Your preschooler is eager to help you do just about anything (except pick up their toys, of course). They take great pride and joy in knowing they have pleased you; making it imperative that you use this stage of life for teaching and motivating your child to be responsible and to contribute to keeping your house and home running smoothly, aka, doing chores.
Enlisting the aid of your preschooler to help with household chores may sound like a chore in itself, but it doesn’t have to be. There are numerous ways you and your preschooler can work together. And in the process, you will be teaching them important life skills such as responsibility, personal hygiene, respect, and the do’s and don’ts of relationships.
You will be learning, too. You will learn to be more patient, less of a perfectionist, and how to teach and give instructions. But the most difficult thing you will learn is how to. You will need to step back and let them do. The ‘watch me so you will know what to do…someday’ doesn’t cut it with a preschooler. They want to be in the thick of things working alongside you.
Because of this, you also need to be willing to settle for less than perfectly folded towels, a table set with the forks on the right or maybe even in the plate. Their bed will be made with wrinkles to spare. The dog’s water bowl might be overflowing or nearly empty. But it’s a great start and you need to recognise that.
That’s not to say you should let them do whatever and call it good. Just be sure you have plenty of grace in the process of teaching and that you are specific; saying things like, put a fork and a spoon next to each plate, tear the lettuce into pieces and put it in this big bowl, and don’t forget to put your dirty socks in the hamper.
It’s all about age-appropriate expectations, and there are numerous ways your preschooler can learn to help around the house. Here's some examples:
- Enlist their help in putting away non-breakables and lower-level dishes when you empty the dishwasher. They can also help clear the table and load the dishwasher.
- Let your children wash raw fruits and veggies for cutting and slicing.
- Let your preschoolers tear lettuce, measure shredded cheese, and toss the salad.
- Preschoolers can set the table.
- Preschoolers can help put away the groceries.
- Preschoolers can fold towels and washcloths, match up socks, fold underwear, and deliver the piles of clean laundry to other family members to be put away.
- Your preschooler can sort laundry into piles for washing with your instruction. (put everything that is white in one pile and all of your play clothes in another pile)
- Preschoolers should be expected to pick up their toys and put them where they belong.
- Preschoolers can help dust furniture, put recyclables in the bin, and run the vacuum.
- Preschoolers can water flowers and be responsible for wiping up any water mess they make while bathing.
- Preschoolers can wash their bodies in the tub or shower and brush their own teeth. Just make sure you teach them how to do these things properly before putting the responsibility on them.
- Giving preschoolers a choice between two outfits each day develops their decision-making capabilities.
- Preschoolers can clean their face and hands after each meal.
It is important to recognise both their efforts and accomplishments. Praise should come in the form of words such as ‘Way to go’, ‘Great job’, ‘That looks great’ or ‘I am so proud of you’. But always…ALWAYS make sure your words are sincere and deserved. It is important to differentiate between effort and non-effort. Telling a child they did a great job when they obviously put no effort into it does nothing but encourage laziness. It’s one thing to say, “Great job!” and another to say, “Thanks for trying. But next time be sure you…”
You must also keep in mind that rewarding a child for their contributions to the running of your household should be earned vs. given and should be comparable to the jobs done. For instance: an allowance of 50¢ per week is a reasonable allowance for a child who is three to five years old. They also need to know that not everything they do will be paid for. They need to know that there are some things you do just because and for the greater good of the family.
Teaching your preschoolers the value of a strong work ethic will serve them well throughout their entire life. Children who are taught and expected to be responsible grow up to be productive adults and are most often the ones found in upper management and high-level positions in the world of finance and enterprise. Not a bad trade for a less than perfect table setting, right?