It's time to think about the purpose of setting up chores for preschoolers – or for any age, for that matter. Is it to make parent's lives easier? Absolutely not. If anything, they are going to do double the work. It will take less than half the time to fold clothes without your two-year-old’s help. Is it to teach the value of hard work? Yes. But that is not all. Is it to help your child see your family as a unit – a group of people working together to accomplish a goal? Let’s explore this concept.
Assign Jobs – Instead of having the child believe that mom’s sole purpose is to keep the house clean and to have dinner ready each night while she plays happily with a set of blocks, maybe she should start to understand, that, in order for our family to eat, families can employ everyone. Help her understand that daddy’s job is to walk the dog, mommy’s job is to slice the bread and her job is to mix the salad. That way, when she sees dinner on the table, she will see that, without the work of a team, dinner would not be ready and the dog would be whining at the door, interrupting our family time. Without expressly pointing out these things, she will just find an assumption that makes sense in her own head. Being a part of team, something bigger than us, is an innate desire of humans. And what better team could there be than her family – the people that give her identity?
Set Goals – Educators ask, “How do we know if we are successful? How can something be assessed?” When assigning chores in the household, keep this in mind. How will your son know that he has accomplished a task? Dinner on the table is enough to show him a job well done. Maybe we can set a timer for short term goals. “Let’s get the books back in the bin before the timer goes off!” This can be a group effort or a solo job, but having met this short term goal can be reward enough for your three-year-old. For longer term goals, you can work with your older preschooler (or even school-ager) by setting up a chart. You know the ones – She can get a sticker everyday that she cleans up after breakfast. Five stickers and something awesome will happen. A trip to the park, a special movie – whatever may be her heart’s desire. Let’s just keep the reward, especially in younger children, to a team reward. Doing something fun to celebrate together will reinforce the idea of a family unit and may even ward off the “gimmes” for a bit longer.
Realistic Expectations - One good thing about setting goals is that children have something to strive toward, but, as parents we have to walk to fine line between understanding age appropriate behavior and pushing our children to succeed. Be sure to keep the goals realistic. Help her work toward taking on more responsibility. And, if she doesn’t succeed, let the consequences naturally unfold. In other words, if the goal was to clean up the train tracks before the timer goes off, and she can watch one of her favorite shows (and be sure to put ample time on the timer), and she doesn’t meet the goal, there is no need to reprimand. Just don’t turn on the TV. If the goal was to go to the park on Saturday and he doesn’t get all five stickers, just help him understand that he can try harder next week.
We want our children to see them as an integral part of our family. Without them, our family would be missing something essential. Chores can help the children understand this – and, oh yeah, it can help them learn a little responsibility as well.