Let Children Help Around The House When Young Or They Won't Want To Later

Let your kids help around the house when they are small. That is one piece of advice I wish I'd really understood when I first became a parent. I didn't do this too well with my younger kids, and I'm trying to do better with my youngest. Here is what I've learned over time.

When children are very young (like 2 or 3) I have noticed two things about them when it comes to chores -- they really want to help, and they basically can't do anything that is particular helpful, and generally make you more work while you "let them help."

Because of this second characteristic at times I have been reluctant to let my kids help with chores, when they are very small. However, an unintended consequence of this decision is that it discourages them from volunteering, and helps instill in them a bad attiutude about housework which later on I've come to regret.

I cannot tell you the amount of time I've had to invest in canjoling, coaxing, and even demanding that my older children help with chores now that I actually want their help. Therefore, a very important piece of advice I tell myself with my youngest, and I want to share with you is -- let kids help around the house while they are young, to encourage them to continue when they are older.

Now, I'm not perfect about this, but here are my strategies and mantras I say to myself for letting my little one help, even when this makes more work for me:

1. Tasks Don't Have To Be Done Perfectly

I love a neatly folded towel, for example, but see the towels above in the picture, they are not so beautiful, huh? How this happened is that I dumped the clean towels onto the floor recently to fold them, and then got distracted with another task. When I turned around my 3 year old daughter had folded the whole pile, all by herself, without me asking. Now when is the last time one of my older children has voluntarily folded clothes? I really can't remember.

She was so proud of herself, and if I had refolded her efforts I know it would have discouraged her from doing it again. Instead, I hugged her for her efforts, and thanked her. Truthfully, the towels were just fine the way they were, and now she is excited to help around the house with folding.

2. Parenting Is Work - I Choose More Pleasant Work

What I mean by this is that I've found I'm going to have to invest a lot of time and energy into children's participation with help around the house in any event. I can choose to let it take more time with young children, or I can do it myself now (which still takes a lot of time) and then spend more time later nagging and fighting with older children to "do their share." I would rather choose the more pleasant time of helping a willing child now, to avoid less pleasant interactions with my children later.

3. Busy Work And Small Tasks Kids Think Are Cleaning Amuse Them

To keep very young children out of your hair while you do your housework, I like to provide "busy work" which seems like cleaning, to let them feel like they are participating. In addition, I like to elevate very small simple tasks, making them seem very important, so that kids feel pride and joy in doing them.

Safety obviously needs to be a consideration with busy work and small tasks. Never, for instance, let your kids loose with real cleaning supplies with their eye irritants and poisons. However, providing your child with a spray bottle of vinegar and water, or baking soda and water, and a rag and letting them go to town "cleaning" the inside of the bathtub is just fine.

In addition, in our house we have lots of games having to do with laundry. We make a game of sorting clothes (learning colors, for example), and there is always a fight to see who will empty the lint trap in the dryer. For some reason, this is way fun. When folding, we try to find and match all the socks, or find all the small wash cloths, etc. You can make lots of things a game if you use your imagination and put forth a little effort.

Do you have ways to make house cleaning or other chores a game in your home? I would love to hear your ideas. You can share your cleaning tips with kids here. If I get enough great ideas and participants, I plan to make a page of tips we can all reference when we need some inspiration, or are beginning to get discouraged about getting our kids to help around the house.

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