Starting Extra Chores for 4 Year Old

Updated on July 07, 2010
S.H. asks from Harvest, AL
18 answers

My daughter is 4, and the only "chores" she's really had is to clean her room & to put her dishes in the sink after eating.

My husband will be out of town for a few weeks starting in a couple weeks. Then, in a few months he will be deployed for 1 to 2 years. It will just be my daughter & me at home. Needless to say, I'd love for my daughter to be able to help me out more!

I guess I have several questions involving this & our upcoming chaotic life haha

#1. What chores can a 4 year old do? Here are some I have thought of already:
clean her own room & toys around the apartment
dishes in the sink after meals
help put dishes in the dishwasher
help put clothes in the washer
help pull clothes out of the dryer
help scrub kitchen & bathroom floors occasionally (she's done this before & thinks it's fun! lol)

#2. When do I start introducing these chores? The reason I ask this is because I don't want to complicate her life too much with the changes about to happen. Daddy is about to be gone for 1 month, then for a year or 2. On top of that, we are (hopefully) going to be moving into a new apartment (bigger!!) just before Daddy leaves for the year. Should I start asking her to help with some things occasionally now? Or wait til after we move??

#3. We've thought about offering her an "allowance" per chore & possibly having some sort of chart. She doesn't yet understand the value difference of coins versus paper money, and is happy to be given coins. So I'm thinking we can start out "paying" her with coins! :P Then I can get her small "prizes" occasionally for her good work. Should I introduce this when I start teaching her the new chores? Or wait until after we move & she understands all of the chores first?

Any other tips & ideas are welcome! Thanks!

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answers from San Antonio on

Wow, Some little ones do too much after reading this. Just my opinion. Ex: 3 year old vacuuming the living room. I don't know. I think I would rather my 3 year old do something else.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Toledo on

Chores on a chart at 4 should be things like getting dressed by herself, brushing her teeth, trying a new food, making her bed, picking up toys, etc. She's not too young to help out, but she's too young for an allowance. She doesn't understand or care about money. She should learn to help because that's what we all do--help around the house because we are all a family. That means "help" --not have assigned duties. The things you mention need adult supervision and are just doing her part as a family member.

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answers from Sacramento on

I am a single mom of a four year old boy. He does all of the things you mentioned plus:

-puts away his own clothes (I fold them and stack on the counter according to the drawer they belong in and he takes one stack at a time)

- Sets table for meals (it's not always pretty, but hey do you really NEED the fork on the left?)

-Wipes down table after meals

-puts away silverware in the drawer while I unload the rest of the dishes

-Takes care of personal needs/grooming in the morning.

-brings in mail and newspaper

I didn't have any big way that I introduced his "jobs" other than to say "hey I have a job for you." It's just the two of us, and he does his chores while I do mine in the same area so he just feels like we're hanging out together. I don't offer an allowance or anything, I just ask him to do the job when it's time or say "hey, did you get your room picked up? I'm ready to watch this movie" or whatever.

My advice would be just to get her used to helping around the house more before you move, so that when you move you can say "You have become such a good helper, I'm going to give you some jobs all your own."


3 moms found this helpful


answers from Colorado Springs on

I'm so encouraged by all you are doing and looking ahead to do with your daughter! These are great ideas. I think our society in general doesn't have children contributing much to the household in the way of upkeep. No wonder people don't want many children. {But that's a whole nother topic!} I love your ideas. I think they are manageable for a 4 year old. Some of my friends have even moved their dishes down to a lower cabinet so that the littles can help unload the dishwasher. I love it that you are looking at the positive things that will be happening while your husband is gone, and finding a way for you and your daughter to work together as a team to get through the difficult time without your husband there. I would probably start to implement the changes now, gradually. That way, everything won't be such a shock at once. It will help her adjust to her new home if you just continue on with what you had already begun in your current home.
We don't do allowance. We used to, but then found out that the children began to only be motivated if they were going to be paid. And, then, if they really didn't want to do something, they just determined that it wasn't worth the money to do it. Backfire. We help because we are in a family and we need everyone to make the home run smoothly. I'm not the maid. They aren't the slaves. We work together in love to bless each other. At least that is the goal. :) We all work hard. I wish I had started the olders working much younger. But, I learned eventually. Thankfully, we still have young ones that I can train properly from the beginning. You will not regret training your daughter to be a worker. I know of many families whose daughters are fully capable of running a house by the time they are 15 or so. Fully capable to include budgeting, grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning, taking care of children. They are HUGE blessings to their family and others as well. That is my goal for my daughters. And, when they are young, they are very eager to learn. Enjoy your daughter. I pray that the time flies by quickly so that you will be reuinted with your beloved soon.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Jacksonville on

I would let her match up sock pairs when the laundry is clean. (I HATE doing that.. lol). And it doesn't have to be made out to be a "chore"... it can be fun if she is doing it along side you.

