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How soon is too soon to start your kids on basic chores? Can they hold a spoon?
Even young kids can wash dishes and do other chores
It may seem like a stretch from kids treating their parents like mobile coat racks to the assignment of household chores. But kids who don’t learn to pull their weight, literally and figuratively, aren’t likely to be helping around the house either.
We often avoid assigning our children work because of memories of our own hated childhood chores, or because we know kids asked to help will whine and drag their feet, forcing us to come up with threats and ultimatums. That’s the immediate bad side.
In the long run, though, kids who make a contribution and know it feel closer than if a parent does everything. Heed the cautionary tale of one dad who waited too long: “When I ask my teen to clear the table, she says, ‘But Dad, I did it last month!’”
1. Make tasks age-appropriate. A toddler can ferry dishes from the table to the kitchen counter; with a stool, a nine-year-old can wash them.
2. Bribes are good, but your heartfelt admiration is better. When they help, stop and give your kids the one thing they crave most: your undivided attention.
3. Go on strike. When you encounter the inevitable resistance, if kids are old enough to understand, explain that if they won’t do their part, you won’t either. When they ask where dinner is, remind them you’re not cooking until they pitch in.
4. Forgive mistakes. A broken dish or bigger mess, if honestly acquired, can be met with a friendly “That’s okay – we all break (or drop) things sometimes.”
5. Distinguish ‘planned obsolescence’ from honest mistakes. If kids do a bad job on purpose, set them to the task over again – explaining cheerfully that they need to practice until, for instance, the clothes are clean.
6. Create challenges. It can be scary to see your preteen behind a sharp knife or in front of a hot stove, but don’t make tasks foolproof. Supervise discreetly, but remember that kids who aren’t learning aren’t engaged.
7. Allow ownership of chores. Teens who don’t want to clean up after dinner can cook instead. Or ask them to come up with their own alternative task.
8. Offer rewards. Reward kids with time spent doing things they like – and spell it out. “Now I have time to take you to the park, because you helped clean up. Thank you!”
9. Increase your expectations. Chores should grow with kids. Your tween may still be doing toddler-sized jobs – no doubt dragging her feet as she halfheartedly dusts!
10. Rely on routines. The backtalk and kvetching will dwindle once kids realize they pick up toys every night before bed, or wipe the table after every meal.
Want more parenting tips? Learn how not to waste your childcare, how to exercise with kids and how to fix a tantrum fast.