The first “job” most children have is at home. They are given a chore and earn something for doing that chore. Parents often ask me if preschoolers are too young to have chores. The answer is in the approach. Are preschoolers too young to be assigned a job that doesn’t matter to them? Perhaps. Preschoolers are egocentric and will most often only do what really matters to them with any kind of caring or efficiency. Are preschoolers too young to be part of a family team? Absolutely not.
You can teach responsibility during the early childhood years. When children are approximately 4-5 years old, they become developmentally capable of working as a team. They play cooperatively with others. In the pre-kindergarten year, they use blocks together to build one structure. They work together to complete puzzles. Through play, they discover the power of teamwork. Parents need to transfer that awareness and ability from playtime to family time.
- Explain to your children that your family is a team. Tell them that teams work together make things happen. Your family team needs to do many things. You all need to help each other.
- Empower your children. Sit with your children and make them part of a conversation to determine your family goals. Your goals may include fun and practical items like spending time playing games, taking time for vacation, saving money and having a safe & clean home. Your children should be given the opportunity to contribute to your goal list. They may add that they want lots of toys or TV time. Listen carefully for things they can earn.
- Give your children realistic choices. What two things can your young child accomplish with little assistance? The chore needs to be achievable and not overwhelming. Asking a young child to consistently clean a messy playroom without your help is unrealistic. Asking a young child to put his/her shoes away at the end of each day is achievable. Put your clothes in the hamper is realistic. Make your bed without assistance may not be. Are there any tasks that your child enjoys? You might be surprised to learn that your child likes dusting or sweeping. Will it be done perfectly? No, probably not. Remember, the goal is to teach consistent responsibility and not to pass a “white glove” test.
- Pay your young children in a currency that matters to them. Some children will respond well to being paid a few dollars each week and taking it to a dollar store to buy a new treasure. Others will respond well to earning TV time. Young children don’t measure time like we do as adults. The reward for doing chores needs to be frequent. Start with “payment” after each time the task is performed and then begin to stretch that time slowly.
When I was a girl, I helped to dry the pots and pans. I did that for many years. Some of the best conversations I had with my mother were next to the kitchen sink while drying the pots and pans. And so my last piece of advice is this – Don’t limit the possibilities to those activities that they do without you. Remember that their chores can be your bonding time.
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