Building Life Skills through Regular Chores |

Building Life Skills through Regular Chores

Is the clutter in your home making you anxious? Feel like no matter how much you clean up, the mess keeps returning? Considering investing in a maid just to have some semblance of tidiness in your home? Well, it may be that you already have all the help you need in your very own home. And they are your children.

From a very early age, our children can regularly help around the house. Children can do everything from vacuuming, mopping, loading the dishwasher, and even scrubbing the toilets! Our children are very capable of helping us with these tasks and it builds their perception of self-competency in their social and academic life, as well as greater life satisfaction, according to a study done by developmental pediatrician, Rebecca Scharf, from the University of Virginia.1 Of course, it is important to teach them according to what is appropriate for their age. With some planning and productive communication with your children, inshaAllah, God willing, you can be well on your way with a mostly well-functioning, clean home!

List of Chores according to Age Group

Chief of Pediatric Psychology at Children’s Hospital of San Antonio, Elena Mikalsen, has encouraged parents to start children early in doing chores; as young as 18 months.2 If parents are consistent with having children complete chores from a young age, children are more likely to have build a wealth of life skills at home by the time they are teens. Here is a list of chores children can complete according to their age group:

From 12-18 Months

Having your child watch you do the chores from the get-go is the first step. They are already interested in imitating what you do, so they will be eager to learn. At the age of 12 months or 1 year, you can start by peeling a banana and putting the peel in the compost bin. They can also learn to put away their toys. For this task, you should speak to them in a playful manner by saying, “Let’s see how fast we can put these cars away!” or “Oh no! There are so many toys on the floor that you and I can’t walk safely around them. Could you please put them where they belong?” Keeping a positive atmosphere when talking about these tasks is key in having them do it more often.

Here are a few more chores they can participate in regularly:

  • Putting their dirty clothes in the laundry basket
  • Taking out their clothes from the bottom drawer
  • Washing their hands and hanging up the towel
  • Brushing their own hair
  • Getting you items that you need from the other end of the room or in the kitchen while you cook

From 2-3 Years Old

Toddlers love to watch what you do and work alongside you. Whatever you are doing at that moment, you can put them to work on as well and they will naturally feel inclined to do so. The only thing you must remember is that you must be patient and not expect perfection from them. Have a relaxed approach towards their tasks as the regularity in what they do will eventually perfect their skill! I have personally witnessed this in my own children.

 In addition to the above tasks, here are more tasks that you can add on:

  • Ladle and mix
  • Pour cool liquids
  • Peel fruits and vegetables
  • Cut soft fruits, vegetables, and meat such as bananas, mushrooms, or chicken breast. They can use a Montessori wooden cutter meant for younger children like these. 

They can graduate to the plastic cutters as they get better with the wooden ones.

  • Use tongs and big spoons to place food into a plate or tray. Think of them as your sous-chef as they help you prepare the food before cooking!
  • Get them into the spirit of cooking by having a mini kitchen with their own pots and pans to mimic you
  • Sweep – you can start by getting them a child-size broom and teach them how to use it
  • Mop – get a child-sized mop
  • Vacuum (as long as it is not too heavy)
  • Hang up their clothes on hooks
  • Fold their clothes 
  • Brush their hair and teeth
  • Minimally wash the dishes or utensils (ou arebe the best judge of what they are able to handle safely)
  • Put away the dishes, pots, or cutlery into drawers or lower cabinets
  • Spread butter on toast 
  • Get simple snacks for themselves from a lower shelf or the fridge – usually readymade or fruits

From 4-5 Years Old

By this age, children can routinely complete chores. You can assign them certain chores as their responsibility increases and then set up a chart they can follow. Daily prompts might be needed until it becomes a habit, such as brushing their teeth, combing their hair, changing into their day clothes, and making their beds.

In addition to what 2- to 3-year-olds can do, here are more chores you can add to their capabilities:

  • Unload and load the dishwasher 
  • Fold laundry 
  • Measure and mix ingredients 
  • Help with cooking 
  • Wash themselves on the toilet with assistance
  • Wash their hair – show them how many pumps they are allowed to dispense from their shampoo bottle or make them use a travel shampoo bottle to avoid waste
  • Yard work such as pulling weeds, raking the leaves

From 6-12 Years Olds

Children are even more capable in this age group. They can do nearly the same things as adults by now. They can: 

  • Put clothes in the washer and dryer
  • Put away groceries
  • Help you shop for clothes and groceries
  • From 10 and up, they can start cooking simple recipes for the family (ou can make it more of a special treat, once in a while)
  • Dust and wipe counters, decor, and so on. 
  • Wipe the bathroom mirror and counter
  • Scrub the toilet

They must see how you do it and then you can decide together when to do certain chores regularly. For example, siblings can have a day or two each to load the dishwasher every evening after dinner. Or Sundays can be laundry day where they wash and fold the laundry, especially their own.

