As a parent its easy to get caught up in the daily chores necessary to get through the day. You walk around the house doing everything that needs to be done and you sometimes don’t even stop the think about it. You are on auto-pilot. I am writing this to tell you to STOP! Stop trying to be superman/woman. Stop doing it all. Trying to do everything only leads to resentment and anger…and quite frankly exhaustion.
So I ask that you engage even your smallest of children in your day to day chores. Small children as young as 3 can help with sorting laundry and they can also put their dirty dishes in the sink, put their dirty clothes in the hamper and sort of make their beds. By four and five, children can absolutely begin to set the table, help with cleaning up after eating and make their beds. Creating good habits such as cleaning up after play should really begin very early. Encouraging them to take those extra 2-3 minutes that is needed after play to just clean up!
By 6-7 years, kids can begin helping to organize a play room, begin putting their clothes away after being washed and they can even begin helping to wash dishes! You can even start to teach kids this age some cooking basics. It’s never too early to learn to crack an egg, mix batter and prepare a salad. It can be a fun way to engage your child and allow them to feel like a contributing member of the family. It’s wonderful to see a child’s face light up when they successfully crack that first egg!
Between 8-10 years old, children can be extremely helpful! They can absolutely begin to help with cooking, planning for trips/packing, replace toilet paper rolls, putting away groceries, making their beds, preparing their lunch/snack for school and setting aside their clothes for the following day. Give them a voice. Let them have some say in what they want to wear, eat (with guidance of course!), etc. This is the beginning of “independence”..in that children can truly do things for themselves with guidance. (and they love to learn!)
In the tween years, teaching kids some of the basics such as cooking some meals, learning to do laundry, making a bed, helping with dishes, folding clothes, sewing a button, taking out the garbage, etc. These are just some of the many things that tweens can do!
By the time your kids reach their teens, it is important to look ahead to the future and begin thinking about the skills your child will need that are NOT taught in the classroom. The truth is that by 18 or 19 years old many kids are living on their own and sometimes find themselves lost because their parents have done everything for them! Make sure you begin teaching your child about money management. Consider getting them a bank account so they can save some of the money they may earn from doing jobs here and there. Teach them about time management. Help them write down short and long term goals and create a plan for how to get there. This will serve them well in all aspects of their life and will help them resist being “bored” and wasting hours and hours playing video games or scrolling through social media. Make sure that chores are a priority in your house. Most responsibilities do not take much time and it is really about time management and team work. For example,on the weekends you may designate one of your kids to cook or clean up after dinner. Once your children go off on their own they really should be able to:
- Cook some meals 2. Do laundry 3. Self-hygiene (very important!) 4. Time management skills (writing down goals and weekly to-do lists) 5. Make a bed 6. Basic cleaning skills 7. Sew a button 8. Iron a shirt 9. How to shop for groceries with a budget 10. Money management
This list is by no means comprehensive, but it is meant as a preliminary guide for parents to begin thinking about all of the skills needed beyond academics to live on your own. As parents we often want to do everything for our children. Many parents are afraid to teach some of these skills to their kids because they fear that their kids may get hurt in the process (ie ironing), but the truth is that children are more capable than we give them credit for and can do more than you think!
I have witnessed in my practice that many times affluent families outsource many of their household responsibilities and often there are not many (if any) chores for the kids to do. There is a housekeeper, someone to clean the pool, a landscaper, etc. Often when there are two working parents this help is sooooo necessary! I just want parents in this situation to pause and consider that making the extra effort to teach kids some of these skills is worth it! Any skills that a child can learn will help them in the future!
The opposite is also true, with poverty comes need and I have seen how in families with less wealth the children are taught early on that they need to help in the home with basic chores and household duties.
Regardless of your background or means, kids are kids and kids will grow up to be adults. As parents our job is to raise them to be contributing members of society, that are self-sufficient, hard-working, and kind. Helping around the house can teach all of these skills and also bring you closer. So parents, please stop trying to do it all! Ask for a hand and enjoy the extra time that you have to share a special experience with your child instead of spending all day cleaning up alone! Trust me!
Elizabeth Vainder, M.D., F.A.A.P.