Yes, 8-year-olds can do their own laundry! A guide to chores at every age

Chores build character, and kids can start as early as 18 months old.

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/ Source: TODAY Contributor
By Allison Slater Tate

Sheltering in place during the COVID-19 crisis has parents working overtime to keep our kids occupied.

Wouldn't it be nice if they...did some chores to help around the house?

They can, and what's more, said child development expert Dr. Deborah Gilboa, helping out is good for them.

In her TEDx Talk, "The Expectation Gap," she discussed how some parents believe their kids are too busy with school and extracurricular obligations for additional chores.

Statistics bear out the theory that parents are giving kids a pass these days: A survey found that 82 percent of parents regularly did chores as children, but only 28 percent give their own children chores now.

Gilboa said that requiring chores helps produce children who will be “problem solvers of good character." But which chores are appropriate for children at which ages? Here's a shorthand guide:

18 mos-3 years: “This is the ‘me do it myself!’ age, so take advantage of it!” Gilboa said. “You'll rarely need to ask a preschooler twice if they'd like to do a big-kid job for you.” Gilboa cautions against giving this age group a chore that parents might feel compelled to follow behind them and redo in their footsteps: “That would be a quick way to teach them that they might as well not help at all,” she said. “Let them do one part, like hold the dustpan while you sweep.”

4-5 years old: Kids are entirely capable of doing some tasks alone, but many children this age won't remember without prompting, Gilboa said. "Hint: tell them to tell you when they're done," she said. "This will help to keep them on task, and let you know to check that it was done the way they've been taught."

6-8 years old: Don't be afraid to give early elementary children daily chores, Gilboa said. "Once a week seems easier, but actually building habits is easier if something needs to get done every day. So a repetitive kitchen chore or pet care can be a great choice," she said.

And don't underestimate what kids this age can do, Gilboa added. "One Sunday, a babysitter asked me if she could take our kids to the park while I was at work. 'Sure,' I replied, 'Once their chores are done!'" Gilboa said. The babysitter asked Gilboa's 8-year-old son what chores he had left. When he replied "laundry," the college-age babysitter was shocked."'You do the laundry? Most of my college friends don't know how to do laundry!' she said."

Gilboa's son was just as shocked to learn that college students did not know how to do their own laundry. With her help, he created a video for her YouTube channel to teach them how:

9-11 years old: At this age, "take advantage of your child's ability to tackle multi-step projects," said Gilboa. "These will take a while to learn, but are great for sharpening their planning and problem-solving skills as well as — eventually — taking something off your plate."

12-13 year olds: Your best bet with tweens is to connect a chore to any activity that is important to them, said Gilboa. "If your child loves to eat, dinner or breakfast prep is a great chore," she said. "If they need a lot of rides to activities, then cleaning out the car regularly is a good task."

14-15 year olds: Pick a household chore you really don't like to do and delegate it to your teenagers, said Gilboa. Kids this age used to hold full-time jobs, she pointed out, and "they can certainly handle making dinner for the whole family once a week or tackling larger projects around the house."

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16-18 year olds: Once your children are driving age and looking at graduating from high school, it's time to make sure they have all the life skills they will need to handle daily life once they leave your home, said Gilboa. "Cooking, cleaning, car maintenance, even getting them involved in bill-paying ... make sure they're ready to adult!" she said. (And don't forget the laundry!)

Gilboa said that though chores often seem easier for parents just to do themselves, "We know our children need to learn to do these things, both to learn the skills and to be engaged members of the family."Now might be a good time to start: "Use the slightly more relaxed schedule of summer to let them try," she said, "And try again. Until they get it. That way, by the time school starts, you won't be teaching, you'll be enjoying one less thing you have to do."

This article was originally published in June 2016.