Chores for Teens & Preteens

Parent Q&A

Compelling 18 year old to do chores Oct 1, 2020 (1 responses below)
Raising self-sufficient kids May 14, 2020 (9 responses below)
  • Compelling 18 year old to do chores

    (1 reply)

    Like many others, my 18 year old is taking his freshman college classes at home. He has the same household jobs that he had in high school and he still resists doing them. It’s hard to know what’s normal as our younger son hates being reminded and gets his jobs done with no fuss. We’ve talked to the older one about how we’re trying to treat him like an adult and we’d like him to do things without being asked. He always keeps his room clean and does his laundry but these are things that we could care less about because if left undone, they only impact him. We’ve suggested that he set reminders on his phone to do chores and he suddenly loses all his tech savvy and can’t get it to work. We’ve talked about the cost of his phone, car insurance, etc and he gets hurt because he thinks we’re trying to kick him out while we’re just trying to explain his duties as a household member. He’s a good kid and is responsible for schoolwork but the rest is a struggle. How are you parents of adult teens doing it?

    I have the same issue with my 19 year old so I feel your pain. If your son is keeping his room clean and keeping up with schoolwork you are way ahead of us. RE chores, I don't have a silver bullet for you but here are a couple of things that have kinda sorta worked for us.

    1. Choose assignments judiciously. You didn't say what his chores are, but my 19yo will only take it seriously if it's mission critical. So I don't assign him chores that can be put off, or that he would consider optional or "fluff". For example, cleaning out the dishwasher is viewed as unimportant. It only gets done after repeated reminders, so hardly worth having him in charge of that. But for some reason, being in charge of all the composting, recycling, and garbage does produce results. Yes, he does have to be reminded sometimes that the kitchen compost can is overflowing. 

    2. Dinner: This is the biggest daily chore at our house. Everyone (there are 5 of us plus one old granny who doesn't do anything) is responsible for one meal per week and we do takeout the other days (support our local restaurants!)  If the cook wants to choose the meal they cook, they have to make a list before the weekly Bowl run on Saturday, otherwise I choose the meal. Guess who usually plans all the meals. We have a sign-up sheet on the fridge that gets filled out on the weekend for the coming week. Dinner has to be ready by the target time, and it has to be semi-nutritious and something everyone will eat. The cook can recruit an assistant. The people who didn't cook are on clean-up duty, which includes clearing the table, putting away the food, wiping off the counters, sweeping the floor, making sure everything is tidy. This has actually worked out pretty well. 

    We have a weekly house cleaner so we don't have to assign cleaning chores, and each person is in charge of their own breakfast, lunch, laundry and pets. I do the gardening because I like to!

    Hope that is helpful. Yours in solidarity!

  • Raising self-sufficient kids

    (9 replies)

    Just read a NYT article called- Turn Your Demanding Child into a Productive Coworker.. the author writes about cultures that raise exceptionally cooperative and self-sufficient kids. Cultures where adults don’t play w kids or instruct them on what to do and how to do it.. 

    I’m fascinated by the idea that I did myself a disservice by almost exclusively doing kid stuff w my children when they were young. I should have left them to play on their own, or shadow me doing housework! Instead, I frantically tried to do it all in the margins, feeling guilty for cleaning the kitchen. 

    It was a given when my kids were younger that we we should play w them and engage with them every minute. I remember my parents being completely puzzled by this approach! I also remember numerous park visits watching over-zealous parents trying to outdo each other being amazing! Fun! Silly! playmates. (Maybe sometime it was me!?)

    And now my wonderful, older children need SO much attention and r helpless around the house... and I feel like a servant! I get mad at them for not helping but it’s my own fault.

    Im trying to undo some damage now, but it’s tough at this age and I’m kicking myself. Wondering what others think, have u turned it around w a 14yr old? Thanks in advance!

    RE: Raising self-sufficient kids ()

    I suggest you start with a family meeting. Admit to your "mistakes." Say you want help, starting in small ways. Figure out good places to start together. Would they like to learn to cook? Help with the yard? Laundry and mending? Then work up. Regular family meetings is probably a good idea. An incentive of some kind is probably also a good idea. Maybe dessert or a small gift. Keep it positive. Lots of compliments. Celebrate successes. And don't rush.

    Working together is often better. One person cuts up veggies while the other starts the noodles. One person sweeps the kitchen while another vacuums the living room. One person mows the lawn while another weeds the beds. Good luck!

