Aren’t I using my child for cheap labour? Not at all. In fact, you could be teaching them the most important values needed for being a successful adult. According to a study done by the University of Minnesota you can make a big difference in your children’s future by letting them partake in household chores.
Research by Marty Rossmann, emeritus associate professor of family education, shows that involving them at an early age can have a very positive impact in their teens and adulthood. He found that parents teach their children responsibility, competence, self-reliance, and self-worth that stick with them for the rest of their lives. Rossmann determined that young adults in their mid-20 were more likely to be successful if they have taken part in household chores from as early as three or four years old. Leaving it till their teens weren’t as successful at all, as, it is thought, that they were likely to reject the instructions and perceive it as a nuisance or punishment, and not as part of a healthy lifestyle. Values like responsibility is then better learnt at an early age.
Rossmann is of meaning that household responsibilities continue to play a significant role throughout your life: “Young adults are living on their own longer and they need to have household skills as part of becoming well-adjusted adults. Managing household responsibilities can be the biggest cause of stress in marriages. There’s a lot of talk about family values, but little action,” Rossmann says.
Jim Fay, a parenting expert and co-founder of the Love and Logic website, says that children too need to feel needed and need to know that they are an important part in the functioning of the household: “But they can’t feel that way if they don’t have chores and make contributions to the family.”
What’s more is helping around the house can increase their sense of ownership, which will also come in handy in learning to take care of and have respect for the environment, their possessions and the possessions of others.
Carefully choose chores
You should stick to toddler-friendly chores, like being nice to the dog and eating supper without a fight, or getting dressed in the morning without a tantrum.
You will need buy-in from your child, so try to involve them in the process of selecting chores. According to Rossmann, the presentation of the chores could influence your child’s ability to become a well-adjusted adult. He advises that chores “should not be too overwhelming, parents should present the tasks in a way that fits the child’s preferred learning style, and children should be involved in determining the tasks they will complete, through family meetings and methods such a weekly chore chart.”
Fay says: “Create a list of every job it takes to keep a family going,” and involve the children by letting them pick out chores they’d like to do. Then create a chart. A chart will be best received if it is made very simple, have pictures and are colourful. Use fun smiley-face stickers or thumbs-up stamps when a task is completed. An alternative to the chart is to make it a fun game. Write different chores on small pieces of paper and put it in a jar, they can then draw a surprise chore from the jar each day.
Remember, what counts for toddler, should count for all the members of the household. Make sure toddler knows that the other members of the family also have their list of chores to teach fairness, shared responsibility, teamwork and unity.
Children must also know when they are expected to do the tasks, like brushing their teeth in the morning after they ate cereal, or feeding the dog when they get home from school.
Make it educational: mark the cleaning equipment, like the broom or washing machine, or mark different drawers like the socks drawer, etc. Use big colourful words and ask them to tell you what they are using to help them expand their vocabulary.
Your kids are quite possibly able to do much more than you think. When taking into consideration that most kids of today are able to operate an iPad or Smartphone, or complicated video games from a very young age, then loading some laundry and turning on the washing machine is not a lot for them to master (WARNING: make sure they understand they shouldn’t ingest the washing powder or other chemicals – it is wise to handle or supervise that part of things).
WebMD has some very helpful examples of age-appropriate tasks: Children of two to three years of age should engage in very simple tasks like putting away their toys, giving food to their pets, putting their clothes in the washing basket, cleaning up when they have spilled, dusting the reachable areas, or piling books or magazines. Other more personal ‘chores’ can be added like getting up without a tantrum in the morning, eating vegetables, etc.
Children aged four to five can, in addition to the above, do more complex tasks like making their beds, emptying waste baskets, fetching the mail or newspaper, clearing dishes from the table, light gardening like watering plants, unloading some objects from the dishwasher (steer clear of sharp objects like knives), washing plastic dishes and glasses in the sink, getting themselves some cereal and maybe some cold drink. Of course you should always take your child’s abilities into consideration.
Train them first by giving them a hand and supervising the first couple of times, until you are absolutely confident that they can manage on their own. Make sure that doing the chore on their own won’t put them in harm’s way.
Motivating your toddler to do chores
According to some, you should be careful of what you put in your rewards jar, in fact, try to steer clear of a rewards programme altogether by rather using praise and verbal encouragement.
According to Rossmann children should not be motivated by an allowance to do the chores. Getting children to do things for money could teach them to only do something when they are paid, and not for the mere pleasure and internal responsibility of living in a clean, healthy home. You do not want your child to be motivated by money. You don’t want to create a culture where your children only take action when they can get something out of it. This concept will stay with them for the rest of their lives. Teach them to appreciate things for what they are, and not for what they can get out of it.
Don’t EVER be too serious about chores – keep it light
The aim is to motivate and make it fun, to instil a love for keeping your environment functional and clean. Yelling and punishments will only achieve the opposite. Never expect them to do it perfectly, as they are young and their motor skills are still developing. Don’t be inconsistent about when they should follow through with tasks (Elizabeth Pantley, author of parenting books including Kid Cooperation: How to Stop Yelling, Nagging, and Pleading and Get Kids to Cooperate), as they could get the idea that they can manipulate their way out of chores, and that they can shift responsibility.