Should a four year old be doing household chores? Many people would be horrified at the mere suggestion. And even some four year olds would be shocked to hear that you expect them to clean up around the house.
There are some very good reasons for giving young children chores around the house, and no matter how many excuses they might come up with, it certainly won’t do them any harm. In fact, quite the opposite is true!
The benefits of 4 year olds doing chores are many—and you don’t have to wait until they are that precise age before introducing the idea either. And there are benefits for parents, too.
5 tips for getting them started:
It will be far easier for your four year old to accept responsibility for doing household chores if you introduced them to helping around the house at a younger age. Even two year olds can tidy toys and do other simple tasks, so if you feel that your child is ready and willing, then get them started.
It will be time well spent because if this is your first child, you will have made your own life easier for when you bring the second, third, etc. babies home. You will have an independent, self-reliant child who will love to be your little helper.
It’s important to remember that not all children mature at the same rate, so introduce easy tasks to start off with, and build up their confidence with lots of praise.
2. Model what to do
Even the simplest tasks may need to be demonstrated to a child at first. If you want them to do it in a certain way, then break the task down into small steps that are easy to follow. A simple flowchart of drawings to show the steps might help your child to remember.
What seems easy to us could take a lot of practice for little hands and you will have to demonstrate a few times to make them feel confident. Soon they will be able to tackle that task without your supervision.
3.What’s in it for them?
Most young children are very happy to help, especially when they receive your praise. They might start off enthusiastically, but then lose interest. That’s when you might need to up the level of persuasion.
I would not recommend rewards very early on in the learning process, but the promise of a treat like going to the park or playing a game with you will probably be enough to spur them on.
You want your 4 year old to join in with chores because it’s what is expected of family members working together. If you get locked into a reward system too soon, your child will miss out on the opportunity to do things in the common interest.
4.Don’t expect perfection at first
Little hands may take some time to adapt to tasks that require fine motor skills or a sequence of steps, so try to be patient and let them have a go. Praise, praise and more praise is a must if you want them to persevere.
Stop yourself from jumping in and taking over the task. That will give them the message that they are not good enough, and they will become discouraged. Not giving up is an invaluable life skill. It’s also important to remember that, although most household chores are mundane and repetitive to us, but they can be fun for kids.
5.Start with personal hygiene
By the age of four, most children have mastered the basics of taking care of their personal hygiene. They can, for example, handle the following morning routine: wash face, brush teeth, brush hair.
They might even be starting to dress themselves, although that can sometimes lead to hilarious or totally inappropriate outfits. Never mind about that at the start. All that freedom has probably gone to their head, and they will soon adjust to what should be worn for a particular event or type of weather. Remind them to change their underwear and put dirty clothes in the hamper.
Which chores are age-appropriate for a four year old?
As I said before, children develop at different rates, and you are the best person to know what your particular child is capable of doing. Even children from the same family may differ in what they can do at the age of four, so try not to compare them. Just be flexible and very patient. If your child feels pressured, then they may switch off and see it as an opportunity for rebellion. It is worth taking note of what they spontaneously enjoy helping you with and build on that.
Here are some simple chores that your four year old could start doing around the house:
1.Tidy their bedroom
Now they won’t be able to create an immaculate bedroom in one go, so start with a list of things that need to be done daily. Show them a photo of their bedroom when it has just been tidied, and talk them through what you had to do to get it neat and tidy. Help them identify the things that tend to get messy, and ask if they know how to tidy that thing. Start small and gradually build up to having them tidy the whole room. They will probably think twice about making a mess if they know that they will have the job of tidying up later.
Making the bed is an easy task to start with. Show your four year old how to pull the bedding or duvet straight and position the pillows at the top of the bed. The next task is tidying up the enormous pile of soft bedtime toys, and they will definitely enjoy putting all the cuddly toys in order.
Young children are easily distracted, especially when the job involves toys, so try to teach them simple time management by using a sand timer or a timer on your mobile. Check that they are on task and praise them for completing the chore.
After that, they may need to tackle the toy box and pick up any toys that are lying around. Teaching them that everything should have a place is important for keeping things in order and will set a good example for younger siblings. This is the ideal kids chore.
If bedroom furniture is at the right height, they may be able to put some clothing away or sort out the dirty clothes that need to go into the laundry basket.
