Parenting Matters: Clean up with kids

We want our children to grow up and be good workers. We want them to learn how to work hard and be good at the things they need to accomplish.

So how do you help your child learn about being a good worker? Actually, learning to be a good worker begins sometime around two years of age. It begins with little things. Once again, who is the teacher? Parents are the teachers who begin this lesson.

Even when your child is very young, he watches you. When he sees you pick up after he has left his toys on the floor, he is learning. When he sees you clear the plates from the table, he is learning.

Around the age of 3 or 4 he can begin to actually do work. Let him put the napkins out when you set the table or help you pick up toys off the floor. Let him help you put away clean clothes. When he begins to do these things for you, be excited and certainly be complimentary. You are beginning to have a helper. Giving your child chores is an important responsibility of parents. When your child does chores he learns responsibility and life skills that will serve him well throughout his life.

When your child does his chores such as sweeping, picking up around the house, making his lunch, or setting the table he feels a sense of accomplishment. He feels he is part of the family and he is learning to do his share.

Studies have supported the value of chores. They have found that school-aged children who did chores around the house got better grades and were more social and more confident than their peers who did not. Another study found that we expect less chores today from our children 6-12 years of age who spend an average of 24 minutes a day helping with chores. That is a drop of 12 percent from 1997 and a drop of 25% since 1981. A Harvard study found that children given chores became more independent adults.

There is another good reason to encourage giving children chores. This poem encapsulate it.

“I like hugs and I like kisses,

But what I really love is help with the dishes!”

-Author Unknown

So what chores are appropriate at certain ages? Here are some examples:

Chores for Preschoolers: Keep the chores simple. Any kind of picking up after themselves are easy chores for this age. They can also pick up their room or at least give you some help with it. Putting their dishes away after they eat is a good beginning chore. These sorts of chores teach them that they are responsible for their own mess.

Sticker charts for young children help them remember to do a chore. Since preschoolers usually can’t read, a picture chart to help them remember to do the chore or to help them see how much they are have done can be helpful. Bring out the stickers for their added pleasure when they have completed a task. Stickers won’t work with teens but they can help with preschoolers.

Chores for School Age Children: As your child grows older his responsibility with chores should also increase. Picking up after themselves should continue. Have him put up his backpack or school papers when he comes home.

As chores become more complex, teach him in a step-by-step manner how to do each task. For example, if he is expected to put his own clothes away, show him where to put them and how to put them away. Be sure to include praise for what he does correctly.

Add tasks such as ways to help the family so he has a sense of belonging. He can now set the table for everyone. He can take out dishes for more than himself. He can make his bed or feed the dog daily.

Chores for Tweens and Teens: By now it is clear there is no need to reward a child for every task he does. Picking up after himself and cleaning his room, for example, are part of pitching in and helping the family.

But other new helpful chores should come into the picture. Yard work, folding clothes, picking up the dog messes, vacuuming the floor, doing the laundry and dusting the shelves all enter the picture. Some tasks will help your teen learn to live independently which is worth encouraging.

Somewhere in here is a place for adding allowance or coming up with a token exchange for work done to pay for electronics or outing with friends. Giving your teen an allowance can motivate him to do chores. It can also serve as a way to teach your teen about how to manage money.

Chores start out little but gets big as time goes by. It is well worth developing a strong beginning.

Cynthia Martin is the founder of the First Teacher program and former executive director of Parenting Matters Foundation, which publishes newsletters for parents, caregivers and grandparents. To reach current First Teacher Executive Director Nicole Brewer, email or call 360-681-2250.