Playing a role in the family’s daily functions is an important part of growing up. Not only do chores teach children respect, self-discipline and responsibility, but research shows children also have higher self-esteem and are happier because they’re making a meaningful contribution to the family.
Starting young is the key to instilling these values and laying the foundation for these positive habits to eventually become a part of your child’s daily routine.
“Around age 3 is a good time to introduce chores because at this age kids have a drive to be more independent,” said Dr. Sumru Bilge-Johnson, a child and adolescent psychiatry specialist at Akron Children’s Hospital. “Plus, it’s a good time to foster a young child’s natural helpfulness.”
For preschoolers, it’s not about a chore chart that hangs on the refrigerator, but instead gradually teaching them to do things on their own — and slowly taking the burden off mom and dad.
It starts with self-care tasks, such as learning to eat by themselves, dressing and grooming themselves. It builds from there, such as putting their dirty clothes in the hamper or putting their toys away when they’re done playing with them. These little things will build upon themselves to prepare your child for bigger chores as they get older.
“Every part they do builds their self-esteem and adds to their independence,” said Dr. Bilge-Johnson. “We have to start preparing them now so they can eventually make their bed, get ready for school and prepare them for the ages.”
And, it doesn’t need to be, well, a chore to get your child to contribute. Make it a game, do it together or use a reward system. They’ll be more likely to want to pitch in and help because it’s fun.
In addition, give your child 2 options to choose from so she can feel in control of the situation – and base tasks on her interests. Be creative and think about ways to evolve chores that are appropriate for your child’s size and weight, always keeping safety in mind.
“When people say, ‘chore,’ it has a negative connotation,” said Dr. Bilge-Johnson. “For this age, it’s about picking up on behaviors that will help them become more confident so they can say, ‘Yes, I can do it!’ We want to build that self-confidence early on because that’s what gives kids wings.”
She offers 15 simple chores appropriate for the busy preschooler.
- Get dressed in uncomplicated clothing. Belts, ties or buttons may be too difficult to manage at this age.
- Brush their teeth and comb their hair.
- Put their coat and shoes on (if the shoes have Velcro).
- Put their dirty clothes in the hamper, separate colors from whites or load the washing machine (if it’s a front loader).
- Set napkins, spoons or plastic cups at eat place setting on the dinner table.
- Unload utensils (except knives) from the dishwasher.
- Help carry groceries and put away the dry goods.
- Help decorate for the holidays.
- Color or draw on your family’s holiday “thank-you” cards.
- Pick up sticks in the yard or water the plants.
- Put their toys and books away after they’re done playing with them.
- Dust the furniture using a rag or old sock.
- Wipe up their spills using water and a little bit of elbow grease.
- Help cook dinner by mixing food in a plastic bowl.
- Help with the family pet by measuring out their food or filling the water bowl.