Chores can easily turn into a constant battle, unless parents first do some basic training during the preschool years. If parents create what I call the foundation of participation then chores become a normal, expected part of family life. Let me explain.
Most parents don’t really think about having preschoolers do chores. They want them to go to school, and play as much as they can. Parents figure there will be plenty of time to insist on chores when they get older.
I agree parents shouldn’t insist that preschoolers do chores. But, if you wait until your child is older before engaging them in chores, you’re missing a golden opportunity, the opportunity to capitalize on your child’s interest in doing what adults do.
Chores have so many benefits it’s hard to focus on just one or two. Many of you asked me questions like, “How can I help my child with impulsivity and transitioning?” “How can I stop my child from hurting her sibling?” “How do I deal with step-kids?”
Being involved with a parent and doing chores can help with all of these issues. When a child is hurting a sibling, she needs to feel like she holds a specail place in the family that her younger sibling doesn’t hold. Doing chores her sibling is too young to do will help. Step-kids need to realize they’re all equal, all loved in the same way, in order to feel like a united family, chores will help. Doing daily chores helps with impulsivity and transitioning, too.
In order to gain cooperation with chores let’s go back to the need to create a foundation of participation. The foundation begins with a house rule my sweet husband created many years ago. He said, “We all make the mess, we all clean the mess.” Begin there. Make that your new family rule.
Also begin inviting kids to join you as do chores, around the ages of 3-6. That’s the time in life when kids think the normal everyday chores adults do are fun. They think that chores are what adult’s do when playing. We of course know better. Hey, I’m not going to taint their idea about adult play, are you? I didn’t think so … moving on.
So how do you introduce chores to kids so they don’t become a fight? Treat chores like play, of course. Play is how teachers teach everything in preschool.
Let’s go over the “don’ts” for 3-6 yr. olds.
• Don’t insist they do a chore from start to finish. Let them help out in short bursts. Let them participate till they’re bored, then let them stop and go play. Bailing on an activity before it’s complete is age appropriate. After a few months of inviting them to help out with chores you can begin teaching them to how to stick with an activity, but right now you’re goal is to create a foundation of participation.
• Don’t call them chores. Simply ask them to come and help. Save the word “chores” for when they’re older.
• Don’t insist they do a chore without you. That’s just not fun. Do things with them.
• Don’t insist they do a chore without a reminder.
• Don’t be sporadic about doing chores. Kids need routine in order to create new habits.
• Don’t punish or remove a precious item if they don’t want to help out. Just keep inviting them to join you, and mix up the chores you invite them to do with you till you find one they enjoy.
Remember you’re creating a foundation of participation by participating with them. Doing chores independently, without reminders, is something slightly older kids can do easily, if you wait for that developmental time. However, if you argue, nag and punish, chores will always be a fight, and no one wants that.
Here are the “dos” for 3-6 yr. olds.
• Do invite them to do the things you do, but in age appropriate ways. They can wash plastic dishes, sort laundry, unload the dishwasher, wipe off their chair, sort toys, stack plastic containers, plant flowers. If you want a list of things kids can do at this age, visit my Pinterest page under Teaching Life Skills http://bit.ly/1F0GfeV
• Do use blue painters tape to make a square on the floor so little ones have a big area to sweep the mess into.
• Do invite the kids to help out every day, but don’t punish if they refuse. Kids love routine. It makes them feel safe. They also love to do what mom and dad do. That’s why they play house, they want to do “big people” stuff. If they don’t like one chore, invite them to do another. Keep inviting them to help out till you find something they like. When they’re older they can help out with the “real” chores.
•Do expect them to do things in a messy way. They’re learning. They won’t do things as neatly as you would.
• Do expect to feel like it’s easier if you just did it yourself. But think again. Parents have been lead to believe that learning is only done through academics. Fine and gross motor activities activate executive functioning in the brain. Chores help kids with time management, decision-making, planning, and organization, all aspects of executive functioning. Locating and wiping up small crumbs uses fine motor skills. Sweeping and raking leaves use gross motor skills. Deciding where to sweep first, then where to sweep next, activates planning and organizing skills. There’s so much learning that occurs by doing chores, as long as there’s cooperation, not power struggles and threats.
So instead of demanding that your 5 yr. old do a weekly chore by himself, even though he may be capable of it, try building a foundation of participation instead. You’ll thank me in a few years.
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