Matteo loves doing laundry with his mom, especially putting clothes in the dryer, pulling lint out of the trap and shutting the door. Another favourite task is putting the soap into the dishwasher. While it might take a little longer to get the job done, his mom doesn’t mind. “It’s not so much about what he’s doing, but that he’s enjoying helping,” says his mom, Danielle Barnsley.
That’s the right approach when it comes to introducing chores to preschoolers, says Toronto parenting expert Alyson Schafer. There are huge benefits for kids who have the opportunity to make a contribution to the household, in terms of self-esteem. They also feel they’re part of a team, that they belong and what they do matters. “It’s really a form of bonding,” says Schafer, whose most recent book is Ain’t Misbehavin’.
Worth the extra time
Even though having a four-year-old “helping” you rake leaves, or empty the dishwasher, isn’t the most efficient way to get the job done, it will pay off in the long run as kids grow up taking for granted that having responsibilities is a normal part of life. What begins as “folding” towels at this stage turns into walking the dog in a few years, and a part-time job as a teenager.
At this stage of the game, parents need to be patient and focus on effort rather than excellence. If he makes his bed and the covers are all askew, “resist that impulse to redo it,” says Schafer. When you offer to remake it or make a critical comment, he will figure out pretty soon that his contribution isn’t worthy, and he’ll stop doing it.
That doesn’t mean you give up on teaching kids to do a good job. But, says Schafer, you can do that and still have fun. Kids love to learn and they learn best by doing. If you’ve got a laundry basket full of pillowcases, you might say, “First we give it a good shake…. Do you see any wrinkles? OK, now let’s lay them down and make them into smaller squares.”
Make it a routine
It’s not necessary to invent chores for your little one. Instead, look for them in your daily routine. “Anna loves to set the table and she’s expected to bring her dishes to the kitchen counter after she’s done,” says her mom, Tracy Chappell. “Suddenly, she’s decided that she wants to be the one to sweep the kitchen floor, so we have a small broom and dustpan for her.”
We asked a number of Today’s Parent readers what their kids do around the house. Here’s a sampling of their ideas:
• “One of my kids loved to wash marks off the walls. Amazingly, most of the marks were just at the level she could reach!” says Loni Bowers.
• A sock on a preschooler’s hand or a feather duster allows her to help dust the stairs or the bookshelf, suggests Ruth McAllister.
• “Maggie folds her jammies and puts them in the pyjama drawer every morning. She also lays out an outfit on the floor at night — so it’s ready to hop into the next morning,” says Anita MacDonald.
• Sorting lights and darks, matching socks, folding towels — there are lots of tasks for preschoolers in a pile of laundry. Meran Currie-Roberts’ son “likes to be the laundry delivery guy who takes the piles of folded laundry to their respective homes.”
• McAllister suggests placing a time limit on chore time: “Put on some music and have a 10-minute tidy.” And when you’ve been to the grocery store, enlist your little helper to put small cans on the pantry shelf and potatoes in a bin.