If you do decide to pay for some chores, be careful that they are not everything you will ever want her to do. At our house, there are some things the kids do just because they are part of the household, and some items they are paid for. And then there are the "extra" more rare things... usually outside projects (pulling weeds or helping plant things or picking up sticks after wind storms or something). They poop scoop the yard, put their plates in the dishwasher, set the table, make drinks/glasses for dinner, strip their beds, make their beds, clean the bathrooms, vacuum, etc.. but only get paid for taking out the trash/recycle bins and mowing the lawn, etc.

She is young, but start small and add as she is able. If you decide to pay her, get a clear plastic container that is skinny and tall for her to put her $ in. She will be encouraged by seeing it growing. The taller/skinnier the container, the "faster" it will 'grow'.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

Just want to add to this that my kids LIKE to help and they will be raised to be responsible young people - that means helping. And being raised in a military family, things are VERY different. It's just a different mentality of helping your family.

I think I am one of the mom's out there that has my kids help with everything. My 3 year old (3/12/07) does the following chores:

cleans his room
puts away clean silverwear
helps load washer/dryer
vacuums living room
wipes the table after meals
pick up toy room

Some of the things he needs help with, but we try to make it fun for all of our kids to help out. If they really seem tired, we don't make them do it. I don't want them to hate helping, but they know we are a family unit and they all have to help for things to run smoothly.

We also were giving all of our kids $10 every two weeks, so $5 a week. We didn't tie it to chores though. We did it because they showed their good behavior in general (most of the time - lol). I think they need to know that they have to help with the chores no matter what and they don't get paid for helping and being part of the family. But some of my friends definitely disagree with totally up to you!
Good luck!

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Birmingham on

Your daughter is only 4 years old. If it is just you and your daughter and your husband, things shouldnt be as bad. I have 5 kids and a husband but i dont put my house hold stuff on my kids. Their chores are to keep their room and bathroom cleaned. They are to put there bed clothes (sheets and pillowcases) in the laundry room. They are to keep dirty clothes put in the hamper and when they are washed and folded they are to put them away. The areas that my kids mess up are the areas that is the main focus of there chores. My 9 year old daughter just started doing dinner dishes. Life can be complicating and i have loved for mine to help me and i have tried only to find out it is much easier and faster for me to do it alone.
Just put yourself in her lil mind and think what or how would i feel if i was in her place?...if its overwhelming wait a couple years. When my son was 4 years old he wanted to help me clean the whole house. He did. but i was in each room with him. I explained to him what i wanted done and showed him and he helped me. Going about chores this way also gives your child the idea of exactly how mom wants it done. When she is older and u tell her that u want something done and done right then she will know what u are talking about.....good luck!!!!!

1 mom found this helpful


answers from New York on

Sounds like you need a military family to answer. In a perfect world a 4 year old could go about life just picking up her toys but we don't live in a perfect world. Mommy's and Daddy's go fight wars and families are left behind to take care of everything else. I feel your pain. (My husband recently returned from an 18 month and is leaving again in Sept.) My kids help out in our house because if they didn't things just wouldn't get done. I have a 9 yr old and a 5 yr old and they both have been doing chores since they were 3. They are also respectful, helpful and rarely rude. When I was a kid my dad worked 20 hr shifts we grew up helping around the house because it was expected. My kids do not get paid for their help so I can't help you there. They are expected to put their toys away and if they don't after 24 hours I throw them out and do not replace them. The chores they have to do are: 9 yr old - take out trash and recycling, carry in groceries, help put them away, seperate laundry, put his clothes away, feed his dog and clean up after her in the yard, every other day he does the dishes. 5 year old - feed the cat, carry in groceries, help cook meals, seperate laundry, put her clothes away, clear the table after meals, every other day she does dishes. On the 7th day I do the dishes and I do all the other housework. I help them with their chores if they need it but I also expect them to help in other areas if I need it. If they want to earn money they can take on a chore of mine say cleaning the tub for 5 bucks or washing/drying the laundry for 5 bucks a load. I help them when they need it there too. Military families are not like other families very often we are more strict with our kids and don't coddle them as much. Obviously that is a generalization (I've seen plenty of MF that let their kids run wild because things are tough on them) however we live off post and on our street at least you can tell which kids are military and which aren't just by the way they speak to their parents. Don't feel bad asking her for help and if you want to arrange a salary that is something you and your hubby should agree on. I've found very often when Dad deploys being given extra jobs helps my kids feel like they are supporting Dad too and gives them a sense of normalcy. ie -The trash goes out every week even though dad is gone. If you are worried about her feeling like it's a punishment because Dad is gone I would start it now but moving into the new place could also be a great way to start it. "this is our new house and to help care for it I need you to ....." Good luck and may your husband come back safely.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Honolulu on

We don't 'pay' for chores. Chores... is about "helping the family." It just is.

