When my first child was born, I knew I wanted to raise a self-sufficient adult who would know how to run a dishwasher and wash clothes. I jokingly told my husband, “I don’t want their spouses to think I never taught them how to help around the house!”
Of course, to raise a self-sufficient adult, you have to start young. I am a firm believer that children should help around the house, either for payment or simply because they are part of a family. As soon as my babies were able to toddle, I showed them how to pick up their toys. They couldn’t clean a whole room yet, but any “help” was met with praise. They followed me around the house, shadowing my movements and watching as I did my work. Soon they wanted to help, and would hand me plates from the dishwasher or clothes from the dryer with a smile. As they got older, they graduated to loading the washing machine with their own clothes and doing bigger chores around the house.
Children as young as 18 months can have their own “chores.” They need to be supervised closely, but helping a parent with household tasks can bring a sense of pride and accomplishment. I keep the kid-safe plates and sippy cups in a drawer that is within reach of my youngest two, so they can easily unload their own items from the dishwasher directly into the drawer. They also love to hand me clothes from the washing machine. Yes, it takes so much longer, but they are so proud to be helping me!
My school-age children are able to perform almost any chore the adults can, but with supervision. They vacuum, load and unload the dryer, dust, mop, sweep, and so on. They don’t always do these willingly or with a cheerful attitude (then again, I don’t either…), but they do them!
When the kids and I do our chores, I have to remember a few things:
- Safety first! — Always supervise children when they clean, especially if they are using cleaners. Keep cleaners locked and out of their reach until you are ready to help them. I use natural cleaners (mostly various combinations of Dawn, vinegar, water, and Eos), but my kids know not to touch the cleaners until I give one to them. Any screwing around, and I take the spray bottles away.
- Model, model, model — I need to show them what I want done, from beginning to end, multiple times before they can do it on their own.
- Work WITH your children — It’s important to be close to your children not only for safety reasons, but also because working together strengthens the parent/child bond. Sometimes we work in peace and quiet, sometimes we rock out to iTunes, but we are always together.
- It won’t be like you do it — It might not be perfect, but if they put in solid effort, it’s good enough for me! Work that is obviously sloppy has to be redone, but a few streaks in the mirror, where the child can’t reach? Fine. (And, yes, I resist the urge to redo their work because I think it sends the message, “My best isn’t good enough.” If I need something done perfectly, then
I do it.)
I don’t love chores. In fact, most days I wish my family would become nudists so that I wouldn’t have to do one more load of laundry! However, I love working with my children to keep “our” house clean for all of us!