Chores for toddlers and preschoolers: What are the benefits of chores for young kids?
Chores or no chores, that is the question I get frequently from parents. I am going to be up front here and tell you that I am a BIG fan of chores for children. I am also a fan for starting this process with kids at a young age. Starting early helps create the understanding and sets the expectation for children that they have responsibilities. More on the many benefits of having children do chores in a moment…
I want to share that my kids had ‘chores’ from toddlerhood on. Now before some of y’all come at me with hate, I want to be clear that when talking about ‘chores’ for very young kids, I don’t mean having your toddler wash the dishes and take out the trash. Rather, it is about expecting and helping them to complete daily tasks with the ultimate goal that these become habits that they do independently later.
I have said it before and I’ll say it again: as parents we need to think about the ‘big picture,’ i.e., what do you want things to look like when your child is 5, 10, or 15? Do you want them to make their own lunches, take care of their own laundry, or take care of the dishes after meals? How much do you really want to be doing for them as they grow older?
For example, I knew that I didn’t want to be making lunches forever. I know some parents like that particular task – I did not. I preferred for my kids to be able to choose what THEY wanted in their lunches. We started by setting up bins with healthy snack and drink options. They could pick a snack, a fruit, a drink and then they had several choices for their actual lunch meal. With guidance and support, they created the lunch that they wanted which meant less waste and fuller bellies in the long run.
Looking back now as an Early Childhood Interventionist, I now see there were so many developmental benefits to that particular chore/routine:
- It was infused with language, e.g., labeling items, following directions, etc.
- It allowed them to make decisions about things that mattered to them
- They learned how to manage their time, e.g., making the lunch the night before meant more time to chillax in the morning before school
Now if you are a parent who is saying ‘I don’t want my kids to have to do chores. I did them as a kid and I hated it. I won’t do that to them!’ I want you to consider the MANY benefits of having children do chores:
- Increases independence: I’ve already alluded to the fact that chores help teach independence. One thing I know for sure when my kids move out, they know what needs to be done to maintain a home and take care of themselves.
- Builds self esteem. While they might not be aware of it (or care) at the start of this, successfully completing tasks is a huge boon to self-esteem. Kids who do chores on a regular basis feel more confident about their ability to handle difficult and undesirable tasks as well as their ability to take care of themselves.
- Teaches perseverance and creates a strong work ethic: Kids benefit from developing an understanding that they sometimes have to do things that are undesirable. Chores help them understand this and push through. Consider how this translates later on in the work environment. Those first jobs for a lot of kids involve menial tasks such as cleaning and washing dishes. Kids
- Teaches teamwork: Children who have grown up doing chores have a better understanding of teamwork. I can say that as the owner of a restaurant, I have seen this first hand. Our employees (most of whom are teenagers) that came from homes where they had chores 1) complain less about work; 2) get along better with coworkers and 3) work harder. They are also more likely to give pats on the back of other team members during particularly grueling shifts. These kids are our rock stars as business owners!
- Builds the understanding of how families operate. This was an important one for me as a parent. I wanted our kids to understand that as a family, all members are expected to contribute to the greater good of the family. That means helping out with yard work without a bunch of drama, stepping up when another family member is under the weather knowing that this will be reciprocated when/if needed, and understanding that we are all in it together. We used the term ‘contributions’ frequently as the kids grew older and started to complain about doing chores. I remember a conversation with my son when he was about 8. He wanted to revisit the ‘contributions’ everyone in the home were making as he felt like he had too many chores. After reviewing ALL the contributions that EVERYONE in the house had to complete in order for our home to run effectively including paying the mortgage, buying groceries, paying for the utilities, etc., he decided that his contributions appeared to be sufficient and carried on doing them without further complaint.
- Helps with planning and time management. Finally, chores help kids learn how to plan and manage their time. Do I do my chores when I get home from school so I can relax later in the evening or do I do them before bed taking advantage of the time after school to play outdoors. Learning how to plan for and complete undesirable tasks such as chores will help them manage their time better later on.
So now that we know the benefits of chores, how and where does one start? I’ve mentioned in previous posts how much I like using visual systems with young children. When we first implemented chores with our kids, we used a visual chore chart. I personally didn’t like the term ‘chore’ preferring to call it a ‘To Do List’ as that is what most of us call it as adults.
