Aug 152007

So I promised to wrap up the comments you all made to my post about “Children and Responsibility”. All of us agreed that it is a good thing for children to learn how to be responsible, and to take part in the daily chores. Since most of our children are rather small the tasks they can do tend to be things like picking up and sorting.

One of the most helpful comments to me was the one Anne wrote. Sadly there are no posts in her blog. I hope there will be. She also addressed several ways of asking a child to do something. I like her emphasis on teaching the actual skills versus the chore aspect of this. Obviously meno’s daughter has the most things to do which isn’t surprising since said daughter is about 16. Sober put it best when she wrote:

All the things that Anne said – not actually being responsible for a task, but learning alongside, taking turns doing things that he can do and watching you do the things that require the precision of an adult.

In addition to your comments I have done a little thinking on my own and pulled out a copy of “Kinder fördern im Alltag.” (Petra Kunze, Catharina Salamander)“. So, a preschooler like my son should be able to do the following:

  • pick up his toys
  • dress and undress himself
  • set the table (in our house somebody else will have to get the dishes because he can’t reach them)
  • fetch things from the fridge
  • help to peel and cut vegetables
  • rake leafs, help with yard work like watering (my son has his own little rake and watering can), pull weeds, put seeds into the ground, pot plants
  • pour juice, milk, or cereal
  • sort laundry
  • put dirty laundry in the hamper
  • put fresh laundry away
  • load and unload the dishwasher
  • help with grocery shopping, fetch things that are on low shelves, take a little shopping cart and push it through the store (my son also often gets to decide which cheese we’re buying, which fruit or vegetables
  • put the groceries away when home
  • put his own things back where they belong
  • clean up spills

So there are a lot of things that even a preschooler can do. My next question of course is, “How do I motivate him to do any of this?” I’m a little reluctant to make any of this things his “duty”. This is not how our family works. While there are things that one or the other of us does more frequently (I do most of the shopping and errands while my husband cares for recycling, for example.), mostly everybody does everything as needed. Sometimes on of us cooks, sometimes the other, sometimes both or all three. Sadly our son isn’t interested to join us. He’d rather sit and draw a picture or look at a book. (Yes, he truly is his mother’s son.)

As a friend pointed out to me, “After a while it just isn’t fun anymore.” Well, I didn’t know housework was supposed to be fun, I just know that it has to be done regardless of how you like to do it. And I definitely know that spreading it around and doing it together helps in making it more fun.

I have noticed that my son is especially reluctant to help if he thinks he won’t be able to accomplish the task. So sometimes all it takes is to show him that he can do it. He’s very eager to try things like make his own sandwiches. And when I get him to help he is always very pleased with himself. Like today I put everything that was needed to set the table out and he did the rest himself. After a lot of whining, “Why do I always have to do so much?”, and us pointing out that there are people actually doing more than him, he was perfectly happy to have set the table on his own.

Housework isn’t such a big deal but it’s the first and easiest way our children can contribute something to family life. And everybody has to learn how to care for himself or others.

Thank you for all your helpful suggestions. After reading your comments I kept thinking of more and more ways to involve my son. He doesn’t appreciate it now but he sure will in the future. As Hel wrote:

I hated doing chores as a child but now I am able to create a pleasant living space free of old crusty pieces of bread and unwashed cups.

On the subject of responsibility and hovering parents I might have to write another post soon.

  7 Responses to “Housework for Children”

  1. Our problem is that Joles wants to help with EVERYTHING. And she gets upset if can’t. I’m not exactly sure how it ended up being this way, but I’m thrilled!

  2. Susanne, I want you to know that this fussy period subsides. I have often noticed times of great defiance and frustration when major developmental milestones are about to burst. D has been endlessly trying lately, but then he came to me, brushed aside my hair and told me I was beautiful. (!) My 4 year old said that.

  3. i really need to get M to do more. this solidifies it. i am cracking the whip.

  4. KC, that’s normal behavior for a 2 yo. Sadly it will change just when you think she really could be helping. But encourage her nonetheless.

    Liv, he already is becoming more quiet. How sweet of D. I find that my son often makes the most fuss when he needs me the most. Instead of coming to get hugged he’ll throw a major tantrum or tease me.

    Jen, that’s what I thought when I read what the other commenter’s children were doing. Just remember that my son is about double M’s age.

  5. Yes, sometimes my children are reluctant to help when I want them to. I know with older children it is recommended to give them a general time frame, rather than to demand that they do a chore “right now!”

    I usually offer an incentive (you can’t watch TV until this is done, we have to do this before we can go to the park or library, I’ll sit down and play with you if you’ll do this with me first).

    But what you said yourself about being part of the family makes the most sense to Fiona (and me) as she has gotten older. I remind her that we all have to contribute to the household.

    You also mention that D gets frustrated if the task seems too much. One of the techniques for teaching a child is to give directions in very finite steps, which breaks the job down into managable parts. (or so I’ve read!)

  6. I’m in the same boat as KC. At the moment, we have a neat freak on our hands. Who knows what the future holds!

  7. De, thanks for the tip of breaking down things. I already knew but I forgot. And so when I told my son to put away his clean laundry he lay on the floor and didn’t do it. But when I then told him to take his clean socks and to put them next to the others, he was very happy. I also had to show him where the different things are kept. He never looked at his wardrobe for real. He stood there and said, “Where do my pants go?” And I said, “Where are the other pants?” Aha. That did it.

    Sage, I hope your child stays this way.

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