They will definitely get a kick out of making their own room look great. Don’t forget to share a photo of their efforts with other members of the family, and make sure that they feel their efforts are appreciated.
2. Sort laundry
Young children are able to sort using a couple of criteria. For example, by colour, size or type. This is an important mathematical concept, so it’s a really worthwhile chore.
For example, sorting laundry according to the room that it will be used in or the person it belongs to helps them develop thinking skills and learn to understand that it makes life easier for everyone. They could then fold laundry, but don’t expect perfect folding at the start. Let them start with hand towels and tea towels before moving on to more complicated folding.
They could match socks (and learn about the one sock that never appears, even when you put two into the washing machine!), sorting them by colour or size. This will be learning counting and sorting in the most natural way.
Children can then pack away their own laundry, learning to understand the laundry cycle and how much work is involved with getting clean clothes from the laundry hamper and into their drawers. They will appreciate that it does not happen by magic!
3. Play “Wave the feather duster”
If children think that it’s a game, they will love to learn and help around the house while having fun at the same time.
Invest in some children’s household equipment that will be up to the task and easy for a little one to use. They will then be able to dust tables and other furniture that is low down. Amazon has a range of fun, dusting mittens which will have your child shining and buffing furniture to their heart’s content. You can also find other household cleaning products for children, like mops, buckets, and brooms.
Remind them of general health and safety tips like not standing on chairs and staying away from electrical switches and power points.
I would not encourage very young children to use household cleaning products, but if you put a little dab of a cleaning product on a cloth or give them special wipes and have them wear protective gloves, they should be able to wipe around safely.
In the bathroom, they can clean tiles, the bathroom sink, and even the potty.
Don’t forget that the door handles and knobs need wiping regularly in a house that has many sticky fingers around.
Using the fun, child-sized mop is definitely an engaging activity as it involves water, and your four year old will probably enjoy mopping around the table after the meal or the bathroom floor after a session of bath time fun.
This is a good opportunity to talk to young children about the dangers of some cleaning products and materials so they know that they are not to be played with or mixed together at all. Keep dangerous cleaning products such as bleach, in clearly marked containers and out of reach.
4. Empty the trash cans
Younger children are quite capable of going around the house and tipping the contents of small waste paper baskets into a large plastic sack. They could also sort trash for recycling and help carry clean garbage such as plastic and card to the correct bin.
Placing organic waste into the compost bin is a wonderful way for them to learn about the process of decomposition and how we can use so much of our kitchen waste as fertiliser in the garden. Kids love the idea of wriggly worms working for them!
5. Set the table
Providing they are not putting out your favourite China dinner service plates, let little ones set out the place mats, silverware, and plates for mealtime.
They could also place out any condiments or sauces that will be eaten with the meal that you are preparing.
After enjoying the meal, they need to know that that is not the end of the work.
Helping an adult to rinse plates or place plastic or durable crockery into the dishwasher is a rewarding job to do together.
Be sure to remove any sharp knives or dangerous kitchen utensils before your little one starts this task, to avoid any cuts or misadventures that will put them off this chore for life.
6. Mini Master chefs in the kitchen
There is hardly a four year old in the world who does not like stirring and licking a wooden spoon in the kitchen. This is another great chance to teach many aspects of maths (measurements, time, etc.) as well as the importance of cleanliness in the preparation of food.
They can learn the vocabulary of cooking and the names of fruits and vegetables, as well as ingredients and how they have got to our kitchen. It’s never too early to plant the seeds of buying locally and growing your own food.
Young children can also learn to prepare simple meals such as a bowl of cereal or a peanut butter sandwich. They love to experiment and try out strange topping combinations.
Four year olds can use a plastic knife to cut up soft fruit and vegetables and can help to make smoothies, jellies, and healthy dips to share with the whole family. Imagine how proud they will be when everyone enjoys the food that they have prepared.
Make sure to get them involved in the cleaning up so that they understand the full cycle of food preparation.
My children were not allowed to use the kettle or other electrical appliances until they were a little older, but that depends on your child and your kitchen rules. Some older kids are perfectly able to make toast and a cup of tea, but that is a call that only you can make.
There are many lightweight vacuum cleaners on the market, as well as small handheld ones that are perfect for little hands. Get your child to play hide-and-seek behind the sofa cushions for any larger items like balls, socks, and sweets and put them in the wastebasket.
