How Can Children Help?

At what age can children be expected to contribute to household duties? Why should they be expected to contribute to household duties? Many parents of young children wonder when it’s time to, or appropriate to assign simple chores. Some parents are worried that they are putting too much on their children to ask them to do chores. Other parents simply don’t know where to begin. It doesn’t need to be complicated, and chores are a good thing!

Why should children, even toddlers, be given household chores to do? There are many reasons, and only one of them is about getting work done. Most people understand that if a job needs to be done well, it shouldn’t be a job for a child. Giving toddlers and preschool age children simple chores gives them opportunities to learn skills, have pride in their work, contribute to their home, and feel accomplished. When they are small, they are enthused about “helping”, even if parents have to go back and correct the work later. If parents can get children interested and excited about helping out early on in life, it should be part of their habits by the time they are old enough to be of actual help.

What kinds of jobs are appropriate for what age groups? Parents know their own children best. If a toddler is fond of dumping things on the floor, sorting silverware is probably not a good idea, it will need to get washed again after it’s been on the ground. Some children are fastidious and like to do organizational tasks like matching socks, and other children are better suited to jobs like feeding the dog. Developmentally, here are some ideas for each stage of early childhood:

 

  • Toddlers 2-4 The tiniest helpers are great for low to the ground tasks. Make a game of dusting baseboards. Teach them how to use a hand broom and dustpan. Picking up toys is always age appropriate. Allow them to use a stepstool to scrub dinner vegetables with a vegetable brush. Have them to neaten the shoe rack.
  • Preschoolers 4-5 Now they can really begin to help. Set the table with napkins and silverware. Feed the pets. Water plants with a small watering can or spray bottle. Use a child-sized broom. Peel and use a safety chopper to prepare vegetables. Sort recycling.
  • Kindergarteners 5-6 They’re big enough in size and mature enough to be more self sufficient, so it’s a good time to build a good habit of making their own bed each day. Sort silverware and put away clean dishes. Wipe down surfaces with a damp rag, such as the dinner table, or the bathroom sink. Now, when cleaning up toys, they can be expected to do a thorough job, including making books face spine out, and keeping several different kinds of toys seperate bins.
  • Big Kids, 6 and Up Now, they can do almost any house chore! They can vacuum and dust, (don’t ask them to dust near precious items just yet). They can swish the toilet brush once a week, and be taught to polish mirrors or use a simple pad mop. They should be responsible for keeping their own rooms tidy and can, with some initial guidance be taught to load their own dirty clothes into the washer and dryer, fold them, and put them away. They can be taught to scoop up dog waste in the yard, and bigger kids can take out the trash!

The decision on how to incentivize children to participate is one each family must make individually. Sometimes allowance works, other times just asking them nicely to help is enough. Start with the least elaborate incentives and see if those work before offering treats, screen time, etc., for completing chores. Some children need a lot of incentive, others are just happy helpers. While children doing chores can sometimes mean a little more work for parents initially, the payoff when they absorb it as part of life is so valuable.

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