Keep "expectations" age appropriate... for example: don't expect her to clean an entire room... that can be overwhelming for a young child. It can be for an adult too. So, keep things in perspective.

You will need to 'help' her too... not just tell her what to do.
SHOW her how. In small steps.
Don't "expect" PERFECTION... for us, as long as our kids "try their best..." then that is fine. I know they can't do it as well as I can. The main thing is that they enjoy it, try their best, and that it is a TEAM effort.
I always emphasize "team work"... not my kids doing and me "ruling" over them. It is a "family" effort.

Next, she is 4... for you to do what you are expecting of her... how long do you think it would take YOU do to ALL of that???? An adult, and By yourself???? So, don't expect "her" to do it... all... nor quickly... nor perfectly... nor at-will.... nor like clock-work. Either.

I would, make a daily routine, that you do TOGETHER... so that it is more attainable, for her. Emphasize "team work"... not that it is her against the world... and that she do it perfectly.

For me and my kids, I do chores in the morning... and we do it together. I don't give rewards for it. I don't punish for it either. For me, the KEY thing is that they "help the family.... as a team..." and if my 7 year old helps wipe the tables... then that's good. I don't expect her to do it as good as me. Either. The point of it all for me... it that they try and participate... and understand that everyone in the house 'helps'... to the extent that they are able. As a FAMILY.

But, don't give her unattainable "chores" that will make her feel defeated... it should be a learning process... and go by her learning curve. Then when older, she can learn to do other things.... more complex things per her age and coordination and ability.
Don't give her that huge "chore" list all of a sudden... it will be a turn off.
Teach her in small steps, simply and make it FUN.

all the best,

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

My wife and I started having our kids do chores when they were around 4 years old. The older they got the more they were expected to do. 4 is about the time when they were expected to plant a garden and wash the breakfast dishes (by hand). We always made a big deal out of any vegetables that grew big enough to make it to the kitchen table.

We started with the easy stuff like helping set the table. "Bring the napkins. Can you count how many we need?" "Now I need some forks. Thanks for bringing them. Where do they go beside the plate?" You get the idea. Always encourage and always say please and thank you. Its never too early to mold young minds.

The older the kids when you get them started, the tougher it will be to get them to do chores. We divided the chores into personal chores and family chores. Every one was expected to put their clothes away or in the dirty clothes. We took turns with the family chores like setting the table or taking out the trash.

Teaching kids to do chores is one of the steps in teaching them to be self sufficient.

Good luck to you and yours.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Denver on

My oldest son LOVED scrubbing floor at 4! He'd then tell me we needed to scrub the cabinets. THEN he'd tell me we needed to scrub the walls. I'd have to tell him *I* was too worn out for that (and I was:).

The key to havings kids do tasks at this age is to do them together and have FUN. You can put on music & dance TOGETHER while cleaning floors. You can chat about whatever she likes while putting clothes in the wash.

Personally, I do NOT think it's too young for the tasks you list, as long as you do them together. Kids LOVE helping at that age, and I think it's better to get them into the habit of helping (even if it's only a tiny bit, even if it slows you WAY down) when they are still THRILLED to be helping.

My next oldest son is 2 and is all ready taking a turn feeding the dog and the cats (with assistance). My oldest is now 6, & he takes a turn feeding the pets too (I take care of getting the pets water). He SOMETIMES helps with laundry, dishes, floors, etc.

He is expected to clean up his toys & put his clothes in the hamper, he is expected to feed the animals once/day, but he still needs to be prompted for ALL of these and often we still need to do the work together. He gets prizes after a certain amount of time (usually 3 months, since the prizes he likes are $16 a pop lego kits), but he still has star/shape charts too, which help us recognize that it's time for a reward (and he feels that getting the stars and shapes ARE rewards as well:).

I would draw a chart and give her (draw her) a star each time she helps. So many stars = a prize. Since she doesn't understand money yet, I think this is better than an allowance, which it seems would be meaningless to her. She is only 4, so set the # of stars somewhere between 3-10, depending on how much delayed gratification you think she can handle.

AND, with the exception of, say, picking up her toys and putting her own dirty clothes in the hamper, always ASK if she wants to help, so she can opt out. It will keep the tasks from becoming "chores" to her and you won't have to worry about whether or not you are asking too much.

