KidChores – The Gift That Keeps on Giving

boywithvacuumAll moms know that sometimes — well, maybe most of the time — it’s easier to do a household task yourself than to ask your child to help out. Whether it’s folding laundry or loading the dishwasher, many of us who worship efficiency and a job well done find ourselves falling for that old saw “if you want it done right, do it yourself”.

But wait. STOP. When we jump in and do it all we not only give ourselves a massive workload, we rob our kids of the tremendous satisfaction and sense of accomplishment that comes with having a job and getting it done. Oh, I know what you’re thinking ’cause I’ve been there — still am some days. “She’ll whine. She’ll complain. I’ll have to nag her to pick up her shoes, take out the trash, feed the dog, fill-in-the-blank. I’m in a hurry, and can just get it done in a quarter of the time it takes to cajole her into it.”

Sure you can, but do you want to set up the expectation that you’ll ALWAYS do it? That you won’t ask because it’s too hard or frustrating or maddening? If we behave like the clean-up crew, we can’t blame our kids for treating us like them. And it’s a sure-fire way to end up feeling resentful and unappreciated — one of those Achilles heels of motherhood.

So consider this: Put on your Mary Poppins hat and start early. Make helping out something fun and cool that the kids look forward to. There are lots of creative ways to do it. Here are a few ideas.

  • Kids as young as 3 can match socks. Give them a basket full out of the dryer and see how many pairs they can make. Keep score … like 2 points for each correct pair, 1 point for pairs that don’t quite make it (it’s important to reward the effort). If you like, you can reward a total point number with something they love, or if you’re ethically opposed to anything that even smells like a bribe, keep a chart on the wall that shows the constant rise of total points — that’s self-reinforcing. As a variation, time how long it takes to polish off the basket. Racing the clock is a sure winner.
  • Teach them to sweep. Kids love a broom almost as much as a rake (who didn’t like to rake leaves as a kid??). There’s a reason toy manufacturers sell kid versions. See how much gunk can end up in the pile at the end. Admire it.
  • Have them separate the recyclables. This activity includes more great lessons than I can count. Identifying materials, reading that little triangle symbol with the number inside, grouping like items. The incentive should match the age group. Little ones will enjoy counting which category (paper, plastic, glass) contains the most. Older ones may be motivated by saving up the bottles and cans until you have enough to sell back at the recycling center.

I’m sure by now your mind is humming with ideas. The point is to start early, make it fun, and let your kids know that it’s how a family works. They’ll love the feeling they get knowing that YOU depend on THEM, too.

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Rachel Zahn, MD is a pediatrician turned health writer who had three kids during medical school and pediatric training—crazy, huh?

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