Chores for Kids

Parent Q&A

  • Our oldest son is 8 years old and has asked to work at his dad's business to earn some spending money this summer.  We don't pay for chores at home (only for special extraordinary tasks) but told him before he can earn money working at the business when he is ready; I just did not think the time will come so soon.  He will do it on days he is already hanging out at the business with his dad during summer (usually 2-3 half-days/week) and has asked to do paid work instead of hanging out on his computer, reading, playing, etc. (not exactly sure what he usually does there).  We are ok with the idea and believe we can pay him below minimum age so he is not getting too much free spending money since it is a business solely owned by my husband and is not incorporated (though will check on this with HR provider and can pay him minimum wage if have to and will deal with the paperwork for a minor working if needed).  I'm looking for creative idea of what tasks an 8 year old can do in an office environment that will be helpful but also interesting for him.  My husband just lost a part-time file clerk due to the clerk's move out of the bay area and is thinking that he can delay replacing him till the fall and see if our son can do the work first.  It will basically involve filing, pulling and bringing files to my husband (a lot of errands like that around the office mainly serving my husband -- he will keep our son helping him and will re-assign other support staff to the other employees so as to not inconvenience them), creating index and table of contents, hole punching and putting documents in binders with tabs, etc.  I'm sure he can do it.  He is great reader, can type well (thanks to all his computer games), and has attention to detail but it sounds like really boring work.  Anyone tried it and has thoughts on it?  What type of work your elementary kid did for you?   And, how did it go? 

    My kid could have never done the tasks you describe at your son's age. In fact, I'm not so sure he could do that job now (and he's a teen).  But, your child sounds exceptional, and if he actually wants to do this, I guess I'd let him try. I would not, however, make plans that depend on this working out, and if it doesn't work out, please don't make your son feel bad about that. 

    You might consider paying him minimum wage and putting some of his pay in a college savings account for him. 

    I remember fondly days when my mom would bring me to her job at the bank and have me do work in her office. I must have been in the 8-11 range because I was too young to stay home by myself all day but too old to go to daycare. This was also during the era when one could put their child to work without incurring the wrath of their employer due to concerns about violating labor laws. 

    Anyway I recall doing the following tasks: filing and alphabetizing, stuffing and sealing envelopes, dealing with postage, typing address labels at a type writer, making photocopies (and not with the ease of modern day copy machines), stapling and paper clipping things and generally putting together packets of information, using the binding machine to put together spiral books, baking cookies in their break room from a giant tub of cookie dough they always seemed to have there, and bringing my mom sodas. I think an eight year old that is generally mature can do a lot in an office. 

    Your husband has a need for a part time file clerk, your 8yo is likely skilled and detail-oriented enough to do it and is interested in doing it, and you ALSO want the job to not be boring?  Trust me, no 8yo is qualified to do truly interesting office work. :)  Earning real money should be interesting enough!  However, your husband should consult an employment lawyer and tax advisor about this plan, because ordinarily, children under age 14 cannot legally work for pay, even in a family-owned business.  (There are exceptions for the entertainment industry but I don't know of one for family businesses, unless of course you just pay your kid a boosted allowance and don't claim it as any kind of wages or other business expense.)  And if I'm wrong about that and you can legally pay wages to your 8yo, you need to consider more than just minimum wage laws; there are all SORTS of special rules about withholding and taxes, and lots of things you can do with that money to make the whole thing very financially advantageous for your family, when you have a minor working in a parent's business.

  • My 6 year old has lately been helping around the house way over and beyond his regular chores.  He is helping watch and entertain his siblings, is really helping with the baby, helps with house chores, etc.  I know the baby care is mostly because he really loves his baby brother and does not like to see him cry so he spends a lot of time on the floor with the baby playing with him, reading to him, or talking to him while playing to keep him entertained, which as you can imagine is amazing help.  He does a lot of it without being asked and does not ask for anything as a reward.  We don't want to start rewarding the help directly and have him start expecting it since I like that he helps out without asking for anything in return just because he wants to help or wants his baby brother to be happy or wants to spend time with me when we clean together (all better reasons than to get reward), but I want to do something to reward him since he has been such amazing help lately.  Between us and grandmas he already gets everything he asks for purchased for him (since he really does not ask for much) so there is nothing that he wants and does not already has that we can buy for him.  So material goods are likely out.  What do you do as a special treat for your early elementary school kids?  I'm thinking a special outing, or maybe special daddy day (he spends less time with his dad and would likely find it funner than a special mommy day).  Though not sure where to take him that we don't already visit regularly on weekends?  I want to do something to celebrate him becoming such a big boy and such a big helper, but don't know what to do. We live in peninsula but getting to SF to East Bay is pretty easy on weekends.  

