By Pamela Morris, MSEd
Each morning, parents wake up and get themselves and their children ready for the day. The kids head off to school and the parents begin their work day. Working gets us what we need – money to live and play and fulfillment to increase our self-esteem. How do we instill this important work ethic in our youth? Get them to help around the house by doing chores.
It is never too early to start. As young as two-years-old, your children can help around the house. Begin by having them put away the toys they played with before moving onto something else. Make it a game and work together until they are doing it on their own.
By the time they are approaching three-years-old, they can be setting the table. Start with non-breakable plates and plastic cups and work your way up from there. If you demonstrate that you are careful with the items, even when they aren’t breakable, the children will model your behavior and be using the “real glasses and plates” in no time.
Similarly, at this age, they can sort the laundry into separate baskets for each room in the home and deliver them.
As the kids get older, start adding more responsibilities and tasks to their chores list. Try to keep in mind those chores that meet their interests. For instance, some children will gladly wash dishes every night where another one will be happy to sweep, especially if they have a broom and dustpan that is their size.
If you are among the just over 40% of families with two or more children (pewsocialtrends.org), then it’s time for teamwork. Engage your older child to take their younger sibling under their wing to help with chores around the home. Work is always more fun when you have a partner. Help your children practice the importance of teamwork to get it all done.
The important part is to get them involved and learn the importance of developing that work ethic so they can grow to be successful adults.
According to a Harvard Grant Study, the longest running longitudinal study in history, researchers identified two things that people need in order to be happy and successful: The first? Love. The second? Work ethic.
Chores are also a great way to help children develop their math, reading and writing skills. Have your young ones create a list of what needs to be done. Have them sound out each of the items on their list. Then as they finish an activity, have them check it off.
What concepts have they just strengthened? First, they are using letter sounds to spell the words. They can use a simple alphabet chart with pictures as a tool to help, not only with sounding out the word but also forming each letter, the next skill that they are practicing. After they complete each task, they need to “read” what they wrote and check it off. This is where the math comes in. What did they do first, second, third? How many chores do they still have left? If they had finished three and still have two, how many did they start with? All of these simple math concepts will pave the way for the trickier word problems that begin in Kindergarten and will continue throughout their math career.
The study goes on to say that children helping with chores (or any activity) isn’t about making less work for the parent. It is about helping “the other person learn from the experience.” It’s a great way for parents and kids to form a closer bond, as these tasks become second nature, there is time to just talk. And while at the age of four there are a great many opportunities to engage with your children, just wait until your four-year old-is 14. These chores that you do together now pave the way for scheduled time to share thoughts and feelings later.
And then there is the principle of “something bigger than ourselves” at work here. “By making them do chores…they realize (they) have to do the work of life in order to be part of life. It’s not just about me and what I need in this moment,” says Julie Lythcott-Haims, author How to Raise an Adult and former dean of freshman at Stanford University.
So even if your child grumbles about doing chores, keep in mind the importance of teaching them these important lessons in responsibility and work ethic.
Pam Morris holds a B.S. in Psychology, an MSEd in Early Childhood Education from Binghamton University in New York and her Director’s Credential from the McCormick Center at St. Louis University, courtesy of Quality First. For more than 25 years, she has been an early childhood educator in both public and private settings across the United States. As the Director of the Early Childhood Learning Center at the East Valley Jewish Community Center, she works with more than 30 staff and nearly 150 children from ages 6 weeks through Pre-Kindergarten. Early Childhood Education is her calling and her passion.