Curious what chores your toddler or preschooler can do? Here are some tips!
I have two boys, ages four and two. They’re wonderful, and I love them immensely. But a few weeks ago, I had a phone conversation with my mom that went like this:
Me: Mom, I seriously need help. I do not know what to do with these kids. They’re being so naughty.
Mom: What are they doing exactly?
Me: Oh, they’re being awful! They don’t listen! They fight with each other! They take forever to do anything I ask!
Mom: Hmm. Do they have any chores? I think they need some jobs.
I didn’t say it, but here’s what I was thinking: Jobs? How are chores going to help? They already don’t listen; how am I going to wrangle them into doing work, which they’re not going to like?
Though the two seemed unrelated (chores and behavior), slowly I began to see her point.
What my kids were really missing was structure, self-discipline and (not to be minimized) purposeful work.
After all, kids aren’t any different from us! They don’t need the life we think they need . No, they need something meaningful to do, they need to be busy and they need to feel proud of the work they’ve done.
I know some of you veteran moms are shaking your heads, thinking, of course! How could anyone not realize how important chores are?! What mom doesn’t have her kids doing chores?!
Well, not that I need one, but here’s my defense.
- I’m 12 weeks pregnant. Praise the Lord, but remember that? Remember those days? Chores aren’t the only thing that’s been ignored for a while. Sigh.
- Sometimes you just don’t realize how old your kids have gotten! Those first days home from the hospital are a blur; we have to do everything for them! And then they grow up, but we often don’t realize how big they are and how much they can do!
Well, I tentatively gave my mom’s chore system a try, and wouldn’t you know it? The kids started behaving better! They were more pleasant, more obedient and, somehow, there was less overall chaos in our home.
Less, I said. Still some chaos.
So, what do I have them doing? What chores can little ones do? First, here are some guidelines as we implement chores for our kids.
Guidelines for Chores:
Exaggerate what a “good job” you’re doing. If you’re showing them how to wipe the table, scrub every little piece of food off. Be energetic, upbeat and show them exactly what’s expected.
- Always be very positive. Cheer them on (and on and on). Reward their behavior. Tell Dad when he comes home all the jobs they did. It’s so cute to see their little faces swell with pride over their work!
- Don’t use chores and work as punishment. If my children are being rambunctious and rowdy, will I give them a job? Yes. But I’ll try to act upbeat and excited about the work they get to do, not act like it’s a punishment.
- You can “make up” jobs. Maybe the cabinets don’t really need wiping. That’s okay. Maybe you even spread a pile of sticks in the yard for them to pick up for an outside job. That’s fine, too. The work is the end goal here.
- Know that in the beginning, kids working creates more work for you. But it’s so worth it!
Now, what chores should young children be expected to do? Here are some suggestions. Note: This is a basic outline. Some young children might need a little help, and some older children can do more.
Personal Care Chores
- Brush teeth – the right way! All over! Then put toothbrush away.
- Put shoes, hat, or jacket in appropriate place. (Hint to mom: Do these things have appropriate places? Make it easy for everyone to keep everything clean!)
- Clean up whatever mess they’ve made. This is very important, and I tend to overlook it because we’re often in a hurry to get to the next project/errand/meal. If they’ve done a puzzle, they need to put it away. If they’ve been reading, put the books back, etc.
- Put pajamas with dirty clothes.
- Make bed – This may require some tutorials! Be positive and excited. What a grown-up job they can do!
- Bring out water glass/water bottle.
- Get dressed – For a younger child, perhaps they can simply retrieve items of clothing. Also, you can lay out the clothes the night before if that’s helpful.
- Before: Set the table (minus the knives and water glasses).
- Before: Fill up water bottles or glasses.
- After: Carry their bowls to the counter (my kids know that plastic/metal can be set gently in the sink, but glass goes on the counter.)
- After: Wipe down the table (for taller kids) or the chairs (for smaller kids) with wet washcloths.
- After: Use a small dustpan and broom to sweep under the table. (I found a few sets at the Dollar Store.)
Note: Kids can work outside even on cold days (not extremely cold, obviously). If it’s very cold, we bundle out for very brief chores. Rainy, we wear rain gear. They actually love it!
- Sweep the porch.
- Collect small sticks from the yard.
- Rake or pick up leaves.
- Wipe windows or doors from the outside.
- Collect pieces of trash or toys from yard.
- Weed flowerbeds or gardens.
- Wash cars or outdoor toys.
- Care for pets.
- Dust furniture.
- Clean windows.
- Wipe down kitchen cabinets and refrigerator.
- Wipe down blinds.
- Fold laundry. Most kids can with a little practice fold washcloths, napkins, and small shirts, and mate socks.
So, what’s the best way to begin (or improve) a chore system for little ones? Two things helped us make this a positive experience (and not a drain!).
- Enlist Dad’s help. As you present the jobs (especially if you have little boys) have Dad explain how proud he is that they are growing up so big, and that he has some big work for them to do while he’s gone. This makes it seem more important!
- Use a reward system. Do I mean giving a treat for every chore? No. What I started rewarding was good attitudes and first-time obedience. (Not just with chores, but all during the day.) If the boys were cooperative and respectful, and obeyed when I asked them to do something, they got a sticker. When we made a “tower of stickers” we had a family movie night with popcorn and cookies in Mom and Dad’s bed.
This was a great way to encourage their obedience with chores and more!
Need some encouragement?
If you haven’t been making your kids work much, it can seem overwhelming to change. I’ll be honest with you. When I started thinking about making a chore chart, and a good behavior program, and teaching them over and over to do these jobs…I got really tired. (Maybe that’s pregnant me talking again.)
It’s true – it’s a lot of work to teach little ones to work.
But the thing I kept coming back to was, yes, this is a lot of work, but isn’t this what being a parent is about? Isn’t this more important than rushing to this or that errand, than me getting “my work done”? What’s more important than building character, one tiny plastic dinosaur at a time?