It seems like a blink of an eye since your little one was a helpless baby, needing everything done for them. Suddenly they're four years' old, starting school next year and you realise you're still dressing them, doing their teeth and clearing away their dinner plates. What gives?
What chores can you realistically expect of a preschooler? And how do you nurture a helpful, thoughtful child?
Why chores are important for young children:
- They nurture a natural desire to help
- They empower young children, develop their independence and give them a raft of new skills
- They provide structure and self-discipline - and keep them busy!
- They help prepare kids for school - self-care, sorting, practicing, tidying up after accidents etc are all skills learnt from doing regular chores.
- Kids love learning and enjoy the responsibility of completing chores
- Children feel that they are contributing to the family when they have their own chores to complete
- They help teach 'common sense' through cause and effect
Regular jobs and sometime jobs
There are some chores you can expect young children to do regularly (eg make their own bed, brush their own teeth) and others I would term 'sometime jobs' - the ones where you encourage them to help but don't make a big deal out of it if they are uninterested or not in the mood. Your little one may be all gung-ho with helping you dust the house one day but pre-occupied with their Lego the next time you ask. The trick is to try and involve your child in as many of your bigger chores as possible, whenever they show interest. One day, when they are older and physically capable of so much more, a good proportion of those 'sometime jobs' can become their regular chores. If they're never given the opportunity to vacuum or fold laundry when they're small, it will be far harder to get them doing it as teenagers.
- Clean up own spills and messes - with cloth or dustpan and brush
- Self care - brush teeth, wash own body, get dressed (may still need some help with this one)
- Clear table
- Set the table - many adults still don't know which way round knives and forks should go. Give your child a head start here!
- Put out drink cups and bottle of water at meal times
- Make bed
- Put own clean clothes away
- Put dirty clothes in laundry basket
- Unstack dishwasher (or part of, eg cutlery)
- Rinse dinner plate and cutlery and put in dishwasher
- Tidy bedroom - this takes time to learn. Work at one section at a time.
- Help put away shopping - this will help teach your child where everything goes.
- Dusting - especially skirting boards; little kids are close to the ground so perfect for this job!
- Emptying small bins into outside one
- Spring cleaning cupboards
- Helping in garden - weeding, sweeping, raking
- Sorting tasks - socks, lego, toys, laundry into whites and coloureds
- Cleaning mirrors and bathroom surfaces
- Tidying rooms other than their own
- Cleaning inside of car
- Picking up litter
- Help with meal preparation (supervised!)
- Watering plants (you could give them sole responsibility of very their own plant, making this a 'regular' job)
- Looking after pets
- Help set and clear the table when a guest at someone else's house
Top tips for encouraging happy workers
- Adapt the workspace and give them modified equipment where necessary
This might include step stools to bring them to surface level, disposable kitchen and bathroom wipes for cleaning, smaller tools to fit into tiny hands, storing cleaning utensils in cupboards they can reach.
- Always demonstrate tasks first
Children need to understand what is expected of them.
- Be patient
Your children won't get things right first time ... maybe not even the tenth time. Keep practicing and don't give up!
- Praise more than correct
Always praise their effort and enthusiasm, resisting the urge to say, "No, no, I meant do it like this!".
- Get both parents involved
It's important for kids to see both mum and dad muck in with a variety of chores at home so that they don't label tasks 'Mum jobs' or 'Dad jobs'. Similarly both parents should take responsibility for setting and supervising their children's chores.
- Never, ever turn down the offer of help
When you're rushing to get dinner on the table or wrestling with a mountain of ironing, the last thing you want is to supervise a little 'helper' on top of your own workload. But never let them feel superfluous. Be appreciative and make up a job, if necessary: "Thank you darling, would you just sort through those clothes pegs and kick out any broken ones for me please?", "Could you put these dirty spoons in the sink please?", "I would love it if you could see how many eggs we have left in the cupboard" etc.
Setting and supervising chores for young children can be a lot of work. Most of the time you will be secretly thinking, 'This would be so much quicker and easier if I did it myself'. You may well resent all the extra work your young child's 'help' creates for you. You will certainly question whether they really are old enough to do the things you ask of them, when they mess up for the fifth time. You will need to demonstrate and explain over and over again, reassure them when they get frustrated, and have the patience of Job ... but, as a parent who has been through this and come out the other side, I can assure you it is an investment worth making. Persist and you will have children who take on household tasks as second nature and who actively look for ways to help out.