    RE: Raising self-sufficient kids ()

    I make chores a daily thing.  We have a big whiteboard calendar with everyone's schedule for the week.  The chores go on that whiteboard, along with appointments, practices,  meetings, etc.  I set up the schedule on Saturday for the upcoming week.  Depending on the chore, I'll ask them if they'd rather do it before school or after.  The chores are smaller than chores that I would take on myself.  Here are some examples:  scrub tub, vacuum stairs, sweep kitchen, sweep front porch, clean bathroom sink/mirror/toilet, clean microwave, mop kitchen, windex front door window.  They also do their own laundry.  I help them clean their room occasionally.  They do need reminders frequently and I will often leave them a note on the kitchen table if I'm at work that day.  

    RE: Raising self-sufficient kids ()

    I'm in the same boat, and I've been working on this now that my 14 year old is stuck at home and I'm trying to work. Here are a few things that I've done.  At the beginning of the day, I do help him structure his day around the things that he needs to do, and am still doing substantial support for on-line schooling (he has learning disabilities and ADHD). However for the remainder of the day (the afternoon), he has a lot of down time and I'm working and really can't entertain him. I've been assigning him 1-2 self-help tasks per week that are new to him (and that he probably should have been doing for years).  For example, the first week of lock down, it was just making a sandwich for lunch.  I reminded him every day, but it was his job to make it--now that is a new habit and he does it without help or reminding. Next week, I had him take out the trash on trash night, then laundry. The first few weeks, it was with supervision and checking. Now he knows that it's his job and how to do it.  Same with laundry, etc... So more responsibility around the house, but gradually increasing and with support at first.  For entertaining himself, I let him know that I'm not available and that he needs to find something to do (but with screen time limits).  He sits on the couch doing nothing for some of that time, finds interesting projects for other times, and is entertaining himself.  I suggest things sometimes if I see or think of  something that he might like doing, but I'm not in charge of this time for him.  Limiting the screen time during these hours was important for our household--otherwise that would be the default.  But being bored has led to some good thinking time for him. I think it was important not to do this cold-turkey, so I did more structuring the first few weeks, but gradually relaxed my support.  Overall I think it's been helpful and good for both of us.  

Archived Q&A and Reviews

Questions Related Pages

Too much work for an 11 year old?

March 2009

My ex seems to think it is appropriate to make our daughter, 11, work to earn...her regular clothes, cookies for her class, her phone, an extra book, her friend's birthday gift, a movie while on vacation in the hotel, and many more of these types of things. She ends up working half of the weekend (truthfully about 4-5 hours) to ''pay'' for these things, every weekend she is with him. He just adds up the hours, which carry over to the next day she's with him, so that it is a constant activity. I believe in chores, some of which can be part of an allowance, some which should be a part of helping a family function. But I am struggling with the amount of work my daughter has to do to get things that don't seem inappropriate for a parent to provide. All of the list of things above was in a months' time. I would appreciate feedback on this. Thanks! struggling

You and your ex have vastly different parenting styles and that can be very uncomfortable for your child and for you. Having said that, it is really important to determine how she feels about it. Is it stressful for her? Does she feel inadequate? Does it make her feel dad's love is conditional on her performance? Or, is it kind of a fun game or challenge in which she feels a sense of accomplishment upon reaching her goal? Her feelings about this process will likely change over time. What could be fun now could become intolerable or infuriating as she gets older.

As difficult as it may be, it is important for you to separate your current feelings from hers. You may be reacting to what may be a type of rigidity on the part of your ex, and you can probably predict that this will not be very useful as she matures and enters adolescence. It will be important to stay attuned and communicating well with your daughter on hw she's feeling about those visits. I don't believe you've said whether you (or your daughter)have been able to discuss this with her father in a productive way. If not, and your child is feeling distressed, this is a situation where a mediator or therapist may be useful. Some therapists, including myself, do family work with divorced families.

Without knowing more, I would also say that this could potentially be an opportunity for your daughter to deepen her relationship with her father by learning to communicate with him about her needs and feelings. Ilene

What are reasonable chores for a 12-13 year old?

Sept 2001

I would appreciate hearing what parents feel are appropriate expectations for a 12 or 13 year old girl (in the 7th grade) in terms of household chores and responsibilities. What home ec skills should a girl of this age know or be learning? What kinds of tasks, and expectations for how well they're executed, are reasonable? For example, how much help with making meals, cleaning common areas, pitching in on special chores is reasonable? Every family/household of course is different but understanding the range of practices currently out there for this age/grade would be really helpful.

