My four-year-old loves to button his own shirt. It takes him about six minutes -- per button. I sometimes literally sit on my hands to keep myself from just getting the job done already. But I know that the only way my son will improve is with practice, so I let him be.
It was much harder for me to take the same approach to chores. My 10-year-old daughter would constantly ask to cook dinner, and I would repeatedly ask her to instead watch her siblings. We'd both end up frustrated. A few weeks ago, she wanted waffles, but I didn't have the energy to make them. Sheer laziness led me to hand her the recipe. Thirty minutes later, we had waffles -- and a new way of looking at chores.
Of course, waffle-making wouldn't be a great choice for a younger child -- but that doesn't mean little ones should do nothing. The trick is to think about the tasks that need to get done and match them with your children's abilities. And by starting chores when kids are small, you establish a way of life that brooks no room for questions or objections later on.
It's true: even a three-year-old can do chores. Sure, he's probably not going to haul the garbage cans out to the street for pickup, but he can sort clean laundry into baskets for the proper owners to fold and put away. Toddlers can also match socks into pairs -- an activity that works on the pattern recognition skills they need for reading and the fine motor skills they need for writing.
Similarly, you wouldn't want your toddler washing the dishes, but he can certainly set out silverware and napkins on the table. Doing so will help him learn his left from his right, as well as proper table setting, of course. You can help him by providing placemats that show proper utensil placement.
Kindergarten age children are generally capable of folding and putting away laundry. Granted, the clothes may not look as pristine as they do in a retail store, but it's another one of those things where practice makes perfect. And if you make a t-shirt folding machine from cardboard, you will be amazed at how quickly your kids can work through a pile of clothes.
Kids this age may also be able to clear dishes from the table and load the dishwasher, depending on their dexterity and how much you value your dishes. If they aren't quite ready for that step, an alternative task is wiping down the table and chairs and sweeping the floor after a meal.
Older kids who have been brought up doing chores can be a big help around the house. They can sort and wash laundry, hang clothes on a line to dry, and even iron. Especially if you've put together a home operations manual, older kids can step up and try a variety of chores -- it's fine to let them pick the two or three they like the most.
Like my daughter, your older kids can also start cooking, and before long, they'll be able to make dinner one or more nights a week. Yes, you may eat a few overcooked chickens, but kids are quick learners. And cooking is a skill that will serve them well their whole lives.
It's easy to believe that your kids can't do things just because they've never tried. But just as they once took their very first steps, they can continue to learn new things every day. And if you unload a few chores of your own in the process, so much the better.
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