    How wonderful that your son is being such a good big brother and helper at home.  I think that his knowing how much you appreciate his help and giving your love and attention to him is what is really important.  Studies have shown that giving rewards actually can undermine kids wanting to contribute on their own accord.  Special time with a parent is probably the best reward.  You said you were on the Peninsula and perhaps you already do these things, but maybe a trip to the Aviation Museum in San Carlos, the Junior Museum in Palo Alto, Rockin' Jump in San Carlos, or even just a special afternoon out for a movie and meal.  And of course, lots of hugs and thank you's!

    Sounds like you have an amazing child!!  Maybe one on one time with just you would be a great reward.  Maybe a movie and lunch or dinner with just him and make sure to tell him how much you appreciate all of his hard work.  I do that with my son and we enjoy the time together very much - he tells me he feels very special when he has quality time with just me. 

    He sounds like a wonderful kid! Is your family outdoors-y? Maybe a little overnight camping trip with just you or his dad at a nearby campground (or even in the back yard, if that's an option) could be an extra special outing. Would have to be before it gets too cold, of course.

    Or would he enjoy a Bay Area Children's Theater show? Pottery painting at a place like Terra Mia? Or maybe you could create a personalized special activity—like a scavenger/treasure hunt to take him on? I think having a parent all to himself for a while might be the most key part of the treat, and since he seems kinda tuned in to others' needs and feelings, finding something you can enjoy together would make it even better!

Archived Q&A and Reviews



How do you get the kids to do chores?

July 2000

I have a topic for discussion which really applies to all parents, but I'd be particularly interested in the responses of single parents. What chores do your kids do & how do you get them to do them? I have two daughters, 5 & 10, and as they get older I find myself getting more resentful that I still do 99% of the chores around the house. I have only myself to blame, I guess, since I haven't made an issue of it & they apparently aren't going to volunteer ... So now that I have decided to make an issue of it, I'm not sure what expectations are realistic. The 10-year-old is pretty cooperative & capable of doing a lot, but she gets very resentful if her sister is not also required to do some work, and there's not that much the 5-year-old can do. Also the 5-year-old tends to be oppositional and stubborn and easily distracted, and it can take major nagging, cajoling, threatening, etc. on my part to get her to do anything - we end up getting into this unpleasant power struggle, and it's easier to just do it myself. It seems like a major effort just to get them to pick up their dirty clothes & take their dirty dishes to the kitchen, they need repeated reminding just to do the minimum. Sometimes I think it's OK for me to do 99%, because they're the kids and I'm the mom, they're not home that much (in school or daycare all day & go to bed pretty early) & even though I'm at work all day, I do stay up later, but then when I'm dashing around fixing dinner, cleaning up after dinner, doing laundry, picking up messes, etc., while they're lying around watching TV, the resentment starts to build ... So what do you say, single parents? What is your philosophy on sharing the load & how do (did) you make it happen? Melinda


In response to the question on how do get kids to help out with housework and how much they should do. What I did with my daughter, who is now 10, is on Sat mornings write down all the jobs that need to get done on index cards or little pieces of paper, one job per card. Then I layed out all the cards on the table and would ask her to pick two. There usually would be around four or five cards with jobs such as clean bathroom, vacuum, take out trash ect... This way my daughter could see all the work that needed to be done in a more concrete way and also was able to choose her jobs. I also explained to her that it wasn't fair if I did all of it by myself and that I'd have more time to do fun things with her if she helped plus it is her duty to help out as part of the family. We also tend to make some sort of plans for something fun later in the afternoon contigent on the housework getting done. At first she didn't like it but now it's become more of a habit (although she does still complain sometimes). You might want to have different age kids have to chose differing numbers of cards (jobs)or weight the cards by points, more points for harder jobs and ask them to pick numbers of cards equally a certain number of points. Maybe you could tie the total points to their age somehow.

