Let your children help around the house. If you start them young it will become a habit!
In some homes, asking a child to help results in arguing and procrastination. Sometimes it’s easier to do the job yourself, but getting your child to help at home isn’t an impossible task.
Unlike older children who can think of a million and one reasons why they don’t have to help clean up the living room, toddlers and preschoolers tend to be eager beavers when it comes to pitching in on chores. Their enthusiasm says a lot about their growing need for independence and changing intellectual ability. That’s why these early years make for a wonderful opportunity to encourage your child.
Toddlers and Preschoolers
Three and 4-year-olds are increasing in intellectual ability, motor skills and independence. Setting the table or emptying the trash lets them test and practice new skills. Here are some tips for getting your little helper started:
Choose age-appropriate tasks. A 3-year-old can put silverware on the table but can’t handle a big stack of plates. A 4-year-old can wipe up spills but can’t handle a full-sized broom easily. Look for tasks your child can complete without becoming frustrated.
Teach the task. Break the task into parts and demonstrate. Telling your child to clean his room doesn’t work. Show him how to hang up his clothes, put books on his shelf and put toys in the toy box. Guide him to watch and imitate you. Supervise your child’s first attempts. Affirm and encourage him.
Have fun. Your child probably will enjoy working with you but may not like doing a job alone. Your goal is to help your child learn responsibility and have fun working, not to reduce your work load. Having a young helper may even increase your work since you must supervise and teach him. Remember, when you get help from a preschooler it will probably take more time than if you did it alone.
The school-age child is more challenging. The novelty of helping has worn off. TV, sports, friends and homework compete for his time. You may find yourself reminding your child to hang up his clothes or to put his books away countless times. It may not seem worth the effort at times, but it’s important that your school-age child learn responsibility and develop a healthy attitude about helping at home. Here are some ideas for accomplishing that:
Consider your child’s ability and maturity. Assign jobs your child is capable of doing. Is your child ready to wash dishes? Sort laundry? Make his own lunch? Create jobs that your child can successfully accomplish. One or two jobs a day is plenty. Jobs shouldn’t take more than 30 to 60 minutes of your child’s after-school time.
Let your child help choose jobs. List several your child can do and find out which he is most interested in. Some children like to organize; others like outdoor work or cleaning. Your child is more likely to do the job well if he enjoys it. If you have more than one child, distribute jobs fairly according to age and ability.
Establish a routine. A routine helps a child remember his chores. Decide when jobs need to be done. Some are obvious – the table must be cleared after supper. You may assign jobs to be done immediately after school. Delaying TV and playtime is a powerful motivator. Make a chart of your child’s job(s) for each day. If you have more than one child, make a chart to rotate the jobs. Leave a spot for each child to check off his job when completed.
Set the standard. Let your child know your expectations. Walk your child through the job as many times as needed until he masters it.
Let your child suffer the consequences. Talk with your child about the consequences for complaining, failing to complete a job or skipping a job. Some common consequences are loss of TV or computer time or loss of allowance.
Remind and Reward Your Child
For some children, doing a job well is its own reward. Other children need reminders and tangible rewards. You might create a chart with pictures of each job and a place to put a sticker when each job is completed. Stickers, hand stamps and stars are usually reward enough for your toddler or preschooler and extra privileges or allowance is enough for school-age children.
No matter how willing a worker your child is, he can’t do the job as well as you can. Praise your child’s willingness and efforts. Don’t dwell on his mistakes. You may find knives, forks and spoons mixed up during your child’s first few attempts at setting the table. That’s OK. With time and encouragement he will learn.
Katrina L. Cassel is a mother and freelance writer.