At a glance
Kids who struggle with focus or get easily distracted can still help around the house.
Chores that are simple and straightforward are best.
Completing household chores can even boost your child’s self-esteem.
If your child is easily distracted or has trouble completing tasks, you might wonder if household chores are just too demanding an ask. But kids who struggle with focus benefit from having responsibilities at home. Just be sure to pick chores that are specific and that don’t have too many steps. Look for tasks with a clear beginning, middle, and end.
Here are chores that can be good for kids who struggle with focus.
1. Feeding and Walking Pets
Feeding and caring for family pets tend to involve more simple and straightforward tasks. For example, your child can put food in the cat’s bowl or give the dog a fresh bowl of water.
Kids who struggle with focus or follow-through might also like taking the dog on a walk. Be specific about a route for the walk, though. Instead of, “Be back home with Buster in 15 minutes,” say something like, “Walk Buster down our street until you get to the baseball field. Then turn around and come home.” You could also set an alarm on a phone or wristwatch that chimes halfway through the walk.
2. Vacuuming or Sweeping
Vacuuming or sweeping is another very straightforward job. Show your child how to do it first. Point out how you get into hard-to-reach corners and other spots. Be specific about where you want the vacuuming done. Rather than saying to “vacuum the house,” ask instead to “vacuum the family room and your bedroom.”
You can even make a checklist (the hallway rug, under the couch, etc.) so your child knows when the job is finished.
3. Setting and Clearing the Table
Setting the table is a structured, “by the book” job. First, show your child how to do it. Then break it down into short, single-step tasks. You can say, “Get out four plates, then four napkins.” It could help to give your child a drawing of what the table should look like when it’s set. Or a list of all the items they need (placemats, silverware, glassware, napkins).
Clearing the table after a meal is another chore with a clear beginning, middle, and end. Walk your child through the steps. “First, we take dishes from the table. Next, we scrape food scraps into the compost bin. Then, we put the dishes into the sink.”
If your child has trouble remembering each step, write them down on a chore chart. If your child struggles with reading, the chart can describe the steps using pictures and words.
4. Unloading the Dishwasher
Unloading the dishwasher or putting the dishes away after they get washed is another straightforward chore. Each item goes in its proper place, and you’re finished when the dishwasher or dish rack is empty.
Show your child each step. Start with the silverware. Show how to sort each piece into the silverware tray or drawer. Next, go over how to stack the plates and put them in the right cupboard. Then the cups, and so on. Encourage your child to ask questions if anything’s confusing.
Bonus: After a meal, you can even ask your child to take out the garbage or the recycling. This is another simple task that has a clear beginning and end.
5. Helping With the Laundry
On laundry day, have your child gather all the dirty clothes. Develop a system rather than just saying, “Look for dirty clothes in every room.” If you have a big family, it helps to have a hamper or spot for dirty clothes for each person. Your child can go from spot to spot to pick them up. Your child might even want to sort clothes into groups by lights, darks, and colors.
6. Making the Bed
Making the bed is a quick, daily task that can be broken down into smaller steps. Once again, you’ll want to model how you want it done. You can also show how to arrange stuffed animals or pillows, and how to fold any extra blankets if your child has them. It helps to draw or take a picture of a well-made bed so your child can refer to it.
7. Picking Up Toys
If your child’s room is often a mess, the idea of starting to clean it might feel overwhelming. Be as specific as possible to help your child figure out what to do. Make a checklist with items like, “Put stuffed animals in the big red basket.” It can also help to post a photo nearby of what the room looks like when it’s neat and tidied up.
Finding ways to help kids complete chores means you’re also helping them feel like a valued member of the family. This can have a positive impact on your child’s self-esteem.
For more ideas, explore ways to help your child with focus.
Look for chores with a clear beginning, middle, and end.
Model the way you want the chore done first.
Give your child a picture or a photo of how things should look when the chore is finished.
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About the author
About the author
Meredith Franco Meyers writes about parenting and health issues.
Molly Algermissen, PhD is an associate professor of medical psychology at Columbia University Medical Center and clinical director of PROMISE.