For young kids, the tasks they need to complete don’t tend to be actual ‘chores’ but, rather, things we want them to do independently such as brushing their teeth, getting dressed, etc. Whether you use it as a ‘to do list’ or a visual schedule of what needs to happen each day is up to you. I like the ‘to do’ list for preschoolers where they can learn to check off completed tasks. I have a visual schedule/chore chart designed for young children in my Etsy shop which you can find here.
Here are some tips if you are considering starting chores with your toddler or preschooler:
- Start sooner rather than later. A habit is defined as ‘a regular tendency or practice.’ That is exactly what we want it to become: an automated practice that our kids just do.
- Use enforceable statements. It is inevitable as your child grows that they will become resistant to the idea/practice of doing chores. This is where enforceable statements come in handy. If your child wants to go play outside, but they haven’t cleared their dishes from the table, use an enforceable statement such as ‘Absolutely you may go play outside after you’ve cleared your plate!’ Enforceable statements are designed to word things in a way that decreases power struggles and who doesn’t want that!
- Don’t pay your child to do chores. I know there are going to be some out there that disagree with this, but here me out. Paying your kids to complete their daily chores/responsibilities creates a what’s in it for me kind of attitude towards undesirable tasks. As I explained to my son many years ago, I don’t get paid to do my chores. Sometimes you have to do things that you don’t link because they just need to be done. Now having said that, I will pay kids to do MY chores, e.g., vacuum, clean windows, etc. This allows kids to learn that if they will go above and beyond working for OTHERS, they will be rewarded.
- Use a chart/daily routine schedule. I mentioned this earlier. You can learn more about how visual schedules benefit young children by checking out my YouTube video here.
- Be a role model. Show them YOUR do do list. Share your preferences in completing these tasks, e.g., “I like to do them first thing in the morning so I can relax the rest of the day.” Discuss how you feel when you check items off your list. Be sure to model a healthy to do list – we don’t want them thinking that as they grow up they have to do 40 things in a day.
- Surprise them with a day off or a special reward such as an unexpected movie night or picnic in the park. Our kids loved this. I would often pick a day once a month to do one or both of their chores giving them ‘a day off.’ I usually picked a day that I new was going to be rough for them, e.g., they had a lot of activities scheduled or hadn’t slept well the night before. I framed these days off as being a result of their hard and consistent work or having done something kind for someone. It was a great boost to their self-esteem and developing that understanding that their efforts were not going unnoticed and were appreciated. The beautiful thing about this is they would often reciprocate by giving me a day off! Kids are so generous in that way.
- Praise them using ‘you’ statements. One trap that parents often fall into is telling their kids “I am so proud of you.’ Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying we should never do that, but our goal should be for our kids to learn to be proud of themselves. When they complete a tough task, saying ‘you should be very proud of yourself – you worked really hard on that!’ helps them build self-confidence and self-love.
- Be consistent. Lack of consistency is where the wheels fall off the train for many parents. Whether it is with discipline or with bedtime, we need to be consistent with our kids. Children need to know that we mean what we say, say what we mean and do what we say we are going to do. We get a lot more compliance from kids when they understand this. This also helps prepare them for college and work environments as they grow. So, if your expectation is that chores are done before bedtime, be consistent in your efforts and follow through to ensure that happens every day.
- Be okay with less than perfect. As we work on teaching toddlers and preschoolers specifically, we have to be okay with less than perfect. Consider them trainees. They are not going to make their beds perfectly or get all their toys put where we might want them. Our job in these early years is to coach them and help them experience success. It is all about effort in the beginning. There will be plenty of time to refine and improve later on.
Okay, so as I wrap this up you are probably wondering what kinds of ‘chores’ to try with your toddler or preschooler. Here are some good starting points:
- Toddlers: picking up toys with assistance; helping with laundry (they love putting things in baskets!); help with clearing the table by putting their cup, plate and utensils in the sink
- Preschoolers: same as the above as well as getting dressed, making their bed, feeding pets, packing lunch with help, picking out their clothes for the day
It is entirely up to you what skills you work on. The goal here is to help them develop life skills that they can take into adulthood. And really, isn’t that our ultimate job as a parent?