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The Best Chores for 3 year olds and HOW to teach them

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All you need to know about the best chores for three year olds and, even more importantly, HOW to teach them in a way that supports their development.

Congratulations, your wild little souls made it to three years old! There were probably some close calls along the way, but here we are! So, now that our littles are growing what should we be teaching? What really are age appropriate chores for three year olds, and how do we teach them?? Keep reading! I’ll answer all these questions.

If you are just joining in now, this is part two of my chore series. I have 4 articles on chores for ages 2, 3, 4 and 5. If you would like all of them delivered right to your email then sign up below and I will send those over for you!

Why are chores for three year olds important?

Obviously, it’s quicker and easier to do it ourselves. Five minutes with kids in front of the TV and the whole kitchen is neat and tidy. Why include little ones? It’s all about building strong connections with your kids. It’s part of my whole theme of doing life together. We pull them into our world (the place they want to be because we are the center of their world), and show them they are important to the family, and they are capable little people. Let’s check in on their developmental stage to figure out why this is so important

Developmental stage for three year olds

Three years old is an important age for kids. They should be graduating from early childhood and starting the play age*. Soon they won’t even be considered toddlers anymore. How crazy is that?? So this is our chance to make sure they have gained the milestone of autonomy. Autonomy is their ability and desire to do things for themselves. This can easily come at the frustration of parents who sometimes just want to get out the door and not wait 10 minutes for their 3yr old to put their own shoes on (just me??). However, according to Dr. Erik Erikson, 3 year olds need to have gained or learned some autonomy to graduate from this developmental phase+. If they do not, they can develop feelings of shame and self-doubt. I know- even at this young age.

girl looking at dishwasher ready to help

So how do we cement their autonomy so they can graduate to the next stage (which is the play age and they are developing initiative in case you were wondering)?

By doing REAL life with them aka chores for three year olds!

We start doing life with them even though they still feel tiny! This is joyful, rewarding and honestly a little exhausting in the begning (so check out my post here on how to stay nourished yourself so you can keep giving to these tiny wild souls!

At this age we teach through two ways: modeling and buddy activities.

Teach chores for three year olds by modeling

Modeling is when we act and do the things ourselves we ask our three year olds to do. But, we say what would normally be an internal thought out loud so they can hear it and learn. It teaches them the internal script. It sounds simple, but it feels weird to start talking out loud and explaining everything you’re doing at first. I promise you will get used to it. Then of course you’ll get too comfortable with it and get some strange looks as you talk your way through the grocery store without realizing it…maybe thats just me.

Example of modeling: naming feelings

 For example: name your feelings: “wow mommy is feeling frustrated right now, I’m going to close my eyes and take some deep breaths”. 

As a part of modeling we can also prompt our kids: “I see you stomping your feet, and I hear you yelling, you look mad right now” (model how they would name their own feelings, identifying what you saw and heard that brought you to that feeling). 

Modeling is huge at this age. They are watching everything we do. Whether it’s behavior we want them to copy or not.

Example of modeling: doing the laundry

Start by talking out loud about how you know the task needs to be done: I see that laundry is full; we better get a load done! Let’s grab the basket and head downstairs. Oh, you want to help carry it with me? Great! (obviously not great, but this is how they learn they are a valuable member of the family, and eventually their help IS great, but it starts here). Ok, put all the laundry in, now we have to add detergent, and now we have to press these buttons. (let them do any part they are able to, like pressing buttons).

Breaking it down: Say out loud how you recognize the tasks that have to be done (I see the laundry basket is full), and then speak out loud how you are going to complete it. I know it sounds ridiculous, but they are learning everything, even how to see that the laundry basket is full and what that should signal (laundry needs to be done).

bother and sister unloading dishes together
Tip: older siblings can help model!

Teach chores for three year olds through buddy activities

Step 1: invite them to join you

As we do life and chores we invite them to join us. But, at this age, they do the chores/activities with us as a little buddy. I do talk about this more in my two year old post (here), but, if you are just starting out now with these methods then this invitation is an important place to start.

They can’t take out the trash or empty the dishwasher by themselves. But they can help pull out the silverware and hand it to you. It will take longer, but this is how they start to learn. Bring them into your life and invite them to see how things are done and to start doing small parts as your buddy.

Step 2: release some control

If you started with this back at two years old, then you can take a small step back here and give them more autonomy. For example if one area you’ve been doing together is picking out their clothes and getting dressed then they may be able to choose their own clothes at this point and attempt to get dressed. They won’t be able to do all the clothes all the time, but they may be able to do pieces of the process now. Like they can get their undies and socks on, but they still need you to show them which pant leg is right, then they can put their pants on but they may still need help pulling them up.