I'm thinking back a couple of years. In our family, the primary focus for the kids was on their schoolwork. So their main 'chore' was their own homework. Secondarily, they were expected to take care of their own rooms. That meant changing the sheets, vacuuming their rooms. In addition, from about 9 or 10 years on up, they made their own lunches to take to school. It was a relief for me to be out of the lunch-counter business.

As far as helping with meals for the family or cleaning common areas, we were pretty casual. The kids would help set the table, load the dishwasher, or put away the clean dishes. We didn't have a schedule. If they were asked to help they were expected to help. They did not make their own dinner, but if they wanted a special dessert or if they were having company over, they might make part of the meal. We had a live-in grandparent, whose focus was on the kitchen, so he saved everyone an hour a day I believe. The kids were not allowed to leave their things all over the living room or family room unless they were going camping or on some other kind of field trip the next day. They helped in the yard with planting and with mowing the lawn every so often. I did the watering as I'm the only one who really likes doing that. My son would take the trash to the curb, vacuum the living room when asked, and wash the kitchen floor when asked. My daughter would feed the cats and turn the compost.

Beyond that, they each did things to help out on the basis of what they liked to do or needed to learn. My daughter would re-arrange furniture and decorate for parties. My son would give advice and help with anyone's computer problems. When I finally realized how little he appreciated my work as laundress, I had him do his own laundry! Both kids were also expected to help beyond the home with projects sponsored by church, scouts, or school - the homeless shelter, tutoring, saving the newts, cleaning up beaches... Bonnie Hariton

I have a 13 year old daughter. I've had her doing chores since she was 10 years old. My daughter is responsible for her own laundry, cooking rice, once - twice a week her brother (age 10) and her clean their own bathroom, keeping their room picked up and clean, dusting & vaccuming their room. They also both dust the living room furniture. They both clean up the dishes & table after dinner. Since every family is different, maybe start out by having her set the dinner table & clearing dishes after. Folding laundry and putting her own clothes away. As she gets used to this routine maybe add on to her chores. She should do these things on a consistant regular basis. Keep a routine going. I am married with 2 children age 10 and 14. I tell my kids we are a family team & need to work as a team to keep this household family running smoothly. Of course it doesn't always run the way you would like it.

I have struggled with this as well. We have two 13-year-olds -- here are the expectations we currently have for them: they can choose each night how to help with dinner (either help do the dinner prep/cooking or help with cleanup), pick up their belongings from common areas daily (dining room, living room, etc.), plus one weekly chore (like bring out trash/recycling). They are also expected to cleanup all dishes/pots etc. from any breakfast/lunch/snack prep that they do. We started this level of chores when they were 11. At first it was more work to have them help than it was just to do it without them, but now they are experienced enough to cook without assistance (when motivated!). We still spend a fair amount of time reminding them about chores. But it is very gratifying to see them make progress and start to do more things without being reminded. And although they may complain or resist, I can also see that they feel better about themselves when they feel they are contributing to the household in this way. Diane

First of all, girls' chores should be no different from boys', so I don't think it makes any difference that my experience is with boys instead of girls. Being a girl myself, I am pretty sure that girls don't like washing dishes any more than boys do. Everyone hates chores equally.

When my boys were 12-13, they were expected to either set the table or clear the table for dinner every night. Still true now that they are older teens. They might occasionally have one unpaid Saturday chore, such as cutting the grass or helping to put groceries away, but usually there are no weekend chores. They help with cooking dinner on weekends, on holidays, in the summer, but not during the week. When they do help cook, it's more for socializing than a chore because we all enjoy cooking. But regular chores - they just don't have time during the week for them, if their homework is going to get done. (I have always felt resentful that kids must spend so much of their day at school, and then come home to spend the rest of the day on homework. Why can't we have family time instead of homework time? They don't really get fun to be around till they are teens and then all of a sudden it's all over and they are gone!) And if they have just one afternoon activity like practice, homework gets squeezed in to the late hours and they have to spend all day Saturday catching up on sleep they missed during the week. So I don't load them down with more work once they get home, and I think they should be able to relax (or sleep) on the weekends. We are lucky to have a housekeeper every week, and I pick up the slack on the menial tasks.

