– By Allison
When my son was about 1 ½ years old I told him to pick up a piece of paper and throw it in the garbage. To my amazement, he did that. It was one of my first wake up calls that children, even young toddlers, understand way more than we give them credit for.
“You can begin chores very early, even with children as young as 18 months,” agreed Darlene J. Mech, Ph.D., licensed psychologist. “Remember that for toddlers, helping you isn’t a chore, its fun and a way to please you.”
“My 17-month old, Gabbi, wants to help me with various tasks. She loves to unload the dishwasher with me and take the clothes out of the dryer,” said Julie B., Oostburg, Wis. “The job takes longer, but she is learning to help out and feels like she is contributing to the family.”
In fact, engaging children in chores at a young age is extremely beneficial in teaching little ones responsibility and family values.
“In my opinion, a child should never be able to remember a time when he or she didn’t have the expectation of pitching in and doing their part,” said Darlene.
Becky R., a preschool teacher and mother of boys ages 11 and 13, said “Children are capable of helping with daily chores and it’s up to us as parents to engage them and teach them how to become a valuable member of the household.”
Adapting the chore for your child’s age and abilities is helpful to you and the child.
“It is better to do the chore with the child in order to model and teach how it is to be done properly,” said Darlene. “A parent who is critical early on will have a child who will give up and never do the job right because his/her attitude will be that I can’t do it good enough anyway so why bother.”
Breaking tasks down into smaller parts can make chores less confusing. “For example,” said Becky. “The parent may have to instruct the young child to pick up the blocks first. When that has been accomplished, the parent should identify another set of similar toys to pick up next and so on. Pretty soon, the entire job will be done.”
Keep in mind though, that helping a child is not the same as enabling a child’s bad habits. When you know your child is capable of doing more, take the time to stop and allow them to fix their errors.
“My son will do anything to take a short cut and use the least amount of energy to complete a task. Ben is a good, obedient and honest kid. But he becomes a sneaky pack rat when asked to clean his room,” said Julie. “I have learned to check over his work when he says he is finished. I learned this the hard way when I couldn't find a nice shirt for him to wear to church. A quick glance under his bed revealed stuffed church clothes, toys, dirty underwear and candy wrappers.”
Darlene agreed that parents should not accept a half-hearted effort or the child’s attempts at cutting corners. “The child should be required to do it again if the parent knows they are capable of doing the job better than what he/she did,” she said.
It may take extra time from the parent to be sure the chore gets done, but a few extra moments now can make a lifetime of difference later.
“Children will learn how to be a part of a working organization, learn how to be a part of something much bigger,” said Becky. “They will learn a sense of responsibility and accomplishment.”
“To sum it up I think that having jobs for kids creates a sense of responsibility and is a self esteem booster,” said Julie. “When they finish a task to the best of their ability I praise them for working hard and obeying. These lessons help them when they begin school and have homework. As well as when they are older and have responsibilities in the work place.”
Child-Friendly Chores for all ages
-Taking care of belongings like shoes, backpacks, coats, etc., and putting them in their designated spot
-Emptying the dishwasher
-Making the bed
-Sorting and/or folding laundry
-Feeding the family pet
-Clearing dishes off of the table
-Setting the table
-Putting away outdoor toys
-Helping take out the garbage (even 4-year-olds can carry a light bag out to the curb)
Ways to Make Chores Fun
-Offer rewards like tokens or stickers for a job well done
-Play “beat the clock” and see who can clean up their room faster, you or the child (use this to clean up the kitchen, living room, etc., while the child cleans his room).
-Race to see who can pick up the most toys
-Toss balled up socks to a child to be placed in the drawer