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Delegating Household Tasks to Younger Children

Anyone who has been a parent longer than three days is by this time exhausted. It’s hard work when the life of another person rests in your hands. You are responsible for making sure he is fed, clothed, and safe. And, of course, your task goes beyond just basic physical needs. There’s the fun part of loving and cuddling and teaching him about the world.

Oh, and teaching him what it is to be a responsible human being.

Hopefully, you and I are acting in ways that are a good example of that. Most of the time.

Learning through practice

But there’s also that bit about giving your child opportunities to practice. Most of us learn through hands-on experience and practice. So, it makes sense that as our children move through the different stages of development that we give them opportunities to practice different life skills.

  • cleaning up after themselves
  • making the bed
  • folding towels
  • wiping windows and counters

While I know all this in my head, I am sometimes hesitant to assign a task to a younger child for fear he will mess it up and I’ll just have to do it again anyway. In those instances, I’ve either made more work for myself or for one of my older children. As a former oldest child in a large family, I know what a bummer this is.

Why do I have to do everything?

And for some odd reason, we firstborns all started pulling our own weight at a much younger age than our siblings. When I was his age…. (You know the drill.)

Find the youngest capable person

Years ago I heard a parenting and homeschooling speaker suggest that you delegate tasks to the youngest child who can tackle the job, whatever that task is.

If you need a new diaper for the baby, ask the toddler, not the teenager to go get it. If you need someone to take out the trash, find the youngest, able bodied person to do the job. If the counters need to be wiped, assign the task to the shortest person who can still reach the counter top.

This has been a wonderful reminder to me not to relegate my older children to more tasks than they need to do as well as a great challenge to consider what my younger people are really capable of.

I still need (or prefer) to do a lot of things myself, but learning to delegate tasks to my children helps them and me. And if I’m remembering to teach the littler kids, we all benefit.

Are you comfortable delegating tasks to your younger kids?

Disclosure: Please use common sense in delegating tasks to young children. And just so you know, the cleaner my tot is holding is a non-toxic, diluted cleaning solution. :)

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Comments

  1. Finding the youngest capable child for a task is what we do and it works. It’s especially helpful when handing out tasks for the day or a quick house-wide cleanup. We hand out tasks to the youngest ones first and then by the end, whatever nobody else can handle is what gets left to the oldest. It ends up working out pretty even.

  2. I laughed when I saw the spray bottle because we use that brand, too!

    I always try to spread out the “task love” to make sure all the kids have an opportunity to help out. If there’s a spray bottle involved, everyone is THERE.

    The kids also love to help in the kitchen, and I think they’ve learned to use a knife much earlier than most kids as a result.

    At this point, I think my oldest actually has the fewest homekeeping skills because he was the only child for 7 years, and I didn’t think about the importance of training him.

  3. I’ve never thought of assigning tasks to the youngest able-bodied child before, but that really makes sense. Thanks for sharing that.

  4. There’s only one kid in our household (and it will likely stay that way) but I am always looking for tasks for her to take on because she loves being included. She’s nearly 3 so it’s a bit deal to get to do the parent stuff — and some of it she’s already really good at. Participating in the cooking, helping with laundry, cleaning up her toys — those are all things she already really enjoys doing :)

  5. What a great tip – finding the youngest person who can do the job. My youngest is 2 and it’s hard to remember that she can help out too. It’s certainly quicker to ask the big kids to help, but it’s such important training for her. Yesterday I gave her a wad of baby wipes and she spent 10 minutes delightfully wiping down a dusty stroller that we found in the garage. She was happily occupied for ten whole minutes (a blessing!) and she was so pleased to be helping Mommy.

  6. Carrie Phelps says:

    I love that I do this is reinforced. I find that when I ask my four year old grandson to do these things that my two year old grandson is also at the ready to be helpful!
    Carrie

  7. Well, my kids are 2 1/2 and 5 months, so they’re both considered the “youngest” in terms of this post and handing out chores. (Obviously I don’t give the baby anything to do yet.)

    This is actually something I’ve been working on recently after reading Stephanie O’Dea’s “Totally Together” book in which she writes that we are raising children to be adults, not children, and it’s OK to give them things to do.

    I’ve been making a more concerted effort to give my 2 1/2-year-old specific tasks to do that fit into our routine. He doesn’t do any of them alone but will eventually (I hope). Right now, he
    – helps empty the dishwasher (plastics in the cupboard, spoons in the drawer)
    – puts dirty diapers (disposable) in the diaper pail (we have a Diaper Champ and he LOVES turning the handle)
    – uses a spray bottle with water and a rag to “clean” while I’m scrubbing the floor/fridge/etc.
    – wipes down the walls of the shower while he’s in there (I never told him to do this…he just does it on his own!)
    – helps get the mail in the afternoon
    – helps pick up his toys at night
    – puts his dirty clothes in the hamper
    and we’re working on folding laundry (matching socks, etc.), rinsing dishes and a few other things. He is so eager to please and so willing to help out right now. I know it won’t last, so that’s why I’m working on things with him now.

