My kids took a keen interest in cooking at an early age, standing on a chair beside me so they could pour pancakes or crack eggs into the pan for sunny-side-ups. At age 11, my daughter Lila loves to cook pasta with tomato sauce. Her older brother makes pesto tortellini, pesto pizza, pesto scrambled eggs… you get the idea. Lila likes to pretend to be a waitress, writing down our orders and serving the food with a flourish.
Cooking for the family is a fun way for tweens to gain a sense of responsibility, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says can set them up to be better able to resist negative peer pressure in the teen years.
Having a regular family clean-up routine, says Rona Renner, parenting coach and author of Is That Me Yelling? A Parent’s Guide to Getting Kids to Cooperate Without Losing Your Cool, is another way to help tweens feel a sense of responsibility, belonging, and purpose. “We’d do something in our home every Saturday morning when we had preteens and a younger child — we called it The Hurricane. We’d set the timer for 20 minutes, put on music, and rush around cleaning and straightening up as fast as we could. Small rituals like that teach kids that they’re part of a community and that everyone contributes — that’s what makes the family great.”
Clinical psychologist Barbara Greenberg, who specializes in treating teens, says doing chores with her tween daughter was an important bonding time. “We would work together and talk the whole time,” she says. “It was just such a nice, quiet time to share together. Doing chores together is an ideal way to teach kids what it’s like to be part of a team.”
If the opportunity comes up, tell your spouse or partner (within earshot of your child) how helpful your child was in a particular task, Greenberg says. “It’s good for them to get that positive reinforcement and to know their work makes a difference.”
To pay or not to pay?
Ah, the question of allowance. Should your tween’s allowance be considered payment for doing their chores? Beth Kobliner, author of Make Your Kid a Money Genius (Even If You’re Not), is among the personal finance experts who feel it’s a bad idea to link chores to money. “Unless you want to negotiate each time your kid sets the table or makes her bed, avoid a ‘pay-by-chore’ system,” she says. “Chores should just be part of everyday family life.”
This advice is echoed by New York Times writer Ron Lieber, author of The Opposite of Spoiled. A key marker of the overindulged or “spoiled” child is having few or no chores, he writes, adding that kids ought to do household work “for the same reason we do — because the chores need to be done — not with the expectation of compensation.”
At the other end of the spectrum is Gregg Murset, a personal finance expert and CEO of BusyKid.com, who believes kids should be paid for chores. In fact, he created BusyKid for just that — it’s a chore and allowance app that lets you create an online chore chart, set prices for each task, and then have the kids check them off when they’re done. The app also sends a reminder to transfer money into your kids’ account at the end of the week.
There’s a middle ground between the two approaches, which I was glad to learn about, since I’m one of those parents who has always tied allowance to chores. Kobliner says that although it’s better not to compensate kids for regular chores like setting the table, you can pay for other work that goes beyond your child’s regular duties. We’ve made some adjustments in our family so that now my kids are paid for taking care of the chickens and other animals, chores that go beyond their daily household responsibilities. It seems to be working well for everyone, including the chickens.
Age-appropriate chores for 11- to 13-year-olds
Tidying up their bedroom
Tweens can be responsible for making their bed each morning, putting their clothes away or in a hamper (and not in a pile on the floor), and keeping their desk or workspace tidy.
Folding and putting away laundry
In addition to folding and putting away clothes, older tweens can be taught to sort loads of laundry and even run loads containing their own clothing and sheets.
Setting and clearing the table
Tweens can be expected to set the table, help clear their own and others’ dishes, and load and unload the dishwasher.
Helping prepare simple meals
Tweens can follow recipes and learn basic cooking techniques. Now is a good time to encourage your child to make simple dinners for the family. You can play sous chef and lend a hand or troubleshoot as needed.
Caring for pets
Your tween can reliably take on responsibilities like feeding the dog each morning or cleaning the cat’s litter box. (An adult should always make sure pets are being appropriately cared for.)
Dust mites begone! In addition to giving your child a few rooms or items to dust regularly, have your tween Google dust mites so they understand what they’re ridding your home of.
Don’t just assign your child plants to water, have your child understand what each plant is and understand the care and feeding for each one. Is this one in direct sunlight? Is another in the shade and needs more water? These are great science lessons for your tween.
With direction, many tweens can be responsible for a weekly pass with the vacuum over specified area rugs or wall-to-wall carpet.
Taking out trash and recycling
Emptying trash cans throughout the house, upending the recycling and compost into the appropriate bins, and putting the bins at the curb on trash pick-up day are all tasks your tween can take on. (Don’t forget putting the bins back and putting in new garbage bags, too.)
Tidying up the living room
From putting things away to running the vacuum, your tween should be able to get your living room looking ship-shape. But don’t expect your child to intuitively know what to do. Instead, tidy the living room together and talk about what the job entails.
With guidance, your tween can go through and discard outgrown, outworn, or unused clothing and shoes to make their closet tidy and accessible. This is perhaps one of the greatest chores of all in terms of teaching your child a valuable life skill. Being organized is a key skill for academic and work success. And who knows, maybe by starting now you’ll be raising the next Marie Kondo.