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Getting Kids to Do Chores May Be Easier Than You Think

By Nancy Olsen-Harbich, MA

Young children are often very eager to help with household chores, especially chores that look like fun and are usually reserved for big kids or adults. Seize the opportunity and capitalize on your child’s natural desire to feel grown up and useful. Just realize that it is an opportunity to teach children responsibility, self-reliance, and needed skills, and not an opportunity to reduce your own workload.

Pitching in can deepen a child’s sense of purpose and belonging to a family, and develop a spirit of cooperation. A child’s first chores should be shared experiences, such as helping to set the table or being part of the yard clean-up crew. The focus is not only the work, but the working together. This also allows you to set a good example, showing you take seriously your responsibility to do your own chores.

Praise the Effort

The job should be right-sized for a young child’s strength, endurance, and attention span, and tools should fit little hands. Tasks that are too big can be self-defeating. Make sure your child understands what the job is and how to do it correctly and safely. Paying attention and following directions are skills valued not only by parents, but by teachers and employers as well.

Realize that it will take your child longer to do the job than if you did it yourself. Allow adequate time so that you are not frustrated and your child does not feel pressured. Encourage your child to do the best she can and praise her effort. Be prepared to accept results that are less-than-perfect. If your child knows the job could be done better, reassure him that he will improve over time. Resist the impulse to take over and do the job yourself.

Suitable Tasks for Preschoolers:

  • Help set the table. This helps children learn left from right, and organizing and sorting skills. Do not give young children china or other valued breakables.
  • Wipe up spills from the floor. Young children usually like to use spray bottles, but these should contain only plain water or mild soap and water, not chemical cleansers.
  • Sweep the floor, using a small, child-sized broom.
  • Help sort recyclables.
  • Put toys away. Storing toys in bins on shelves makes it easier for children to select the toys and put them away.
  • Personal chores, such as dressing themselves, perhaps with some adult assistance.
  • Help feed, walk, or exercise the family pet.

Nancy Olsen-Harbich is Program Director and a Human Development Specialist with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County’s Family Health and Wellness Program. She can be reached at 631-727-7850 ext. 332 or at no18@cornell.edu.

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