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Teaching kids about chores is very important, from a young age. Children must learn personal responsibility and good stewardship as soon as they are able to understand the concepts (which is a lot younger than some of you know). It’s extremely important to teach children well so that they grow up responsible, helpful, and generally well-mannered.
Bekah, at 22 months, is already a big help around the house. Most kids, somewhere around 18 months, start a highly imitative phase, and they want to “help” you with everything. Some parents are tempted to brush them off because, yes, it can make your chores take longer to let them help. But it’s crucial to let them do so for several reasons.
Why To Let Your Kids Help
1) Helping takes advantage of their natural curiosity to learn new skills
Kids really love to learn. That’s part of the reason why they start imitating you in the first place. If you can give your child an age-appropriate job whenever possible, your child will be challenged and will continue to learn new skills, and hone existing ones. This is crucial to their development as a productive member of society.
2) Helping teaches them they have a place in the family
In our family, everyone pitches in. No one person is fully responsible for each task. We share the responsibility for what needs done. Giving a young child a chance to help teaches them that they are part of the family and that they need to pitch in, too. Luckily, toddlers are only too eager. Allowing them to help makes them feel grown up and like they are really a part of the family. This will make it easier to teach them more responsibility later, because they’ll already understand that all members of the family pitch in, and they’ll have experience doing it.
3) Helping validates their autonomy and efforts
Toddlers are not babies, as many are quick to remind you. They want to “do it themselves” very often. Allowing a toddler to do a job makes her feel strong and capable. Our job as parents is to make our toddlers’ world a place where they can do much more than they cannot do whenever possible. Allowing the toddler to help reminds her that she is an individual person who can do things for herself.
4) Helping gets them conditioned to doing “chores”
When children are older, we almost universally will ask them to do chores around the house — their laundry, setting the table, sweeping floors, feeding animals, etc. By allowing them to help now, they are learning about how to do those jobs and what it’s like to feel included. If a child grows up “always” having helped, they will be more used to simply doing so when we would choose to assign formal chores, and chores will not seem so overwhelming or unusual.
5) Helping allows them to spend more time with you
When there is a lot to get done (grocery shopping, meal preparation, laundry, etc.) it can be hard to find time to spend with your children. But if you can involve them in what you are doing, you can still spend time with them while you do what you must. You can teach children silly songs about sweeping the floor, play games while stirring cookie dough, count the socks in the laundry, etc. For me personally, this is a huge reason to let Bekah help. I personally find most baby games and toys boring, but I could find ways to let her help me all day long. I love to include her in what I’m doing, so this is a great way to spend time with her that’s interesting to both of us.
How They Can Help
All that said, how can kids help? It seems like kids as young as 18 months can’t really do much. However, I’ve found that not to be true. My daughter has become VERY helpful, actually, and I mean she actually is helping me, not making things take longer! Here is a list of the types of things very young kids may be able to do (keep in mind your own family situation and your child’s abilities; these are the things my daughter does at 22 months):
- Empty plastic or metal items from the dishwasher and put them away in low cabinets or drawers
- Put laundry from the washer into the dryer (handed to child by mom or dad)
- Sweep floors (this needs a LOT of guidance or the dirt just goes everywhere)
- Feed pets (watch carefully, show scoop for food)
- Tear lettuce for salad
- Add chopped vegetables to bowls (teach the child to wait until the knife is done and the vegetables are moved to one side)
- Fold laundry (hand to mom to fold)
- Put laundry away in low drawers/closet
- Remove own clothing and put in laundry basket or hamper
- Pick up toys from the floor and put in bins or toy box
- Give a pacifier or toy back to younger child
- Wipe up spills
- Fetch diapers, blankets, etc. for younger child
- Dump pre-measured foods into a bowl (i.e. parent fills measuring cup, child adds)
- Stir cold foods (cake batter, salads, etc.)
- Harvest from the garden in the summer (teach colors, i.e. “pick the red tomatoes”)
There are probably many more ways that I can’t think of right now, but Bekah has helped do all of these things at one point or another — sometimes without my knowledge!
Helping = Learning!
The other week I was emptying the dishwasher and feeling rather annoyed and busy. Bekah came over and wanted to help. (She will sign “help” if she wants to help me.) I said “No, mommy is busy, just let me do it.” She completely ignored me. She picked up a cutting board (plastic) and opened up the cabinet it goes in and put it away! Recently she’s also learned how to tear the salad leaves into bite-sized pieces, instead of just tearing them in half like she used to. The more she helps, the more she learns about how things are done.
Children — ALL people — learn best by DOING. Repetition is key, and observation doesn’t hurt. As Bekah observes me doing certain likes (like tearing salad leaves smaller), she practices doing it herself and learns to do it “right.” She’s also learned to pick up a cutting board and push all the food into a bowl instead of grabbing several handfuls. Her skills will be honed as she does more and more. Whenever possible, I try to give her a job to do. It makes her feel included, and it actually staves off a lot of tantrums that would result from being ignored. It’s also setting her up for a future of being responsible.
When our children are older, they’ll be expected to pick up after themselves. That is, put their dishes in the dishwasher, clothes in the hamper, toys put away, any messes cleaned up. We already make Bekah clean up her own messes whenever possible, or at least help. We’ll also teach them to do all different types of chores. Girls will learn to mow the lawn and do hard labor; boys will learn to cook and sew. By including them in all these types of chores now (Bekah enjoys cooking and pretending to sew just as much as tramping through the garden), we’re setting them up to continue helping.
How do you teach your children about chores? At what age did they start helping and what types of things did they do?
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