Another issue: their dad and I are divorced and since grade school we've had 50-50 custody. Kids in this situation have at least two additional burdens: There are two houses that need grass cut and garbage emptied, and there are two sets of parents they must satisfy. From the parents' point of view, split custody is an impediment to assigning one kid the responsibility for some task on an ongoing basis, because they are not at your house all the time. So tasks have to be assigned on an as-needed basis, not as an ongoing responsibility. From the kids' point of view, step-parents may have very different expectations from Mom and Dad, especially if they don't have kids of their own and suddenly find themselves sharing space with older kids. My ex's wife, who never had kids, was appalled at how little the kids did around the house. They actually didn't even know how to wash dishes or make a bed! That is my fault. I have low standards of tidyness - I throw everything in the dishwasher and I rarely make my own bed, so I never bothered to pass on these talents to the kids. So there was some friction between the kids and the stepmom over chores for a while, with the kids complaining a lot about their mean step-mom. But I must say, she did teach them how to wash the dishes properly which has been quite useful at my house! And no mom really gets that upset about her kids complaining about their stepmom (don't worry, I don't dis her when the kids are around.) So, all in all, in terms of chores, the stepmom's problem was kind of a win-win situation for me. A Mom

Chores that I expected my teens to do at that age included:
Yard work (girls can do this too!) Vacuuming (probably only a couple of rooms at a time at this stage) Laundry folding and distribution Kitchen help (usually only one of these at a time): preparing a side dish (flavored rice, etc.) set and/or clear table rinse dishes and put in dishwasher clean pots and pans clean refrigerator sweep/vacuum kitchen floor, then damp mop Take out recycling Empty all small trash cans in house and then take garbage out Dusting Wash car / vacuum car Be responsible for cleaning their own room: change bed linen, collect dirty clothes in hamper, dust and de-trashify, organize desk (may need guidance and help for the first several times)
There are probably more, but that's all I can think of just now. The primary thing I stressed with my guys was to Put all the toys away afterwards - that means to put away the lawnmower or the vacuum cleaner or the laundry baskets, so they get used to the concept of completion. --And it looks so much better. Also (very important), the first time or two they do these chores, someone (mom or dad) should guide them as much as possible, explaining how and why to do things in a certain order. Remember, though, your smart kids may eventually find a better or more efficient method than you, so be open for that. Your daughter may respond to chore expectations better than my little anarchists - I had to accept and be happy with whatever help I got without resorting to nagging (not always the level of dutiful submission a parent would hope for). Ah well, parenthood.

at 12 years ( and still at 15) my daughter does all her own laundry, washes dinner dishes once a week (should be more I think), puts out trash and recycling once a week, and on the weekends I assign her a different job to fill whatever need I have that week. These are things like clean the bathroom, vacuum the downstairs, vacuum the car, etc. I think kids are extremely capable at this age and need to contribute to the household maintenance. She has cooked dinner a couple of times but that takes more planning and my assistance in the planning so I have been lazy about it. I have also given up on things like her room. She cleans it when she wants, or whether she ever folds her laundry and puts it away. I do however inspect the jobs she does for me ( ie: bathroom cleaning etc) and insist she does a good job without being overly critical. This is how they learn how to do it well. I would just adjust the amount of work according to the other commitments your daughter has to make it manageable. lynn

Even though I have sons, I would like to respond. I'd like to think boys and girls should learn the same kinds of household chores, family responsibilities, care of one's self and one's home environment. Our one rule in this area has always been that our children should do what is asked of them, and do it cheerfully and to the best of their ability. As they've matured (they are 12 and 9) they have gradually taken on more and more duties that we expect them to do without being reminded, and additional things upon request. This good attitude is tied to their allowance - we have never yet had to withold allowance... They both daily: make their beds, bring all their laundry to the laundry area, give food and fresh water and love to the cats, set the table for dinner. When asked they help with dinner, take out the garbage, work in the yard. The 12 year old makes school lunches for himself and his brother - sometimes with an assist from me. I am gradually teaching them both cooking skills, cooking measurements, about tools and ingredients. My 12 year old helps his grandmother with many heavy outdoor chores and has learned to handle garden tools, a small saw, and spreading of ground cover, hauling tree trimmings, and balancing a ladder properly. My younger son is especially interested in cooking and has become my sous chef for dinner making. I see all these things as gradual steps to self-suffiency, greater confidence, and leading a competent life. This is but one, personal approach. I hope it helps. All the best, Debby