Getting your preschooler started on chores

Helping kids learn about responsibility takes time, but it's worth it - for you and them

Getting your preschooler started on choresAlyssa Trenholm dries dishes, cleans her room, makes her bed every morning, and sweeps up with her own broom. Alyssa is about to turn six. Her mom, France Gallant, of Robichaud, N.B., introduced her to the wonderful world of chores when she was four. And so far so good. “It was natural,” says Gallant. “She likes to be helpful, and when I gave her chores she felt she was a big girl. It made her proud of herself.”

And that is precisely what makes the ages three to five a great time to start your child on the road to personal responsibility and independence. What? No, really. Chores are about much more than cleaning up. In fact, they are an important part of your child’s development.

“Chores help kids become social, co-operative people,” says Karen Leonard, an ECE instructor at Atlantic Business College in Moncton, N.B. “It builds their self-esteem to know they are helping and that you have put your trust in them.”

Now that doesn’t mean you can leave your three-year-old with a basket of laundry to sort and walk away. In fact, assigning tasks to your preschoolers will mean more work for you – at least

“Giving kids responsibility around the house is about giving them a sense of belonging, and a feeling that they are contributing to the family ““ not about
lessening your workload,” says Toronto’s Chaya Kulkarni, vice- president of parent and professional education at Invest in Kids, a national charity that supports parents.

The key is to have fun, be there to supervise and make sure you are setting your kids up for success, says Kulkarni. Translation: don’t expect perfection. Give them tasks they can easily handle and that won’t cause you frustration. And praise them once
they’re done.

So what types of chores can you assign your preschooler? Start with things that are relevant to your child and are part of real,
everyday life ““ putting her bowl in the dishwasher, picking up toys ““ not make-work, one-off projects.

That’s exactly the approach Halifax mom of five Marie-France LeBlanc takes when she starts her kids with chores ““ usually when they hit age three (all but one-year-old Robbie have jobs to do). “I simply tell them, “You are part of a family and being part of a family means you have to help out.’ They grasp that ““ no problem.”


LeBlanc’s kids begin with simple tasks, like tidying their rooms and putting toys in bins, dropping clothes in the laundry hamper at night, and depositing the newspaper in the recycling bin. By five, they are able to make their beds (“a snap thanks to comforters”). And while the older boys are responsible for clearing the table, her four-year-old daughter likes helping out with that, too.

Karen Duggan’s five-year-old son, Kyle, helps her sort clean laundry, rolls up socks and even does a little folding. Both Kyle and his three-year-old sister, Megan, also help unload groceries and put away what they can. “They even set the table,” says their Oakville, Ont., mom.


Cleaning out the van en famille has been a long-standing
tradition for Kulkarni and her son and daughter. “They get
disgusted when the van is a mess and feel pleased once we’ve cleaned it up,” she says. “They have a sense of, “Wow, look at what we accomplished.’ “

Pick chores the kids enjoy, suggests Kulkarni, like washing dishes (“just don’t expect them to be clean!”) and dusting. “My kids loved spraying stuff, so cleaning mirrors and dusting together was fun. Now that they are eight and 11, they can do it on their own.”

Tracy Young of Ottawa is introducing her 2½-year-old son,
Nathan, to household duties. “It’s his job to open up the shutters in the kitchen and family room. I also try hard to get him to tidy up his toys. I think I need to get into a better routine with that one.”

And that’s okay. What you are doing is embedding good habits. Consider it social engineering. The payoff just might be a teen who picks up after himself ““ at least, one can dream.


Mary Teresa Bitti is a writer and mom of two in Oakville, Ont. who is still working on getting her eight-year-old daughter to help around the house. Her 14-year-old son is a whiz with the vacuum, though.

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