One of the many parenting principles in our home that shocks friends and family is our son doing chores. He’s been at it since he was just over a year old. Some people expressed amusement, some shock and some others judged us as mean parents. But we still did chores around here.
The first few chores that we began with our son was wiping up spills, pulling dried clothes off the laundry line and putting away used plates & cups for a wash in the sink. He began with these around the time he was 1.5 years when he was walking fairly confidently. No, wait, he was pulling off dried clothes from the drying stand right from the time he was crawling.?
He felt immensely proud and useful to be doing these chores and today its second nature for him to ask for a cloth to wipe any spills or put away his plate after snack time.
In that sense, I think everyone, including the ones who scoffed, can now see that it was a good thing we did to encourage him to do his chores when we did.
Last week I posted a story on my Instagram account of him cleaning his highchair. I got a lot of DMs from many of the lovely mamas and some papas who follow my account of how I managed to “teach” him this skill. Truth is, I did not decide that today, I will get babyT to clean his own highchair. I started giving it its weekly deep clean and babyT decided he wanted to join in too. I was only happy to step back and offer him the cloth.
It helps that I am not a person who over-sterilises or uses chemical cleansers. 90% of the time I use warm water alone. It is therefore never a hazard for a child to jump in and give it a shot himself.
And I have learnt along the way that while we started small, it has built an openness in our son to partner with us when we are doing chores. As he has grown, the difficulty level of his chores has gone up too.
So when’s the right time to start?
As early as possible. The right behaviours and habits when modelled and started early have the most impact. We started around 1.5 years. You could judge your child’s interest, physical and motor ability and even begin sooner.
But if you are past this age then fret not. It’s never too late. You can start today and it will still be possible to build a habit of them doing chores around the house.
What kind of chores for kids can you start with?
When you are starting chores with a toddler, start simple and safe.
Here are some ideas:
- Wipe up spills
- Stock up the pantry baskets/ containers when the grocery comes in
- Toss clothes into the washing machine
- Hand clothes to an adult to dry on the clothesline
- Pull clothes he can reach off the clothesline when they are dry
- Put away folded laundry in his cupboard/ carry it to the person’s room
- Take in used plates, cups, spoons to the kitchen and toss it in the sink
- Put away toys and books
- Fetch stuff to pack into bags when you are travelling
- Throw (dry) waste into the trash can
- Water the plants
- Brush teeth (an adult can finish up)
- Have a bath – always supervised.
- Helping in the kitchen – beating eggs, cleaning veggies, trimming stems off beans or leafies.
Your role in chores for kids
My child is not a perfect angel. Fact that I have listed the above chores does not mean he does them all or with enthusiasm. He loves the dirty stuff like splashing in water while cleaning or bathing. I’m still trying to figure out how to make him love putting away toys and books.
But there are some things we parents can do to make chores a way of life for our children. There is no shame in teaching kids responsibility at a young age. It will hold them in good stead when they are older, go away to boarding school/ university or live on their own. Teaching how to do laundry or clean up to an angsty teen who leaves for higher education next week is no fun.
Show them how
You will have to show them how it’s done. Not once or twice but maybe every time till they start off on their own and get it right. In such cases, I have found that modelling the behaviour rather than showing them works well. While we clean the highchair, I give him his own piece of cloth, while I have another and we clean together. I clean the left side and encourage him to do the same action on the other side.
Don’t seek perfection
Remember that this is to allow our children, especially toddlers, to learn how to do chores happily. They are not doing chores because you have a big list of things to do and hard-pressed to find time to finish them. When kids help out it may not be a perfect job. And that’s ok.
If you act all unhappy and unsatisfied you are risking shutting that child off to doing any chores at all. So don’t be a taskmaster. Enjoy the flow.
Continuing from the earlier point, make sure you praise the effort. Not the end result. “You worked so hard on clearing your toys away.” goes a long way.
Make it fun
More than anything else, bring in fun into anything you do.
The famous song from the kiddie movie Mary Poppins comes to mind, “In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun. You find the fun and—snap!—the job’s a game!”
Kids love fun. They love song and dance. They love movement. They love goofing around. Clearing up the toys? make it a game.
Here’s what we did, well ok actually daddy did, over the weekend to clear up babyT’s playroom. Fetching the alphabet case, picking each letter and sitting on daddy’s lap and tossing it into the box. It did not last until 26 letters were done but a lot still happened.
Make chores for kids a routine
Make sure you inculcate a habit to do chores. Assign a task exclusively to your child which he can repeat every week or so. Gradually it will become a habit and routines are great for babies and grown-ups alike.
I got this healthy habits chart for Tasmai and we plan the day out everyday. It is a magnetic board with stickers for various activities. Once he completes an activity he takes it to the ‘completed’ column. With this its been fun for him to do chores and he actually looks forward to it, sometimes reminding me if I miss a task.
Should you reward chore completion?
In my opinion, NO.
Chores are a responsibility that everyone must fulfil. There should not be a reward for this. But yes, if the child goes over and beyond the scope of their responsibility then a reward is very justified.
I have also touched upon this topic in one of my earlier posts on Game Theory. You can read it here.
Moreover, for toddlers, the concept of money and earning may not be relevant so early.
What do you think? Do think chores are for kids? Or is your child already playing a part in doing chores around the house.. how did you go about inculcating this habit. I’d love to know more tips, do add them in comments to this post.
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