Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Encouraging Preschoolers to Help Out Around the House

Preschoolers are at the only age in their lives when they don’t see chores as “work.” This is the perfect opportunity to get them started on helping you around the house. They often get very excited at the opportunity to be Mommy’s or Daddy’s little helper!

I know from experience that if you don’t get them started early that you’ll pay the price later. I was a single parent for many years, and raised my two oldest children alone from infancy and toddlerhood. Because they were so young, I got in the habit of just doing things myself, and it was just easiest to continue doing so as my children got older. I didn’t want to take the time to teach my sons how to help out, and I didn’t always have the patience to tolerate a less-than-exemplary job. When my kids were 11 and 14, I remarried, and my husband expected the boys to contribute to the household responsibilities. Needless to say, there was great resentment from them because they’d pretty much had a free ride up until that point! I began to see that I was really hurting my children by not teaching them to help out at a young age. We had a lot of adjustments to make, but my teenagers now do their own laundry, cook simple meals, clean their bathroom, mow the lawn, take care of the pets, and do many other things. Best of all, they’ll be able to do these things for themselves when they’re older—and they’ll make wonderful husbands!

Obviously, your preschoolers aren’t going to be able to help you with all of your tasks, but here’s a partial list of things that they can do. I’m sure you can think of more on your own!

• Pick up their toys.

• Set the table. Teach them where the silverware and napkins go.

• After dinner, take their dishes carefully into the kitchen (one at a time!).

• Wash the table. My preschoolers love to get a wet washcloth and scrub!

• Wash windows.

• Dust. Give them an old towel and have them dust the lower tables. (You may have to help them move things out of the way first.)

• Pull the covers up on their beds.

• Feed the pets.

• Put their dirty clothes in the hamper or laundry basket every day.

If your preschoolers are resistant to helping out, there are many ways to motivate them:

Make It Fun! Sing songs or play music while you’re cleaning up. Some parents have a “theme song” where the kids know that if Mom or Dad turn on a certain song that it’s time to clean up!

Never Use the Words “Work” or “Chores.” Always tell your children how much you need their help and what a big favor they’re doing for you!

Don’t Complain About Your Own Work in Their Hearing. Let them see you enjoy making order from chaos.

Start Them Out with Simple Tasks. Break big jobs down into little steps.

Make a Game of It. Have a race to see who can clean up the most toys.

Never Criticize Your Kids for Doing Their Jobs “Wrong.” Gently show them the correct way to do the task—even if you have to do it several times and on different occasions. If your children feel like they’ll never be able to please you, they’ll be reluctant to help out at all.

Be Firm. Make it clear to your children that they can’t move on to a desired activity, such as having lunch or watching a movie, until clean-up is completed.

Only Allow Children to Bring Out One or Two Toys at a Time. Before they can bring out something else, they must put their other toys away. This prevents messes from becoming overwhelming.

Teach Your Children to Help Out When They’re Visiting Other Children’s Houses. If you want your children to be welcome playmates at other people’s houses, they need to have good manners and learn to help their friends clean up.

Thank Your Children for Helping You. This instills a sense of accomplishment and sets a good example.

Susan M. Heim is the author of It’s Twins! Parent-to-Parent Advice from Infancy Through Adolescence and Oh, Baby! 7 Ways a Baby Will Change Your Life the First Year. Visit Susan's website at


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