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How to tell if your child is ready for household chores

How can you tell if your kids are ready to help out around the house -- and how do you get them started doing chores? Here are some tips!

The question:
How do I know if my child is ready to help do chores around the house? What are the best tasks to start with? - Tina in Redwood City, CaliforniaThe Childcare Expert Answers: I consider the children in my home day care to be "my" children during the hours they are with me. Therefore, I treat them all equally in that they all get lots of hugs and are assigned chores. My belief is that children of all ages want and need to be assigned responsibilities. These responsibilities (chores) teach them part of the give-and-take involved in being part of a team, or in this case, a family.Children thrive on the accomplishment of learning these tasks and the praise they receive from having done them. The age of the child should limit only the type of chore assigned, not that any will be assigned. A child as young as six months can get satisfaction from picking up the food they've spilled (or thrown) on the table and returning it to their bowl.Examples of chores you can consider:Daily:

  • Set the table
  • Put dishes in the sink
  • Wash the table
  • # Bring mail inside


Cleaning:

  • Sweep and/or mop the floor
  • Take out the garbage
  • Vacuum
  • Put toys away


Pet care:

  • Feed and water animals
  • Walk the dog
  • Brush and/or bathe animals


Garden/outdoor:

  • Water plants
  • Mow lawn
  • Harvest fruits or vegetables
  • Shovel snow
  • Wash car


Other:

  • Change diapers (or help)
  • Make beds
  • Change sheets
  • Fold and put away clothes/laundry


I must also admit that my children love to wash the car, and would do it all day, every day during the summer, even. However, they have yet to change a diaper! But I've heard that it can be taught... even to a Dad!Not only are these chores great for a child's self-confidence, they also help with fine motor skills, large and small muscle development, and teach community values. I have to admit that in the beginning of assigning any new chore to a child, it is harder for the mother or me as the childcare provider than just doing it myself, during the initial learning period. However, I have found that children have so much fun doing their chores and the rewards they get from doing them, they ask to do them and I haven't taken the garbage out in years!On the subject of rewards I believe that there are certain things children and adults do simply because they are a part of a family. No money exchanged, no gifts given -- just love and thank yous.However, since we all live in the real world of children with free will and threatening being frowned upon, I have devised a little chore chart that has cut out (most) of the whining.I have assigned five jobs per child for each day of the week, that must be done. These are fairly simple and take relatively little time. Each child earns a star for doing each of these jobs each day, providing there is no whining. If they have to be coerced into doing the job, they still have to do it, but only earn a check mark.At the end of each week, we count up together the number of stars earned and see if they have earned something special. For instance, my five-year old has to make his bed, take out the garbage, pick up his toys, feed a carrot to the guinea pig, and put away his clothes. If he receives 20 stars in a week, he gets to rent his favorite video. If he receives 25 stars, he gets extra Nintendo time. If he earns 30 stars, he gets to go to an age-appropriate movie.He has realized that if he just keeps his clothes and toys picked up all the time he can be assured two stars with little extra time spent. Then if he wants to do extra chores after the day's requirements are done, he gets to earn quarters for each one completed. That leads to great discussions on spending, saving and donating to charity.Of course, a very small child does not yet understand the cause-and-effect relationship enough to make this work. Yet! However, they soon learn that they get hugs, smiles, and clapping for doing each thing and that's the beginning.However you decide to teach your child the responsibility of doing chores, make sure it is done with love and patience. Remember that these are little people trying their very best to please the big people. They will spill, break and overwater. That's part of learning. But for the parent and childcare provider, it's part of teaching these children how to be productive members of society.

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