Kids and Chores – The Early Years


1)  Let them help when they show an interest:

Kids as young as 3 yrs want to be given serious jobs around the house to feel important, many nearly climb into the dishwasher to empty it. But at that age – it’s frustrating as you have to find them safe little jobs to do and hand hold them as they do it – very – very – slowly. It’s just not equitable. You’re tired, you want to speed things up so your shift can finally end after another busy day.

But stop yourself right there and think: if I don’t let the 3 yr old help now when they really want to – is it fair to expect the same kid at 13 yrs to be as enthusiastic about doing it as part of their chores? Don’t miss this very important milestone is a childs development… and this window of opportunity. This is the little spark of curiosity going off in their head, a genuine will to help and taking pride in mucking in.

You need to get yourself into a place to accommodate the excitement and curiosity of the 3 yrs old NOW and reward them enthusiastically in order to get them to associate helping out as something they can take pride in – regardless of how menial it seems at the time. To them – it’s a big step and they love doing really “important” jobs – which they are! So, take a deep breath and let them.

AgeFun jobs around the house
2Feed the laundry monster one item at a time.
3Empty the plastic plates and cups from the dishwasher.
Match up pairs of socks and deliver them in dumper trucks to the sock drawers.
4Hanging small items on the washing line.
Wash their toys in the sink.
5Sweep the floor and dump the dust pile in the bin.
Weeding the garden.

Always rewarding them with warm cheers of delight! That’s all they want in return.  Be patient and whatever you do, don’t fall into the trap of saying: “thank you for helping Mommy/Daddy”!!! Big mistake, this will backfire on you later! Instead say:

 “Well done you!!! We all do our bit to make a house a home!”

2) Reinforce the good habits being learnt in school at home from 5 – 8 yrs:

At school, they are introduced to more structure, sharing space with others, queuing up, taking turns, learning to cooperate, hang up coats and tidying up after Arts & Crafts. Plug into the momentum the teachers have started at school to get the kids to do similar at home. This will help reinforce the teachers good work and vice versa. And forming good habits is the next key step to doing chores. It should be automatic – not something you need to keep nagging the kids about. So start with the basics at 5 yrs and just keep reminding them until they become automatic – and it does take a while. Give it a good 3 years! Here are some basic habits to encourage when they start primary school:

AgeGood Habits to Reinforce
5 - 8 yrsMake own bed 1st thing in the morning
Being able to use the bathroom and wash hands
Get themselves dressed
Brush teeth & wash face
Put on own jackets and shoes (velcro straps or slip-ons)
Taking off jackets, shoes and putting away in the right place.
Empty gear bag after sports and put away.
After meals, take their cup & plate to the counter and say thank you for dinner!
Tidy-up their toys off the floor before bed-time
Put on PJ’s at night and brush teeth.

You are not giving them actual chores to do here, but you are helping them form good habits that will hopefully last a lifetime. It takes a while to be able to tick all the boxes, be patient. They might resist certain things – like dressing themselves (and socks can be a challenge for many until 6 yrs+). Start with “Get Yourself Dressed Sundays” so they can take their time and you can be back-up, then weekends, then the holidays, then every day. Use reward charts with stickers and if they do something for one month straight – give them a little prize. And remember to give yourself a little prize too! They are small steps but all great achievements.

When getting them to tidy their toys off the floor before bed, put on a 3 min tidy up song from YouTube and make a game of it, help them to start with, then make it clear it’s their responsibility. The place doesn’t need to be perfect, but they need to get the big messy stuff tidied away.

And then keep this up for 3 years! No individual chores here – just forming good habits 😊. It might even seem a bit light, but these are all essential life skills that will help them become more independent, make them more confident and free up your time. Also making their own bed in the morning is just a great way to start the day! In the 10 secs it takes to fluff a pillow and shake out a duvet – they are starting the day with a clean slate and a “can do” attitude. These little habits will help the big ones later on! One step at a time.

They can always be your little assistant when doing other jobs like grocery shopping, gardening, walking the dog etc and reward them with praise for getting the big jobs done. Let them take a lot of pride in whatever they do and let them know they’ll have their own important jobs to do around the house when they’re a little older.

3) Start Assigning Real Chores from 8 – 12 yrs:

Once they are 8 yrs old, the basics will hopefully be automatic. At this point, you can start giving the kids real chores to do. What chores you assign depends on what the household needs are and what their abilities are. Your approach to assigning the chores is very import. You need to let them know how important the task is to the essential running of the house and that you are very happy that they are now old and wise enough to take on these responsibilities and make a real contribution to making the house a home.

Train them in officially. Just like you might train a new apprentice on any job. Give them very clear instructions about what the job is, when they are to do it and how often. Show them by example, supervise when they do it the first time and give them a lot of praise when they do it well. Let them know how proud you are and that this makes a huge difference in running a home.

Don’t overload them with work. Taking on one extra chore per year would be good. You don’t want this to be a burden in anyway. It should be something they can do quite quickly but on a regular basis. Here are a few examples of chores you could assign by age:

8Set the table before and clear table after dinner.
Sweep the floor after dinner.
Tidy their own room weekly and bring any forgotten items to laundry basket.
9Do the washing up & load the dishwasher
OR drying dishes after dinner every evening.
Or Unload the dishwasher every morning.
Bagging items at the grocery shop and
putting them away correctly at home.
Weeding in the garden, watering plants,
raking leaves and sweeping up.
10Clean out the car
Empty all the wastepaper baskets into the big bin
11Dust or Hoover part of the house
Clean the bathroom
Wash the windows
12Baby-sit siblings.
Make their own school lunch.
Make simple suppers for the family occasionally.
Walk dogs.
Put the bins out.

Let the kids know that the chores they are doing are absolutely essential to the smooth running of the home and repeat that everyone who’s able must do their bit to make a house a home. Always let them know how proud you are of them.

You can also let them know that yes – the fun, creative rewarding bit is the cooking but they need to do the basics and earn their stripes before they get to do that. In the meantime – they can assist you when cooking and baking – they can prep veg for dinner or mix and stir things. Working together at this age is great for getting in the habit of having very safe and informal conversations with your preteen. It might be the only time you are both working on something side by side without a device coming between you. It’s a vital time too for you to get in the habit of listening to them. 😊

Please do them, yourself, their future partners and the world at large a favour and don’t assign chores by old fashioned traditional gender stereotyped roles! Don’t discriminate and don’t limit them! Your son could be a budding chef and your daughter a budding gardener. Don’t buckle them by pushing them in one direction or another.

You are doing them a huge favour by teaching them these essential life skills. You’re empowering and enabling them to move forward, stretch themselves, take on new challenges in life and eventually run their own home. In teaching them these skills consistently – you are giving them gifts that keep giving! One day – they might even thank you! 😊

Feeling grateful
As the little helper
I was the benefactor
Of all of your skills
Taught while
on your knee
At your elbow
And over your shoulder

I remember you now
With a smile when
Cooking and baking,
Sowing and mending
Tending the garden
Confronting a mouse!
Nursing a child
Or fixing the house

I remember you
And am grateful
I smile
and I bow
In teaching your skills
Your memory
lives on
I’ll tell mine –
about you
As I pass your skills on

[Extract from In Gratitude]