Step 3: Embrace the steps backward

Be ready for some steps forward and lots of steps backwards. That’s just life with kids, embrace it. Be ready to repeat yourself, to go over the same activities again and again. Be ready for one day your kid can put all the silverware away and the next they have forgotten where the silverware drawer even is and sit on the floor and give up. Embrace them (literally) and all the craziness of this stage.

girl helping unload the dishwasher

Common Cause of regression

I would also like to highlight one thing that I know creates regression in these learned tasks. Identifying the reason and anticipating the regression can help decrease some of our parent frustration.  I mentioned it above that my son will often ask for help with tasks he knows how to do. Many kids do this, its not because they forgot how to do them. Its because they want the reassurance that you are there to meet their needs. They want the extra comfort from your help. Give them this reassurance EVERY TIME. By giving them this reassurance consistently they will be able to continue to confidently take steps forward.

I notice my kids will often want more help and are less able to do their normal tasks when I have been extra busy away from home, like on days when I am working out of the home all day. They want the reassurance that I am there, I am back with them. So, I give it to them. That need for extra mom time can last an hour or the rest of the day.

The opposite of embracing the steps backward

The other option is to get irritated and say “you know exactly where the silverware drawer is, I just showed you yesterday!”, or “of course you can put on your own socks, you always do it, come on just try, no don’t wine, just try! Come on!”. Spoiler alert, that doesn’t feel good or end well for anybody involved, and certainly doesn’t reassure our kids that we are still connected to them. Remember, you are their biggest relationship, let them get reasurance . Don’t we all want extra reassurance sometimes? Think about it like this. Kids are constantly learning new things, growing and changing, and having new expectations. That might be scary sometimes.

Remember every kid is different

These are just examples, every kid is different! We started my daughter early with getting herself dressed because she was interested and now, newly 3yrs old she can do it mostly herself. Where as my son was not ready, and at 4.5 years old he just started dressing himself, but at least one thing is going to be backwards (which we just embrace), and many days he still likes the comfort of asking me for help. 

You know your kid best, be ok with where they are at and embrace their differences.

Real talk: teaching chores for 3 year olds in a connected and developmentally appropriate way is HARD

This type of parenting is hard. I’ll just say it, it’s hard. To constantly check your emotions, to remain calm, to slow down. It is all hard. But once we accept it and change our rhythm, it brings so much more joy to the home. To sustain this type of parenting you need to make time for you (check out how here) and create space in your day to slow down. Creating the space in your home so you can change your pace and really connect. The end result is a relaxed, well adjusted and capable teenager. A worthy goal!

How to create space in a busy world

Well good news I have a whole article on this! (check it out here). But, also to make this less overwhelming, you don’t have to invite them into every aspect of everything. They are too young for that anyways. If you feel overwhelmed, pick a few things like emptying the dishwasher, putting away laundry, or setting the table.

toddler standing on stool

Finally the list: Chores for three year olds

Many tasks will come naturally as you start inviting them in, those are the best chores. But if you want some ideas to get you started, here are a few chores you can start doing with your 3 year old and then once you have done the task together start taking tiny steps away and giving them some autonomy as the year progresses. Always be ready to jump back in and help if they ask or its needed.

  • Getting dressed or undressed, start with socks or another single piece of clothing they can put on or take off themselves
  • Putting on their own shoes (this only works if they have easy slip ons FYI)
  • The dishwasher: pulling things out and handing them to you or putting silverware away
  • Putting their clothes into their drawers (this will not be done neatly, there is no way, so only do this if you can handle the messy draws…personally this is a growth area for me)
  • sorting/matching socks
  • pouring/mixing activities in the kitchen
  • Cracking eggs (and I mean just the cracking part, not the opening the egg over the pan part yet, but maybe they could with practice!)
  • Sorting and putting away toys in correct buckets
  • Putting their own clothes in the laundry
  • Brushing hair (not if you have a curly top like I do-that requires adult help!)

Let me know how it goes! How are you feeling about slowing down and inviting them in? Scared, excited, both???

Helper stools

Fun kid socks

Family Aprons

Fun kids socks


*McLeod, S. A. (2018, May 03). Erik erikson’s stages of psychosocial development. Simply Psychology. www.simplypsychology.org/Erik-Erikson.html

+Orenstein GA, Lewis L. (2022 Nov 7). Eriksons stages of psychosocial development. StatPearls Publishing; Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK556096/

Post Disclaimer

DISCLAIMER: Nothing in this article should be construed as medical advice.  Consult you health care provider for your individual nutritional and medical needs.  The opinions are strictly those of the author and are not necessarily those of any professional group or other individual

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