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“Can I help?” my two year old wants to know. I’m folding laundry and, for a moment, I hesitate to say yes. One the one hand, I think it is darling that she wants to help me. On the other hand, it is going to take much longer if she “helps” than if I just do the job myself. But, the benefits to both of us when I let her help me are too great to ignore.
All of my children have household tasks that they are responsible for, even if it means that things are done imperfectly or slowly. In working alongside my children, I am forced to slow down and do my household work at a child’s pace. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
I have found that teaching my children how to care for our home also helps me to keep my own attitude about these chores in check. I am caring for my family home and teaching those skills to my children.
“The tasks we do with our young child by hand will be the ones they know by heart when they are grown.” – Sharifa Oppenheimer, Heaven on Earth: A Handbook for Parents of Young Children
Ages and Stages
My children are two, four, and almost nine. At their young ages, they do require some supervision from me in their work around the home. Each child, however, needs a different level of input from me.
Let’s look at the example I’ve already mentioned of laundry and how that task changes with the ages and abilities of my children:
For my just turned two year old, Lucy, folding laundry can simply mean that I give her a stack of washcloths to fold. While I am folding the rest of the basket, she folds the washcloths and then, later, is at my side “helping” as I put things away.
Lucy watches me intently and she narrates what we are doing – “putting Max’s sock in the drawer, mama? Towels on the shelf, mama?” Asking these questions out loud, and my answers, makes an impression on her.
The next time she helps me with the laundry, she will more than likely remember that Max’s socks belong in his dresser drawer and that the folded bath towels go on the shelf in the linen closet. At bath time, she beams with pride showing her Daddy where the clean towels are.
At this point, Lucy helping me is more about giving her a chance to imitate common household chores than it is about responsibility. This is a time for me to model doing my chores with care so that she will learn to do the same.
My son Max is four. Like his younger sister, he likes to fold washcloths when he helps me with the laundry, but I can also give him added tasks: separating the colors from the whites, helping put clothes into the machine, matching up socks, and with my supervision he can put his things away in his dresser.
He is not yet to the point where he can do this independently. Sending him to his room with a stack of laundry to put away by himself will usually mean that fifteen minutes later I’ll find the laundry, forgotten, on the floor and him playing nearby.
But, if I take the time to go with him to his room and stand nearby giving him some minimal direction, he can do this task.
He is a genuine help in getting the task of doing laundry accomplished, although he does require my direct supervision.
Now, Jillian, my almost nine year old, has been folding and putting away laundry for a few years. She is at an age where she more than likely will not ask me if she can help, in fact there may be some grumbling on her part, but she knows it is expected that she will help.
I will still have to check up to make sure the task is done, but I can confidently send her to her room with a basket of unfolded laundry and know that she will fold it and put it away correctly. She can handle this responsibility with little supervision from me.
In fact, this year I’m planning to teach Jillian how to use the washer and dryer and let her take more responsibility for doing her own laundry. I plan to write out some simple instructions for her to remind her what needs to be done and then we’ll post these in the laundry room.
My older child can be responsible for this task and is ready for more independence in this area, although she does still need me to check and make sure that she gets her work done.
Aside from laundry, there are other household tasks that are suitable for children. You know your child’s abilities and temperament better than any one else, so please use your own judgment.
Toddlers and Preschoolers
With adult supervision and help, toddlers and preschoolers can:
- empty trashcans
- put toys away
- clear dishes from the table
- assist in washing dishes
- sweep floors (a child-size broom is perfect for this)
- make beds
- help prepare simple meals, like tearing lettuce for salad
With some adult supervision and instruction, older kids can do all of the above, plus:
- run the vacuum
- wash windows and mirrors
- rake leaves
- shovel snow
- put clean dishes away
- set the table
- help prepare meals (even prepare simple meals entirely on their own)
- polish furniture and wooden toys
- some gardening tasks
- assist in the care of younger siblings (i.e. diaper changing, buttoning coat, tying shoes, etc.)
Self Esteem and Character
Yes, the chores would go faster if I just did them myself, but I believe that with some intention and mindfulness on my part, I can achieve a healthy balance between the speed tasks are accomplished and the valuable teaching moments that including the children provides.
Have an age appropriate level of responsibility builds their self-esteem and character. Whether we are helping them to learn a task or they are independent enough to be a true help to us, I believe our kids need to be involved in the work of the household and to learn these practical life skills.
Do your kids help with household tasks? What ages are they and what chores do they do? What level of supervision do you have to provide? How do you balance getting the housework done with taking the time to teach practical life skills?