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Tidying with kids: how to master the mess

Fed up of clearing away after your family? We hear you. Our guide to chores for kids might make life that little bit easier.

Updated

little girl dusting pictures on the wall

It’s fair to say that children are not natural tidyupperers. If anything, they tend to excel at creating mess, leaving a trail of clothes, toys and ‘treasures’ (aka acorns, pebbles and general tat) wherever they go. We can’t transform them into Marie Kondo devotees, but we might have a few tricks up our sleeve to help kids master their mess, stick to their chores and build good habits.

Setting daily chores for kids

When it comes to helping kids to stick to their chores, the key is making those chores age-appropriate and being consistent. A five year old is going to struggle to do the vacuuming, but can probably pull their duvet straight and sweep a duster over a table. Try to make chores a habit, rather than a rarity. If a child knows they have to stack the dishwasher every night, they’re more likely to do it without complaining quite so loudly. 

Chores for children by age

The following ideas can act as a general guide to what children are capable of at what age, but all kids are different and what’s suitable for one child may not be suitable for another. We’re not suggesting children should do all of the chores below every week – they still need time to do homework, read and play!

Note: keep strong cleaning products, like bleach, well away from children. 

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House chores for kids under-five:

  • Putting toys and games away

  • Helping to make their bed each morning

  • Laying the table

  • Keeping the bookcase tidy

  • Putting dirty clothes in the laundry basket

Chores for five to eight year olds:

  • Any of the above and…

  • Sweeping

  • Polishing/dusting

  • Clearing the table

  • Putting away lighter groceries (not heavy tins and glass jars)

Chores for eight to 12-year-olds:

  • Any of the above and…

  • Washing the car

  • Mopping the floor

  • Cleaning windows

  • Vacuuming

  • Unstacking and restacking the dishwasher

  • Feeding pets

  • Changing the beds

  • Sorting the laundry out and putting it away

  • Wiping down kitchen worktops

  • Cleaning the bath, sink and shower

little girl washing a cup in the kitchen sink

Chores for teenagers:

By the time they’re 13, many children will be able to handle most simple household tasks, from cooking a basic meal to walking the dog.

Lead by example

There’s no guarantee that your children will follow your lead if you have a quick tidy up every night, but if you dump your towel on the floor every morning, you can be pretty sure your kids will too. Make it as clear as possible what you expect from your child, help them to build good habits and show them how to clean and tidy properly. That said, try to restrain yourself from constantly correcting them. It’s going to take time before they can mop like a pro and praise is a lot better encouragement than criticism.

To reward or not to reward?

The debate rages about whether children should earn pocket money for doing chores. Some parents believe that children should play their part in keeping a home running without expecting payment. Others are happy to offer children an incentive to do the jobs that they’d rather not.

If you do decide to set chores for your kids to earn money, you could look into downloading an app to help. Most are aimed at children aged eight and up and some come with a debit card. You set the chores your child needs to complete and a payment figure for each chore. When your child does the chore, you click to agree it’s been completed and the money moves from your account to theirs. You can also set savings goals and check where your child has spent their money.

For younger children, try a good old fashioned sticker reward chart

Easy does it

Our number one tip for encouraging children to tidy away is to make it as easy as possible for them to do so. That means making sure they know where everything goes. Toy rotation can also help to minimise the amount that needs tidying away in the first place. Which brings us to our guide to toy storage and toy rotation.

Originally published