My daughter also is required to set and clear the dinner table, put away dry dishes and do her own dishes that she uses (I bought one of those sponges that has a handle on it to make it easier). Possibly one way to motivate them too is to not allow t.v. until work is done. Hope this helps! I don't really know how much work is appropriate to ask of different age groups but I just try to use my best judgement. I definetely think that kids should help out in some way at all ages. After all we're parents not maids. Lynn


My daughter is ten years old. She spends about 2/3 of her time with me, and the rest with her father. I have found it difficult to get her to help with chores on a regular basis because she is not with me all the time, and I try to get a lot of the housework done while she is away.

A few years ago I offered to pay her for each chore that she did (like 25 cents to feed the dog, a couple of dollars to help wash the car, etc.) That motivated her for awhile, but she didn't really seem to care about the money all that much. I also tried making her a chart so that she could check it each day that she was with me to see what she needed to do, but of course I had to remind her to check the chart.

What works best for her now are gentle reminders to set the table, clear and rinse her dishes, put her clothes in the laundry, feed the dog, and other chores that take less than five minutes. When I want her to do something that takes more time, like dust furniture or brush the dog, I try to choose a time that's 'convenient', by which I mean I don't make her put down the latest volume of Harry Potter to brush the dog; I wait until she's already read a chapter or two. Or I may ask her to agree to brush the dog after she's read two chapters, and then I remind to do it. I still pay her by the chore. She asks me how much the chore is worth, and then she writes down the amount on the calendar, and at the end of the week she adds up how much I owe her, and I pay her.

Also with something like house cleaning, I don't ask her to do something time consuming like dust the furniture unless I am doing some house work as well. So then we are working together rather than my just making her do something she doesn't want to do.

Since I don't have my daughter with me all of the time, I try to balance the need for having her help me and teaching her about taking care of the house, car, pets and yard with having free time when we can just have fun. When I was a child I did _a lot_ more house work as her age than she does, but my mother was very strict and very rigid in how and when the house work was done. I think my more relaxed attitude about the state of my house and yard is a reaction to my upbringing. Also I'd really, really like to have a cleaner, tidier house, but as a single, working parent who is already on the edge time-wise, I'm not willing to spend any more time on house work or be any more heavy handed with getting my daughter to help.

That's not to say that I haven't often felt resentment at my daughter wandering into the house while I'm unloading bags and bags of groceries. But time and time again, I've found that if I let her know _in advance_ that I _expect_ her to help me unload the groceries and then _remind_ her when we get home, I usually get the help I'm asking for without grumbling. It's when I ask her to do something for me when she is engrossed in a book or an activity, then I get a lot of opposition. Or if I expect her to help without being asked, then I am usually disappointed. So the burden is still on me (and that still causes resentment), but if the bottom line is that I want help, then I need to learn how to ask for it!

Also, if you keep at them about clearing their dishes, eventually they will just do it. (Yes, the burden is still on you to remind them, but no you are not expecting too much to ask them to clear their dishes.) One thing that worked with my daughter regarding her leaving her dirty clothes under her bed, stuffed in her closet, etc., is that I stopped looking for her dirty clothes and one day, she didn't have too many choices of what to wear. I told her that I would wash her clothes if she would put them in the laundry basket, otherwise they wouldn't get washed. That helped. She also will help me fold her clothes if I put all the laundry on the bed, and we fold our clothes together. That may be an activity that both girls can help with, or I bet if you and your older girl start doing it together, your younger daughter will want to help.

Or if watching TV is an incentive for them, you could tell them no TV until they do their chores.

I know this is long winded, but in summary I'd recommend that you be realistic about that you ask them to do, and accept the fact that you will probably have to continually ask them to do their chores. But you will not be doing them any favor if you do everything for them. They should help you, but in reasonable child-appropriate ways (picking up their dirty laundry, setting the table, clearing dirty dishes, unloading groceries, putting out the recycling, feeding pets, folding laundry, dusting furniture [maybe], putting away things in their room).