Kids & Chores

Some parents are reluctant to give their children chores. Childhood, they feel, should be a carefree time without responsibility. As I see it, there are two problems with this. One is that children naturally want to help around the house. What mother hasn't been begged by her toddler or preschooler to help cook dinner or dust the house? What young child hasn't used household chores as part of his or her pretend play?

Too, children gain skill and self esteem by helping to make the household run.

If you think it's easier to just do the chores yourself, you're right (especially if you have small children). But it cheats your children, who need practice learning how to do common tasks and will loose interest in being helpers if you deny them the privilege for too long. Setting aside your own pride and desire to control everything in your household (trust me, I've been there!) will, in the long, serve your family well.

The first rule of thumb is to never redo what your child has done, since this quickly discourages children and dissipates their joy in doing chores. It's more important that your child develop pride in his work than it is for the windows to be entirely streak-free. The second rule of thumb is to find chores your child can easily handle so success comes without too much frustration.

My four year old daughter began doing chores as soon as she could walk. Every day, she helped me pick up her toys. When she was about two, I bought pre-moistened window cleaning towelettes (more expensive, but easier for her to handle than a spray bottle and roll of paper towels) and let her clean the lower part of our living room windows. Around this time, I also let her wash her play dishes in my kitchen sink, and wipe down the counters afterward. She also helped match socks while I folded the laundry.

Soon, she was able to help me cook. She could empty the measuring cup into a bowl, stir a little bit, wipe up my spills, and similar tasks. Once or twice she saw her daddy moving and stacking wood, begged to help, and worked for a few hours carrying one log at a time to the wheelbarrow. Recently, she's taken to vacuuming with a small, light weight vacuum my in-laws had laying around but never used. She also sets the table, helps me remove dishes from the dishwasher, and puts her own dirty dishes in the sink.

She's always been so pleased she can help us, and we've been careful to always thank her and tell her what a good helper she is. She remains ever-eager to help with chores (although picking up her toys is a battle I'll have to write about some other time.)

Chores even made introducing a new sibling easier for her. Instead of allowing her to stew and grow jealous as I cared for her new baby brother, I asked for her help. "Would you help mommy by getting a diaper from brother's room?" I'd ask. I also had her throw away urine-only diapers; fetch blankets, burp cloths, and bibs; and even let her help by holding her brother's bottle for him when I needed to quickly grab an item she couldn't fetch for me. She's never expressed jealousy toward the baby, and was usually pleased to be help me care for him.

Just recently, we've used chores that are above and beyond what we expect of her to help teach her about money. For example, she might earn 10 cents for vacuuming her and her brother's room, or 3 cents for helping her daddy wash his truck. The amounts are always small, she's always delighted, and now she's saving money in her piggy bank for a snow globe she wants that's at the Dollar Tree and for Christmas presents for her brother and daddy.

If you're unsure what chores are appropriate for your kids, check out for ideas and free chore clip art, as featured here.

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