Houston’s FOX 26 News called me on the 6th of May and asked if I would do a segment on getting kids to do their chores. I sent emails to a few of my International Nanny Association friends that are professional nannies in various cities across the nation asking for their advice. They shared wonderful ideas with me on the techniques that they found to be most successful. This article is based on my experience as a mother of four daughters as well as the advice of six very wise nannies. (See credits below.)
Where to Start
First of all, as a parent or nanny, you must set a good example. Do you have a place for everything and everything in its place, or do you drop your purse or keys on the first surface you find when you walk in the door? Do you leave unopened mail lying around for days on end? Do you drop your dirty clothes on the bedroom floor or on a chair every evening? Are your shoes left in front of the sofa over night? Is your glass left on the end table? