I decided when my children were very young, that I wanted to raise them to be helpers. It was important to my husband and I that our children grow up doing their fair share of chores and household work. I believe that giving children household duties not only provides them with a sense of responsibility, but prepares them to better take care of their own home as adults. Towards that end, I wanted to share a few of the things we have done to get our young children (4 and 2) involved in household work. I hear so frequently from other mothers that they just can’t get their kids to do any chores. (While yes, my first thought is, “it’s not their choice, or rather it shouldn’t be their choice), I think there are some really practical ways you can get a child of any age not only involved in chores, but you can actually get them to enjoy them!!

I will break a few ideas down by age group for you, and include some of the things that have worked well for us, and a few things that I plan to do as our children get older!

18 months-2 years (or whenever your child is able to understand and follow simple directions) :

– Kids this age ARE able to help, and “indoctrinating” them at a young age that helping is just what you do is wonderful. If kids are taught from the beginning that they are expected to help clean up, they will grow up less likely to argue about their jobs around the house. I have also found that kids this young actually really ENJOY getting to be a helper. I always really play up their efforts and work, and give LOTS of praise and positive reinforcement. I always tell Henry what a big and special helper he is to me whenever he does even a small task. (and he LOVES to help!)

– Have your young child put their dirty clothes and jammies in the hamper –> This will lead to them having a natural understanding that dirty clothes go in a hamper, and not all over the floor. This also teaches them to pick up after themselves. (And for whatever reason, my two year old thinks doing this job is about the coolest thing ever…even though he does it twice a day, and has for quite some time!)

– Have your child put his dirty plate in the sink after meals – This again is easy for a young child to do, and teaches them again that dishes do not belong on the table, and that dishes are not solely Mom’s responsibility!

– Have your child help you dust/wipe windows/wash walls – At this age, give your child a dry or simply damp rag to do these tasks (as you don’t want to give a child this young any type of cleaner!) Your child will feel really important as they get to wipe down counters, dressers, dirty walls, etc. Again, if you give lots of praise and tell your child what a big helper they are, they will really buy into the process.

2-4 years old – (Able to complete multi-step processes and directions)

Kids this age again, still love the praise, and love to be billed as “Mommy’s special helper.” Often children this age thrive on praise and attention, and will often do things to seek your approval. Knowing you are happy when they are helping is a big catalyst for lots of children. One thing to keep in mind, is that children this age will want to be given more responsibility than simply, “put your jammies in the hamper.” They will want to do bigger jobs..jobs they see YOU do. Does it take a LOT longer to have them help? Yes. Will you always like the way they do the job? No. (As an example, I really dislike the way my daughter makes her bed. BUT, I know that it is FAR more important that she is learning that it is HER job to make it, and that putting up with her unique way of arranging her pillows and such is going to pay off when she is a teenager that willingly does this task every day.

-Have your child dress him/herself – This has really saved me lots of time in the mornings, and gives my daughter a real sense of accomplishment. There is also no battle about “get dressed,” because she knows it is simply expected that when she wakes up, she just puts on the clothes we chose together the night before. (And because I started chores with her as a young child, her jammies automatically go into the hamper as she changes.)

-Have your child put their dirty dishes in the dishwasher – Children this age can be taught how to rinse their dish and put it appropriately into the dishwasher. Simply show your child the right way to do it, and where their silverware goes, and then simply have that be the expectation. I love that when Hannah gets up from the table, she immediately goes to the washer with her dishes, rather than leaving them there for me!

– Emptying the dishwasher- I began giving parts of the dishwasher to Hannah. After I empty the sharp knives from the silverware basket, it is her job to put the rest of the silverware away. I showed her how the silverware goes into different sections in the drawer first, and put her to work. Now she almost gets upset if I have unloaded the dishwasher at night when she is in bed! Hannah is also responsible for putting away sippy cups, and the plastic bowls and plates. (I have even begun to let Henry ( age 2) be responsible for doing the sippy cups once in awhile.) As the kids age, and I ask them to empty the whole dishwasher, they will just know that this job is expected of them.

-Folding laundry- Again, this is a job that can be started young if you give an appropriate amount of work. Hannah (age 4) is responsible for folding the washcloths. She loves doing it, and has asked to learn to fold more of the laundry. I want my children to learn that laundry will be a shared household chore, and that it is just a part of life.

-Putting laundry away – Give your child manageable amounts of laundry to put away. I started my daughter off with things like her socks and underwear. Then I added her pajamas. Now she puts away almost all of the laundry except my husband and I’s things, and anything that needs to be hung up. I have to say, she loves doing this, and she really does save me a lot of time!

-Another note on laundry – Since I really do want my children to grow up knowing that laundry is NOT all Mom’s job, I have begun to let them do some of the actual washing process. While doing things like having your child add the soap, put the dryer sheet in, fill up the washer with dirty clothes, and putting the dry clothes into a basket may not seem like anything, those small little tasks are building your child up with responsibility, and the knowledge that they are expected to contribute. (And again, if you start them young, they actually LIKE doing it!)

-Picking up toys – This should be a given, but it’s not for many moms. I struggled with this for awhile, as I am OCD and a neat freak. I like things a certain way, and can clean up so much faster than my two little helpers. However, I knew that I did not want them growing up thinking that, “I can just leave a mess because Mom will take care of it,” so I have made it their responsibility to clean as they go. If they are playing with something and want to transition to something else, they must first pick up whatever they were doing. Most of the time we have a strict “one thing out at a time” rule as well. For example, this morning they were playing with Little People. They wanted to go upstairs to play computer games. I just told them that all the people had to be cleaned up first, and ya know what? That floor was picked up lickety split! They knew I was serious, and that they would NOT get what they wanted until they did what I asked.

School-age Children-

If you are just now starting to get your child involved in chores, you might have a bit more training ahead of you. However, it can be done if you are consistent and follow through with what you say. (Alert, alert, alert- I’m about to give an opinion on parenting…) Okay, I  feel that children should NOT be given rewards for doing chores. (other than praise). I feel that if you start out giving your child material things for doing chores, they will only do them either a- just to get the reward or b-only when the reward is offered. You can’t allow your child to learn that there is always a prize for doing the right thing. They need to learn that you do the right thing because it is the right thing to do. They also need to understand that when they are grown-ups, we don’t get a prize each time we fold a load of laundry. Life doesn’t work that way, and I simply feel that kids should just be taught to be responsible and helpful for no other reason than Mom or Dad asked them to, and people help in a family. (Okay, my opinion time is over now.)

-Make it a game- If you are new to having your child help, and they are a bit resistant, it may help to make it into a game for them. You can set a timer and see if they can have the dishwasher emptied by the time it goes off. The next time, see if they can beat their old “score.” Another fun idea is to make a treasure hunt of sorts. One game my Mom used to do for me involved dusting. She would hide 10 buttons in various spots I was expected to dust. The game kept it interesting for me, and also insured that I was dusting in all the places she wanted me to! My Mom and I would sometimes “race” doing tasks. She and I would make our bed at the same time, and see who could finish first. We would sometimes place bets on things like, “how many buckets full of weeds will we pull?” or, “how many passes of the vacuum will it take to clean the room?” , etc.

-Remember that “big” kids like praise too – Your older children still like to be recognized for their hard work and efforts. They still want to please Mom, and know that they are still valuable to you. Make sure you thank them and let them know what a good job they do when they complete a chore for you. I think about how often we as mothers can feel un-appreciated or taken for granted, and know that kids can feel that way too. If they think that no one notices the good work they do (even in cleaning up their room, or taking care of their schoolwork), they may think that they shouldn’t bother.

I hope I gave you a few ideas to get your child involved in the household duties at YOUR house. Simply hand over gradual bits of responsibility one step at a time, even if they aren’t actually being “helpful” to you…just know that in the long run, it will pay off to spend the extra time now, teaching them to help. (Ie- BOTH of my children actually vacuumed today. Were they especially helpful to me? No. Did it take longer? Yes. Will it be worth it when they are 8 and 10 and can actually vacuum the house successfully? YES!

Get your kids involve, give lots of praise, and remember that kids are capable of so much more than we give them credit for!