They can then vacuum the furniture and even give rugs or the living room carpet a quick clean. I am sure this will be one of the household chores that your young kids will be fighting over to do.
Once they have got the hang of tidying their room, the next step would be to do a weekly vacuum around the bedroom. That’s a sure fire way to make sure that they pick up all the small pieces of Lego that you stand on, causing muttering and bruising to the soles of your feet.
8. Let in the light
I remember that my windows were always fully of hand prints and smears. As much as children love to touch the glass on the windows, I am sure that they can learn to love to wipe them clean with a microfibre cloth as well.
When the windows are clean, you could reward them with some attractive window stickers which will hopefully deter them from touching the glass for a little while at least.
9. 4 year old gardeners
Young children adore outdoor jobs and should not need too much encouragement to help with chores in and around the yard. They can help prepare beds for vegetables, stir the compost with a stick, plant seeds, and help to bring in the harvest.
Weeding is an easy task, but they will need help to tell the difference between a weed and your precious seedlings.
Provide them with a few garden tools, including a broom and a rake, and soon you will be the envy of the neighbours with the tidiest garden path and a range of vegetables and flowers for your home. You will have the best time in the fresh air, and it won’t even feel like work
And don’t get me started on watering! A four year old in control of a garden hose is a force to be reckoned with. It doesn’t matter if a few mud pies get made in the process. But, make sure that they understand that water is a precious commodity and should never be wasted.
10. Your Pet, Your responsibility
If your four year old begs you for a pet, you would be wise to make them understand this basic rule because otherwise it will quickly become another chore that you end up doing.
From hamsters to puppies and all sorts of cuddly, wriggling, and cute creatures in between, if you allow an animal into your home, then your child must learn how to take care of it and learn to do all the tasks linked to being a responsible pet owner.
They can prepare the food, clean the dishes, put out fresh water, and tidy up after their pet. Cleaning cages and putting in fresh bedding is easy enough for a young child, and they will enjoy the chance to look after and care for another living creature.
You could also try to help them understand that there are costs involved in caring properly for a pet. Allow them to accompany you to the vet, and talk about the cost and responsibility of being a pet owner.
11. DIY for 4 yr olds
Imagine being allowed into the hallowed space of your dad’s workshop. You talk about the job, the materials that are needed, and watch as he takes measurements. Then he shows you the tools and explains how they should be used.
All little ones love to mimic the adults in their lives, and if they have “tools “ that they can use to help with a task—and believe that they are helping you with the job—that is all they need to be interested in this type of chore.
No matter what gender your child is, they will be set for life if they can change plugs, do basic woodwork, and even handle a little plumbing when they grow up. Just imagine the money that they will save and how much time you will have to enjoy your retirement without having to rush to their aid every time something goes wrong in their new apartment. Win, win!
Why is it important for four year olds to do age appropriate chores?
Thankfully, we are long passed the days when small children were forced to clean chimneys. Even so, it will stand them in good stead to learn how to do some basic household chores, and we should not shy away from involving them in household tasks.
- In my opinion, the younger they are when we start teaching children these skills, the more they are going to benefit in the long run. Don’t look at your angelic four year old and think that you have to wait until they are an older 4 year old before introducing them to participating in household chores.
Once your child has started school, they will have after school activities, homework, sport, and friends making demands on their time.
These days children have so many plates to juggle, and we don’t want to add pressure to their already full timetables. If your child has an established routine of doing chores at home, then they will understand that their time has to be managed in order to get everything done.
- Preschoolers love to help. They feel as if they are “grown up” when you trust them with chores. They will not always feel this way, so if you can capture the enthusiasm when they are a 3-year-old and above, it will be an established routine for the future.
You can also make doing chores a special time with your child, listening to them chatter about what is important to them and really connect with them in a way that will last a lifetime. There is so much more to this than just getting them to do chores to keep them occupied.
- By the same token, I have always believed in the saying “The devil finds work for idle hands “. If we don’t engage our little ones in meaningful and playful learning activities, they will use their energy and natural curiosity in negative and sometimes destructive ways. Boredom is not a good thing for a four year old!
- Children love to learn new skills and develop independence in a safe and natural environment. With brains that are working at the optimum and energy levels that are off the scale, finding a cheap (free) way to channel that energy in a positive and productive way, makes sense and could give everyone in the family something to celebrate.