    Thanks for the post (and sorry I wrote a book in this comment)!

  8. I couldn’t agree more. You definitely have to “let” the youngest children do things to help–how else will they learn? The other comment about the oldest ending up doing too much, we’ve realized that and have really pulled back and only have him do tasks that the other kids simply can’t do by virtue of their size (mowing, putting up the shade tent, testing the pool chemicals, etc).

  9. We just started am & pm chore cards for our son, he’s almost 4. He loves them and they are very simple 4 for both am & pm. Brush teeth, put dirty laundry in hamper, make the bed etc. That’s upstairs. Downstairs no matter what we’ve tried we can’t get him to pick up after himself. Sometimes it looks like his toy chest exploded all over the living room. We are currently on the “waiting” list to adopt and cannot handle the mess with an infant too. We’ve even thought about taking ALL his toys away.

    • I’ve packed at least half my sons toys away because I couldn’t stand the “explosion” :) And it’s easier for him to not feel overwhelmed in cleaning them up. I’ve also seen the Mommy ransom box on pinterest….toys left out at the end of the day get put in the box by Mom, and they don’t come out until a certain task is performed.

  10. For some reason, mine love packing each other’s lunches, which includes asking what the packer wants, filling the drink, getting out the baggies, the whole shebang. My oldest has autism so she can’t let someone pack her lunch for fear of the smells on their hands transferring to her food, but she will happily pack someone else’s.

  11. I am working so hard on remembering that as my kid’s abilities grow, so do their responsibilities … my daughter is so ready to be helping with meals and I have just put it off because she’s still my baby. But both of my young kids help regularly; I am very blessed by their great help!

  12. Chores for kids are beneficial in all sorts of ways! We utilize a family chore chart, and revisit it about every 6 months to accommodate for new skills and capabilities of my kiddos.

  13. I would have my children
    1. Bring the laundry to the laundry room
    2. Clean the floor/ mirrors with squirt type cleaners or just water
    3. fold clothes/ put away clothes
    4. wipe down table and counters
    5. help put the laundry in the drier, this transition to doing laundry about age 9.
    6. help cook and clean in the kitchen

  14. I’ve really been wanting to get my kids more involved in household tasks and chores, I’m afraid I’ve waited much too long, because my twins are in 2nd grade now, and it’s hard to get my son to understand why they should pitch in- although my daughter is almost always a big help!

    I think one of the reasons I’ve waited so long is because I think back to my childhood and what the chores were, and the only one I remember for little kids is emptying the trash, and we produce so little trash (big recyclers) that the cleaning lady does that once a week. There’s never a dining room table to set – we don’t have space, so we eat in the living room – and I’m not comfortable having them in the basement where the laundry machines are unsupervised. I appreciate some of the ideas listed, like wiping down the table for the little ones – the toddler can wipe down our coffee table – and giving the tasks to the youngest capable child.

    What is funny is when I ask my 7 y.o. son to do things, his twin sister tries to jump in and do it instead – I may have to have a talk with her about *letting* him do his own share!

    I do have a great video on my blog about teaching my toddler to recycle though, I try to teach him these little things!

    thanks!
    Alicia

  15. What a great idea (youngest, capable person)! I only have 2 kids and the youngest is only 15 months but there certainly are some things she can help with (in fact, she and my 3 year old helped wash the car yesterday). I’m an oldest too–so I’m for sure going to keep this in the back of my head.

  16. I ended up buying disposable wipes designated for wood and stainless steel (even though I hate them) because my boys kept trying to steal the baby wipes to clean the wooden cabinets and tables as well as the stainless steel appliances. I figured they might as well use the appropriate cleaners.

  17. I am a firm believer in delegating household tasks and chores to the children. It’s an important part of being a family, and if you homeschool, like we do, it is essential! Mom is juggling so much as it is. It is great to have their help around the house. Sometimes it is hard to accept a “less than great” performance. Nonetheless, it helps everyone. :-)

  18. This is really really good for busy three year olds who get into mischief and into “stuff” like my son. Whenever I ask him to help with someone he gets very excited and feels special. I am trying to do this more now as his older sister went off to 1st grade and he feels a little “off.”

  19. If I’m happy with a few random spots being SUPER clean, my 2 year old loves to spray Mrs. Meyers on the floor and scrub it. He hasn’t gotten the hang of spreading it around yet, but he really goes to town on the spots he chooses!

  20. We’ve just started working on “cleaning up the toys and book” with my 19 month old. She gets it pretty well and even spontaneously cleans up at times without being asked. I think we’ll tackle folding wash clothes next (plus it’s adorable when she tries to say it!). She also is pretty good at wiping down windows that I’ve sprayed. Practice, practice, practice!

    Lindsey @ ErieFamilies.com

  21. For those having a hard time with kids picking up after themselves. We had a “Sorry Charlie” box and before bed we had to pick up all our things, and whatever wasn’t picked up went in the “Sorry Charlie” box for either a day-3 or a month depending on the age of the kid. It only had to happen a couple times to each kid and it sat empty for many years. :)

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