ve given her a few more tasks. Here are some ideas if you want to get kids involved in simple, age-appropriate ways:

Credit: Victoria Wall-Harris

Collecting dishes after dinner

One that she really loves is washing our dinner dishes in a sink full of bubbles. After we’re all finished with dinner, she collects and stacks the plates, empties waste into the bin, then takes the dishes to the sink. We pull up a chair and my husband or I hang out with her and dry the dishes as she washes, then we load everything else that was used to make dinner into the dishwasher. It’s a nice way to spend a little time together tidying up as a family, and takes about as much time as she has attention for. This is an everyday task that she really looks forward to doing.

Small vacuuming tasks

While she may be totally capable of driving our vacuum around the house — it’s loud (something she doesn’t like) and our baseboard pay a price. Instead of adding “painting baseboards” to my list of chores, I decided to pick up a dustbuster. I got an inexpensive handheld vacuum to keep in the living room next to her books and toys. Pushing a button and sucking up a dust bunny is basically a game, so this is probably the chore she does most often after washing dishes. I really try to make it so that there’s an aspect of fun in every chore she does; how could I not — I need that for myself as an adult! 

Watering plants

Our daughter really loves anything that involves water, so this chore seemed like the perfect fit. I’m not going to lie — I was a bit of a helicopter plant parent at first, but once she got the hang of the watering can (and I was confident my plants weren’t going to drown) it was smooth sailing from there! As with most 5-year-olds, chores aren’t on the forefront of her mind, so we often offer little bits of guidance like “Guess what today is? It’s Water Wednesday!” and she’ll get excited and run and grab the watering can and tend to the houseplants. We’re working on understanding days of the week, so we have a little plant drawn on each Wednesday in our calendar, which is helpful too. 

Helping in the garden

Recently, while watering outdoors, she saw my husband pulling weeds and joined in. She soon came inside to announce that pulling weeds was now “her job.” Fine with us! She grabbed my cute little gathering basket that was being used as a decor item and her floppy garden hat and headed back outside! It was very exciting to witness her taking on more responsibility without having to be asked. Now she pulls a weed anytime she sees one outside, even while she’s playing.

A final word from a parent

As someone who has pretty strong opinions on how things should be cleaned, having my 5-year-old to do chores has been a difficult adjustment. I’m not naturally a patient person, and I like things to be done properly — especially when it comes to cleaning. So having her at my feet, “helping” while I’m doing chores myself, or letting her take over whatever I’m working on has been a really difficult adjustment, but one I have to constantly remind myself is worth it.

If there’s a day when chores don’t happen, we don’t make a huge deal about it. In one of my favorite articles on the subject, Barbara Rogoff of UC Santa Cruz states that when it comes to chores and training, “The aim is not to control the kids, but rather to develop the child’s own initiative.” We’re definitely starting to see that in our family, which helps me to chill out and cringe a little less when my daughter is enthusiastically flinging dishwater out on the kitchen floor!