Why All Kids Should Pitch In
Experts say assigning chores to your children is great for them -- it fosters responsibility, boosts self-esteem, and helps them feel like an important part of the fam. But here's a modern-mom reality: Farming out to-dos usually means redoing chores the right way after your child has skipped off to school or to bed. And if you're stuck making the bed again anyway, what's the help in that?
The key is to give kids the right chores for their ages. "There's always a learning curve for kids, whether they're toddlers or teenagers," says Patricia Greenfield, PhD, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles. "But the best way to encourage kids to pitch in -- without making more work for yourself -- is to make sure the jobs are age-appropriate." Check out these great ideas, plus expert suggestions for ways to reward them for pitching in.
The word "chore" hardly applies to youngest kids because they're so eager to spend time with you and love helping out, says Greenfield. The key: Pick easy tasks that won't frustrate your toddler. And because chores are fun at this stage, don't worry about ponying up allowance or other rewards as incentive. Just heap on the praise for a job well done.
- Tidy up toys. Turn cleaning into teaching by asking your kid to gather all the orange blocks first, say, or to put T. rex to sleep on the shelf.
- Sop up spills. Raise a little Miss Manners by showing her how to blot up minor messes with a paper towel.
- Destroy dust bunnies. Slip an old, unmatched sock on your child's hand and send him on a mission to pick up as much dust as he can find on low-lying tables and furniture (making sure there are no sharp edges, of course).
- Dabble in dinner prep. Let her top the salad with cherry tomatoes or help mix up brownie batter.
- Deliver dirty laundry. Plant a small portable hamper in your kid's room and show him how to drop his clothes in there at the end of the day.
At this age, it's a pride thing. "Kids love to show off their skills," says Greenfield. Work with this need to please by doling out more specific projects that require some independence. Should you reward with allowance? Up to you -- but many experts suggest that it's best not to tie a pay-out to generally helping around the house (which they should do anyway!) at this age.
- Go green. With clearly marked bins for paper, plastic, and aluminum, your kid can handle sorting recyclables.
- Make the bed. A 4- or 5-year-old can pull up his blanket and arrange the pillows (no hospital corners required).
- Rake it up. Give your child a mini rake and the promise of some pile-jumping at the end.
- Play Mr. Postman. Have your kid bring in the mail and help you open/sort the loot.
- Build her own breakfast. Cheerios or Rice Krispies? Let your child choose -- and grab her own bowl, milk, and fruit while she's at it.
- Water the plants. A pint-sized watering pot will ensure that your child can flex his green thumbs -- without drowning your daisies.
Your grade-schooler's off on his own, gaining responsibility and independence during the school day. So don't be afraid to let him go solo on certain small-ish chores. Debating whether to reward for these tasks?
- Load up the dishwasher. Now's the time to break his toss-everything-in-the-kitchen-sink habit. Have him rinse off his plate and place it (and accompanying silverware, etc.) in the dishwasher.
- Accessorize the table. Give kids table-setting duties. Bonus: You can casually gab about your day while you cook and they set.
- Feed the pooch. Keeping Frank fed turns your kids into careful caretakers (training for future babysitter gigs) and also teaches them to follow a regimented schedule.
- Tee off. Your child should now be able to put away folded shirts and other dryer-fresh duds.
- Pack it in. Cut down on morning craziness by having your child restock her own backpack at night, packing homework, permission slips, and whatnot.
- Make a clean sweep. Demo a quick spin with a broom or vacuum. You may need to supervise this task now, but in a few years, your kids will definitely be able to do it alone.
- Be a bookworm. As your older kid becomes a reading pro, ask her to take charge of story time for younger sibs -- a great alternative to TV.
- Stock up the fridge. Let your child return condiments (salad dressing, ketchup) after meals or help you unload grocery bags after you get home from the supermarket.
If your kid's old enough to request a cell phone or stay home alone, she's definitely ready for more grown-up gigs -- but prepare yourself. This is when the whining, complaining, or "forgetting" may begin, too. As your kid's responsibilities increase, you may want to consider paying for her help around the house or rewarding an above-and-beyond effort.
- Give the pup a workout. Hand off the daily walks to your kid (remember, scooping up messes is a crucial part of the job description).
- Windshield wipe-downs. Car washing is a fun family bonding activity, so take turns wielding the hose and using the squeegee.
- Hunt for groceries. When you hit the supermarket, divvy your list and send your kid off to collect some of the easy-to-finds.
- Counter cleanup. Make sure she wipes up the toothpaste globs from the bathroom counter.
- Babysit -- in small doses. Older, mature tweens may be ready to look after younger sibs for short periods of time (while you run out for a manicure, not a five-hour dinner and movie date, for example).
- Serve up snacks. Nip those "Mom, I'm hungry" proclamations by letting your child fix his own after-school snacks, preferably of the fruit and veggie variety.
- Stock supplies. Running out of TP or napkins? Send your tween to the pantry to reload.
Here's a guideline we love. "Your teen is pretty much capable of doing any of the chores you do," says Marilee Sprenger, MEd, a professor at Aurora University in Illinois who studies brain development and memory. "The best way to motivate a child this age is to make him feel in control. Set up a chore system together, for example, or offer choices." You probably can't get away without giving out allowance at this point, but make sure your teen uses her moolah wisely. Rather than tying the cash to specific chores, most experts agree that it's better to link payday to their overall contribution and responsibility so they won't expect a bonus every single time they pitch in.
- Cleaning crew. Lighten your housekeeping load by giving your teen a weekly gig -- whether it's mopping, dusting, or vacuuming.
- Kiss clutter goodbye. No, it's not okay for your kid's room to look like a hurricane tore through it. Establish a system for regular straightening up and make sure he sticks to it.
- Get cooking. Show your child how to make a few easy dishes (stir-fry, tacos, etc.) and let her be in charge of family dinners once or twice a month.
- Launder up. Teach your teen to wash his own clothes now -- even if he grumbles the whole way through. He'll be eternally grateful when he's on his own in college.
- Be the family gofer. Just a hunch, but we bet your Miss Independent will have no problem running errands (to grab the dry cleaning, etc.) as long as she gets to flex her newly licensed driving muscles.
- Strike while the iron's hot. If your mini fashionista demands perfectly pressed attire, show her how to iron -- and let her give your wardrobe a smoothing too.
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