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How Young Is Too Young?

December 28th, 2012 - Category: Teaching Kids to Work

Parents establish cleanliness habits from a young age. We teach our kids to take a bath, wash their hair, brush their teeth, and how to take care of their toileting needs because we know that establishing these habits young will make them routine as they grow older. Chores, however, are not as cut-and-dry. At what age should they be required, and what is appropriate for younger kids?

Appropriate Toddler Chores

As the mother of three young ones, I started chores just shy of two-years-old. If they are old enough to recognize that they made a mess, they are old enough to clean it up. I started with simply picking up toys. Make up a song, set up a timer and make it a race, or get lots of buckets and let the kids organize the toys in unique ways. Consider organizing by color, shape, or size. Chores seem less like work when they are made into a game.

Preschooler Chores

By the time kids have the hang of cleaning up after themselves, I will start introducing them to other helpful activities including food prep, setting the table, sorting clothes, matching socks, yard work and even vacuuming. I’ve had one child that was a pleaser and she was ecstatic when I told her she was old enough to be entrusted with mixing the batter, putting napkins on the table, or helping mom push the vacuum. My middle child was not an anxious to help, but when he realized that tossing a salad is the mom-ordained “playing with your food” time, he got more into it. The biggest caution at this age is that some kids will want to do more than is age appropriate (like cutting, slicing, or handling delicate dishes), so emphasize that this is “help” time and be available while in the kitchen. Lots of potential dangers lurk there.

Young School Kids

By the time my kids were in Kindergarten they could fold towels, strip beds, and sort laundry. My oldest is now in third grade and she helps stir the pots at dinner, flip pancakes, sweep floors, plant the garden, wash cars, and clean sinks. My 1st grade son helps gather trash, unload the dishwasher, clean up the yard, and fold clothes. The older they get, the more they are capable of doing.

Staying Consistent

The hardest part for me is not in establishing the chores, it is in sticking with them. Let’s face it, sometimes it would be a lot easier to pick up the toys yourself rather than listening to the initial whining associated with asking kids to do it. Top that off with the guilt of having school-age kids do housework after they’ve been in school all day and then came home to homework, and it gets very difficult for me to enforce the chore habit. What I’ve learned the hard way, however, is that if I don’t stick with the chores, I have to start all over with breaking the whining. Just like with discipline, staying consistent with job requirements makes life easier for everyone. The truth is that responsibilities can allow kids to feel more grown-up and more of a productive member of the family. Combine that with point-earning potential, and chores are really a win-win for everyone. The keys are to start young, keep them growing, and keep them fun. Even as an adult, turning on my favorite music and dancing with the broom handle makes my job easier.

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