Oh! I forgot to add, my oldest LOVES helping prep meals too. It started as a way to get him to eat, but he is GREAT at it now! I just read through your posts and realized that we DO a lot of the things the military family does, but we are able to be much more relaxed in our approach. Basically, if the kids WANT to help, I try to find a way for them to do so.

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answers from Fayetteville on

I personaly think she is to young for chores...Putting away toys is fine and i feel she is to young for an allwance too. Thats just my opinion.

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answers from Minneapolis on

I do think she should put away toys, clear her plate after dinner, etc., but I also think four is pretty young for a comprehensive list of chores. I believe in some ways we keep kids immature by never requiring them to grow and take on new responsibilities, but it seems four is a little young to start that much growing. Maybe ask her if there is something cleaning wise around the house she really likes to do (besides floors) and let her pick a cleaning project once a week or something. I would keep her away from cleaning products too, especially the harsh ones used to clean floors and bathrooms - even green products contain corn based ethanol and other things you don't necessarily want a little child to be inhaling or getting on her skin. It seems like I helped my mom with laundry when I was pretty little though, sorting clothes, matching socks, stuff like that and I know I was on a step stool doing dishes by elementary school!

Thank you for the sacrifice you, your daughter and your husband will all be making while he is deployed. It's an important job, but it's heartbreaking to think of brave men and women being without their families and other loved ones. Good Luck with the transitions and wishing your husband a safe return back to you and yours.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Oklahoma City on

My daughter helped in any way she could. I bought her a toy mower and while i mowed the lawn she was in an alreay mowed part of the yard, checking my work. she would stand in front of the drier door as i put wet clothes on it and pushed them into the drier.

you can help her learn to do laundry by buying the powdered soap...measure it for her and put it in plastic baggies so she'll learn how much soap for how big a load. Also, lol she would help do laundry by even taking clean clothes and mixing them with dirty clothes....was ok at the time because she was helping just didn't know the difference...any small indoor chore she can help just make the task a game (make it a race, let her win)...let her sweep the kitchen even though it may not need to be swept...she's helping and that's all that matter's right now. I did all these things with my daughter. She's now 7 and does most the house work from laundry, to dusting and loves doing it....cause she's helping mommy.

i wouldn't do the allowance, becuse in my opinion she needs to learn that the reward for doing a chore is a job well done and a completed task and a clean house...i never did allowance (can't afford it) and my daughter is a better house keeper than both her dad and i

what ever the chore let her help in her own way...when she makes a mistake, let her know it's ok and show her the proper way...make it fun!



answers from Philadelphia on

When my kids are that small i don't expect much. They have to keep their room clean and put away their own things. (ex. toys,shoes, jacket, dishes, juice box trash...) I think 4 is too young to be doing house chores :(



answers from Texarkana on

my 4 yr old is a momma hen! And she loves helping me out arond the house and gets mad when I don't let her help. I think its a great idea to help out around the house cuz doing will kinda help keep her mind off of her daddy not being there. When u doing stuff around the house ask her if she wants to help mommy that's what I did with mine and she thinks she has to do everything with her 3 yr sister n 4 month brother. Its also good with helping them learn been responable and help with good manners. But every parent is different bout rasing there kids. Good luck! Hope everything turns out!



answers from Tuscaloosa on

My son is also 4 and my husband is ALSO getting ready to leave for the year. I just started an allowance system with my son and it's been going well so far. Here's what we do. He has a tupperware container and I have several golf-ball size colored balls. When he does something extra special that I ask him to do, I put a ball in the container. If he has 4 balls by Sunday, he gets $2 for the week. I decided on $2 because that's enough for him to buy something small right away, or will teach him to save up to buy something medium-sized without taking TOO long. I also decided not to assign chores because I don't want him to think that he gets paid for everything he does. (I can also bribe him to do something he doesn't want to do sometimes...8-) ) Some things he does are: take in and out the garbage can and recycling, "wash" the car once I set up a bucket of water, watch his little sister briefly while I take a quick shower, and even being good in church can earn him a ball.



answers from Tulsa on

I think it's a great idea to have her help out around the house! Especially since she still thinks it's fun! However, I wouldn't bother with an allowance at this point. In my opinion, she should learn that everyone who lives in the house helps out with keeping up the housework, etc. I would do lots of positive reinforcement, since she will still eat that up. Tell her how much she's helping and how great she's doing and how much you appreciate her. Lay it on thick. As far as timing...I'm not sure. Maybe it would be better to do it now, and start slow.
Good luck, and thank your hubby for his service to our country!

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