- They learn to persevere and feel the pleasure of a job well done. Seeing a tricky job through to the end takes resilience and determination. These are not traits that our children are born with. They come through experience, and we are never too young to learn these important life skills.
- Learning about teamwork and cooperation at a young age will set them up for school as well as for success in whatever job they choose. We learn to enjoy shared tasks and how to get along with others, and it happens at our parent’s knee.
- The basics of number concepts, fine and gross motor control, and language can be learnt from doing simple chores together. Talking about tasks will expand your child’s vocabulary and help them to get a sense of the steps that need to be done to complete a task.
Talking, singing, and enjoying doing the chores together will build a good rapport between you and your child and the benefits will last much longer than the time it takes to complete the task.
- We all know the dangers of too much ‘screen time’. Doing chores is a way to get kids off of their devices and doing gentle, physical activity for a very important reason: to help their family.
Spice things up
Four year olds have a very short attention span. Some say that they can be attentive for as many minutes as their age in years, plus one extra minute if you are lucky. So, that means we can realistically expect them to stay on task for about five minutes.
You may need to come up with some clever tricks to keep them on task and make the job more enjoyable.
- Set a timer. One minute to five minute sand timers are available on Amazon. You can challenge your child to beat the timer. That makes it into a fun game. Race, safely, around the house and beat the clock, but remind them that they have to do the job quickly and well.
- Allow them to dress in cleaning clothes; apron, scarf and rubber gloves or they may choose to dress up as a firefighter, a nurse or even a Super Hero to be your cleaning assistant for the day.
Anything that adds an element of fun is a good idea with a four year old. They have a great sense of fun and love seeing their parents joining in with the silly behaviour. You will have them begging to do more household chores.
- Play loud music to pump up the energy levels. Playing a favourite song and singing along can often make the most boring chore finish far quicker. Remember the advice to “Whistle while you work”? Try to see who can finish the chore before the song ends.
- Create a chore chart. Children will probably “forget” to do their chores after the novelty has worn off, so they will need a little reminder.
This is when a list of chores is useful. I am sure you don’t want to be constantly nagging them to get on with it, so it would be helpful if they could tick off the chores themselves. Older children in the family will love the job of checking up on the standards and whether the job has actually been done at all.
- It’s possible to find printable reward charts and buy some fun stickers to keep track of how responsible your child is being.
A reward system works for a short time and then younger children get bored. Look on the internet for the latest ideas for reward charts and types of rewards children could receive for doing household chores. Be careful to match the reward with the effort required to complete the tasks.
There are many creative ideas on Pinterest and other websites to encourage your youngsters to record their successes in the household tasks, and you need to be prepared to keep the chore list relevant and the rewards desirable for the best results.
- Reward older children for doing extra chores and for helping younger siblings around the house. This ensures that they realise that helpfulness is something that is highly valued in your home.
What should you do if your 4 year old refuses to cooperate with doing household chores?
If you are just introducing the idea of helping around the house, you could explain that everybody needs to work, and talk about different occupations. Also, try to help them understand that it’s not a punishment but a privilege to be your special little helper.
After being an obliging helper, your 4 year old may suddenly become reluctant or completely refuse to do some or all of their chores. In this case you need to dig a little deeper to find out the cause of the change of attitude.
Perhaps they are feeling overwhelmed and inadequate They may have had a fright when using the vacuum, for instance. It might be that they have broken something by accident, and they are too afraid to tell you. What may seen small or silly to you could have become a big problem for them.
There has been much research done into what makes us develop into happy, successful, and productive adults. It seems that a simple ingredient like helping around the house can make all the difference when it comes to being well-rounded members of society.
Julie Lythcott-Haims can be heard talking about this simple concept in her TED talk. She maintains that the people whom we hold in high esteem in the present day, remember that being expected to make a contribution to basic household chores as a very young child, helped make them successful in many and diverse careers and become decent, caring members of society.
4 year olds helping with household chores will benefit them in more ways than you have probably thought about. In fact, you would be doing them a disservice by letting them get away with not making a contribution to the many jobs that keep a home with a growing family running like clockwork.
They might even grow up thinking that other people should do all their dirty work. This will make them unpopular with other people who share a house with them in the future.
Future university roommates, flat mates, and spouses will be very grateful to you for teaching your kiddos to clean up after themselves.
Bringing up a child with an entitled attitude is not good parenting and will keep you doing things for them long past the time when they should be independent and self reliant.