From 13-18 Years Old

By now, whatever adults can do, this age group can do. In addition to everything above, they can also: 

  • Mow the lawn
  • Vacuum and wash the car 
  • Go grocery shopping or run quick errands outside
  • Cook meals
  • Clean and organize the fridge and cabinets without help
  • Take phone calls and keep note of them for you if you are unavailable
  • Get the mail 
  • Change bedsheets 
  • Organize closets and bedrooms

These tasks can come with potential conflicts between teens and their parents. It is important to do our best to avoid those.

How to Get Kids to Do Their Chores Regularly

Younger children are eager to please as it is innate in them, therefore getting them to do chores with you is fairly easy. However, tensions can grow as they get older and busier in their own lives. Here are some guidelines on how you can build more confidence and self-sufficiency into their lives with less tension between you all:

1. Start early, be relaxed and do not seek perfection.  Do not expect your children to perfectly sweep all the corners or cut the fruit into precise slices. Let them try at their own pace and do it regularly. You will soon see that they will get better at it and eventually be as neat as you! 

2. Praise and encourage your child often. You can praise them while they complete the chore to keep the momentum going. The more you “notice” their work, the more they are likely to do it. 

3. Have a Chore Chart handy. For children between ages 2 to 5, a visual chore chart with pictures of the tasks on a chart is useful. You can even have a mechanism that shows that they have completed the tasks on the chart. There are many examples available online for printing. Having a discussion on the importance of keeping the house tidy and being independent in completing their personal tasks such as brushing their teeth or putting on their clothes is key. 

You can also mention how making the intention to do all these tasks for the sake of Allah is rewardable. And simultaneously showing gratitude to Him for having the ability to do them and having a home to do them in is important as well. This is a reminder that must be given throughout their life as they grow older and take on more tasks.

4. Set up a reward system. Reward systems are somewhat controversial, however, every household functions differently and it might just suit yours perfectly. Once the child is past the age of 3, you may see that they start to show signs of unwillingness more often. This is when making a reward system may be handy for you. It is up to you if you want them to receive a treat or money at the end of the week or month once they have completed their chores. Again, a visual chart where they can see their progress is imperative. See how this works for you. If it causes conflict between their siblings or you, then another system might be better.

5. Establish a Chore Contract when they are older.  Much like a job contract, you can set up a Chore Contract with your pre-teen or teen. This is where you list their expectations for the month in terms of what chores should be done weekly, and what their compensation will be at the end. It is a great way to give your adolescent a taste of how it works in the real world. This method may work with an especially obstinate preteen or teen. When making the contract, involve them in the decision-making process. 

6. Stay consistent. It is important to stay consistent in getting the chores done otherwise children will leave them and think that someone else will do them instead. 

7. Give them space and trust them. Whether they are 2 or even 16 years old, give them the space to complete the task at hand no matter how imperfect. If they are to develop a sense of independence, observe and trust them. If there are some issues in not doing their chores or how they are doing them, then only speak to them when both of you are in a calm and neutral state. 

Keep changing the system as they grow; adapting to their seasons of life is important especially for high schoolers as they start to get more homework and extracurriculars. Have them do what works with their schedule without overwhelming them. But never let them not do any chores at all. It is our duty and amanah or trust to make them independent, and hopefully, adults who will run their own households one day.

Doing chores is an integral part of our lives and it is what builds discipline, productivity, and interdependency in a person’s life. Our very own Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, was running a city-state, building a community, and had many families yet he had time to complete chores at home: 

Al-Aswad said, "I asked 'A'isha, may Allah be pleased with her, 'What did the Prophet, peace and blessings  be upon him,, do when he was with his family?' She replied, 'He would do chores for his family, and when it was time for the prayer, he would go out.'"
Al-Bukhari (676)

In another narration, Aishah (may Allah be pleased with her) was asked: What did the Messenger of Allah (blessings and peace of Allah be upon him) do in his house? She said: He was a human being like any other; he would clean his garment, milk his sheep and serve himself. 

Ahmad (26194)

This could be a constant reminder for our own families as we go through our seasons of life but wish to be more helpful to each other and productive in our households, inshaAllah, God-willing.

End Notes

1 Associations Between Household Chores and Childhood Self-Competency 

2 A guide to age-appropriate chores kids can do around the house - The Washington Post

Sumayya Khan is a homeschooling mother of two and a teacher. She has worked with several Islamic schools and organizations in the last 10 years. She is currently teaching, and studying the Qur’an through Al-Huda Institute. In her free time, she loves to spend time with her family and friends, play sports, enjoy nature, and read books. She currently resides with her family in Toronto, Canada.

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