Get Your Kids To Help You Around the House
Sometimes Age is Just a Number
A friend overheard my recent comments about my young daughters helping me around the house and asked at what age I started teaching them how to perform household tasks. I told her I feel one could start teaching this as soon as the child understands and is physically able to
I’m not certain a specific age is needed to begin showing your children how to collect and empty the trash, or unload the dishwasher, or sort and put away their clean clothes. The more important thing is that they learn to do these tasks soon so they realize everyone in the house helps keep it up. Until you demonstrate that their toys don’t put themselves away each night and meals don’t magically appear for them to consume you will be doing all the household work yourself. Sure, that makes perfect sense when your child is newborn and requires complete care. But if your seven-year-old knows how to brush his/her teeth twice a day, he/she can also learn how to wipe down the bathroom counter area after they’ve scrubbed, rinsed, and spit.
Where to Begin...
Teaching children how to do chores takes time, patience, and even creativity. For me, I started early, but I also started with simple tasks and even then only one piece of each task at a time. First the child must find the sock on the floor before picking it up and putting it where you prefer it to reside. Before any plates can be set on the dining table, you must first inform the child where the plates are stored.
Also, give simple, clear directions to ensure complete understanding. To prepare your Kindergarteners for success, practice two part instructions to improve their memory and direction following skills. For example, “I need you to get Rex’s food bowl and fill it with one scoop of his dog food.” After they have it down you can ease up on how specific you need to be. It can evolve into, “Don’t forget it’s your job to feed Rex every morning.”
You Make Learning Fun!
A great way to start with younger kids is to make the task into a game. “Who can find the mailbox with me? Is it in the bathtub? No! Is it in the garage?” Walk around like you’re on a scavenger hunt, letting them lead you if they’re able. “You found it…great job! Now, let’s open it to see if we got any mail to bring inside today.” And so on. One helpful note: unless you have step stools across every square foot of the house, you need to teach tasks that involve low lying objects and locations until your little ones grow taller.
There’s nothing sweeter, and at the same time annoying, than watching my four-year-old try to use a dust pan and hand broom. Not much dirt makes it into the pan and that which does, she can usually return onto the floor on the next sweep of broom. But, I sit with her and make it a game. “[Gasp]…some dust bunnies escaped! Quick, return them to the pan-itentiary! Get ‘em, get ‘em!” She giggles and sweeps more.
Got more than one littler helper? Try this. Give them each a Swiffer duster and tell them the one that gets it the dirtiest with dust collected around the house gets to choose what’s for dinner that night. Beware if you have priceless knickknacks to put those out of reach before you turn them loose. Or tell them you only need certain rooms dusted.
Your expectations must be reasonable as you begin to teach tasks, start to finish. Be ready, willing, and able to take the time to walk through the entire process so your child can learn how to complete the task correctly. They’ll get quicker as they practice the task. Kids thrive on feeling like big helpers, so play it up. Praise their willingness to help before you even get started on a task. Don’t turn them away when they ask to help. I know I sometimes don’t want my girls’ help because I know it will slow me down and probably make a bigger mess. But I have to remind myself that letting them help now will promote their offering help in the future when they’re perfectly capable of completing the task without creating more work for me.
If they make a mistake along the way, assure them there’s no harm in it. When my daughter consolidates the small trashcan contents into our main can it is pretty much guaranteed she’ll spill some of it onto the floor. No eye rolling here…no sigh of annoyance. “No worries; just pick it up and you’re good to go. If you pour more slowly next time I bet you can do it without spilling.” A wink and a smile to reassure go a long way. They want to do the task right too. It can be daunting to even try if they think you’ll be angry if they make a mistake.
Keep it Safe
Always keep your little helpers safe. If the task they want to help with is beyond their ability, give them an alternative task. “No, you can’t help Daddy carve the turkey, but can you bring the gravy to the table from the kitchen? Turkey’s not turkey without the gravy!” It can be that simple. “No, Dear. Mommy needs to use the lawn mower by herself, but it would really help if you collect all the twigs in the yard before I begin.” Then they know you’re not dismissing them; you truly need and appreciate their help.
Don’t get frustrated if they need frequent reminders when first attempting to complete the task on their own. “It’s your job to check the mailbox after school each day.” “Before I read you your bedtime story, did you remember to lay out your clothes for tomorrow?” Once they realize that you’re trusting them to do the task without being reminded, they’ll feel valued and try their best to remember on their own, hopefully. If they keep forgetting, sit with them to discuss why they are forgetting and what tips they can try to remember on their own.
Sunshine and Lollipops
I know some of you might be thinking that I’m ignoring a big factor…at some point every child realizes chores are work. Yes, it’s a sad day when they no longer find it fun to help Mommy fold towels or go through the coupons at the grocery store. All the more reason to start them young. Ever notice how most babies are fine with vegetables when they’re young, but when they grow older they decide vegetables are yucky? The younger the child, the more they find joy in helping the grown-ups get stuff done. It’s fulfilling for them…it’s extra special bonding time as they behave like big boys and girls. But later, there’s no fooling them. They know they prefer to play outside then help weed the flower beds. Teenagers don’t have toy vacuum cleaners or bubble lawn mowers…they don’t want them. Hopefully, by the time they realize that work…is work, they’ll already be set in knowing you expect them to help out so the chores can be finished sooner to make way for having fun time all together.
Is It Too Late?
It’s never too late, in this mom’s opinion. It may be more challenging to instruct children who seem old enough to know how to complete chores, but it’s no different than teaching an older child how to ride a bicycle or swim. Get started today and you’ll soon reap the rewards. If your teenager doesn’t have the first clue how to do laundry, now’s a great time to explain what happens if you choose not to sort your whites from your colors. If your 5th grader has never washed a dish in his/her life, introduce him/her to the Palmolive and dish wand and/or your dishwasher. If your college freshman’s on summer break and has never helped you grill up dinner, hand over those tongs tonight! Just because they’re older doesn’t mean they know how to do these tasks if they’ve never been taught. So supervise at first and don’t talk down to them as you instruct. That will just make them reluctant to help at all. They’re not little kids any more, but they still need to be taught that which they’ve never done before.
That’s entirely your choice. Personally, I want my kids to learn that nobody pays me to scrub the bathroom, but it still needs scrubbing. Verbal appreciation speaks volumes…no pun intended. And I don’t want my children asking me how much they’ll pocket IF they help me. Household chores are non-negotiable in my home. Instead of money I sometimes give a scoop of ice cream to my little helpers. Or perhaps I let the most helpful child choose the after dinner activity that night. You decide how you reward their efforts while you reap the rewards of their help around the house.