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Published on Feb 16, 2023
Here’s a teachable moment.
Your kids are much more capable than you think they are when it comes to helping around the home.
This guide will get them started on their housework journey!
When considering delegating household chores to your children, your first thought is that it means you’ll be minimising your own workload.
While that’s certainly a bonus, getting your kids involved in household tasks has myriad benefits for their development and wellbeing.
Dr. Tamar Chansky, psychologist and author of several books including “Freeing Your Child from Anxiety” points to a study published by the University of Minnesota, which found that giving children household chores at an early age “helps to build a lasting sense of mastery, responsibility and self-reliance.” The study, which followed over 80 children throughout their life, found that kids who started doing chores early (at about age 3 or 4) were more likely to have good relationships with friends and family, as well as academic success and eventually success in their careers when compared with those who didn’t have chores as young kids.
When assigning the chores, you need to factor in age for capabilities and safety reasons.
It’s important to be realistic, particularly with younger children and if the family is new to the concept, practise patience while implementing these changes.
Start small and be patient.
Even little ones can learn how to help with simple tasks that help to instill a sense of responsibility and pride. Older children benefit from routine and expectations to help the home run smoothly as well. Here are some ideas for how to add responsibilities for kids.
Whether you choose to use these room-by-room cleaning suggestions as chores or as incentives is up to you. These are some of the cleaning tasks that have been helpful and realistic in our home that I hope will inspire you to use them as a springboard for your family. I’m dividing them up by Preschool Age-Appropriate and School-Age Appropriate. You’ll see some similarities – preschool chores are building blocks for school-age chores and school-age chores are building blocks for life. Please note that this is designed to be a place for ideas, I am most definitely not suggesting that you make your kids do each and every chore.
Preschoolers are eager helpers and it’s hard to figure out just how to best harness their enthusiasm while giving them tasks that are actually useful. Depending upon the age and maturity of your child, there is a large variety of tasks that can be expected and accomplished by this age group. With this age group, modeling is especially important. For example, show them just how to dampen a washcloth and wring it out to wipe their face and hands or how to set the table appropriately with plates in the center and silverware on the left or right side. It will take multiple times for them to have it up to your expectations, so have patience as they learn the proper technique.
While not every child or age can be expected to complete every task in the list below, pick ones that fit your child or children’s age and maturity as well as your needs.
How many times as a child was I sent to clean the yard or scrub the kitchen floor as a form of punishment? Too many times to count. My mother may have meant well (and it certainly got the job done at the time), but this method doesn’t bode well if you would like your child to actually want to clean.
The better message to send to kids is that cleaning “is not a punishment or a chore, it’s a ticket to other things being possible,” says Chansky. “If you are negative and talk about what kids ‘have to do’ in a grumpy manner, kids will be grumpy right back.”
Britta Gidican, a corporate communications professional in Seattle, found that helping her child connect the dots on how a messy home can lead to bigger problems got him interested in cleaning.
“I explain to [my six-year-old son] how germs travel, bugs lay webs/nests in messes, etc.” Gidican says, noting that she started doing this when he was around three years old. “That has seemed to do the trick in illustrating the ‘why’ behind our need to clean so he now understands and even goes further to explain it to others. [If] he sees someone leave dirty clothes on the floor or not clean up their dishes he will lecture them about how it's messy and needs to be tidy.”
Part of what can make chores feel punishing is when you have no say in what they are or how you’ll deal with them. So give young kids some choice in the process.
“You can let your child choose their preferred chore within the parameters you set: you can do blocks or clothes — which would you like?” says Chansky. “Your child can also choose the thing they like to do: shredding mail, watering plants, setting the table — they will get a sense of ownership for their ‘domain’.”
Choose household chores that suit children’s ages and abilities.
You can motivate children to do chores by praising and encouraging their efforts.
Young children can do chores like tidying up toys. Older children can help with setting the table, cleaning, cooking and so on.
Here are some ideas for chores for children of different ages:
Pick up toys and books. Put clothes on clothes hooks. Set placemats on the dinner table.
Set the table for meals. Help with preparing meals, under supervision. Help put clean clothes into piles for each family member, ready to fold. Help with grocery shopping and putting away groceries.
Water the garden and indoor plants. Feed pets. Help with hanging out clothes and folding washing. Take out rubbish. Help with choosing meals and shopping. Help with meal preparation and serving, under supervision. Vacuum or sweep floors.
Teenagers can do the chores they did when they were younger, but they can be responsible for doing them on their own.
Teenagers can also take on more difficult chores. For example, teenagers could do the washing, clean the bathroom and toilet, prepare meals, stack the dishwasher or mow lawns.
When choosing chores for teenagers, think of the skills you’d like them to learn.