One of our most downloaded articles is one in which we explained how routines and chore charts provide structure in times of transition. But as your kids get older, you may be wondering if chore charts feel too babyish or are even helpful in setting expectations. For parents who are hard-wired to make lists, we have good news and we have bad news (depending on how you look at it). The good news is that chore charts still work even as your child grows and nears the end of elementary school. So make all the checklists you want, but just keep them simple, doable for your child’s age level, and remember to coach your child the first few weeks you’re using a checklist for chores. However, if you’re gifted in Canva or you love a spreadsheet, there may be a downside to chore charts as your children get to middle school. But the downside is really a perk because it has everything to do with developing independence and ownership. When your child gets in 4th or 5th grade, it’s time to start letting your child practice his or her own best ways to organize to-do lists, chores, and calendars.

Letting go of chore charts your way

One of the best things you can do for your older child is to let him discover how he wants to stay organized. Start with something simple, small, and doable. For example, you might suggest he take ownership of his after-school checklist. He can make his own list for what to do when he walks in the door: hanging up a backpack, getting a snack, and putting shoes away are a start. But then he may want to add homework and downtime to the chart. If your child shows no interest in doing a chart for something simple, it may be because she has developed the organizational skills she needs for simple tasks. This is especially true if you’ve been holding on to the chore chart, duplicating it from week to week for her to use. So the next step is to allow her to create her own chore chart or calendar of to-do items. This can include a weekly roster of homework assignments and extracurricular activities for which she needs to practice. And it may also include household responsibilities for which your child needs to take ownership. Think about letting your child do his or her own laundry, maybe even giving him or her a set day of the week on which to wash, dry, fold and put away his or her clothes. Yes, it means letting go of chore charts and laundry that’s done your way, but it will set into motion a new idea: the freedom for your child to set his or her own boundaries around something that he or she can control.

Why a chore chart made by you doesn’t accomplish the same thing

When our kids get older, they need to start transferring ownership of their schoolwork, their health and wellbeing, and their personal responsibilities away from us and toward themselves. Why? Think of it as insurance. Teaching your child to take responsibility over a few things now sets the ball in motion for your grown child to not live in your basement forever. If you do everything for your child, he or she won’t usually naturally take on responsibility. It is a learned skill that a student must value for himself, which means you cannot do it for your child. He has to do it on his own.

How to be hands-off when everything in you screams, “That’s not how you do it!”

Watching your child take on a new task can be excruciating. He or she may stumble, burn the eggs, set the dryer on too high a temperature or even (gasp!) turn her favorite white t-shirt pink in the washing machine. Try to think of these as small setbacks on the road to success. Your child will have to make mistakes, which do have natural consequences, in order to learn. It’s a normal part of development for every child. So the sooner you can learn phrases such as these, the better off your child will be.
  • Would you like me to show you how I do it?
  • Do you need help organizing your chore list?
  • What kinds of chores do you think need to be done daily, weekly, and monthly?
  • I’d love to help you, but I won’t unless you feel you really need it.
  • It’s your (chart, list or responsibility) so you get to decide what makes sense for you.
Coaching your child to learn how to do something is, of course, absolutely encouraged. But as you see that she is getting it, it’s time to step back a little and give her room to soar.

What if my child doesn’t care about chore charts and responsibility?

Many children won’t care. But you do! So take it from us: You have every permission to nudge your child toward responsibility by coaching him to do something for himself that you know you don’t need to do anymore. Here are some (hopefully) fun ways to do that:
  • Let your child design his or her own list using an online program such as Canva.
  • Give your child permission to use his or her phone to download an organizational app, such as Trello, Todoist, or Asana.
  • If your child doesn’t have her own phone, let her use yours to take photos of each responsibility she’s adding to her chore chart. Then, she can print them or use Google Docs to make her own, personalized list.
  • When all else fails, provide a date and time for your child to start with one task, such as laundry. Let him or her know that you won’t be doing the laundry anymore (once he or she has had plenty of practice sessions with you). If your child wants clean clothes to wear, he or she will get motivated when the dirty laundry starts to stink and there’s nothing clean to wear next week.
Find what works for your family, of course, and start small. Our children are like sponges, but they need to absorb what they learn multiple times in a variety of ways before they discover how they are uniquely wired and what works best for them.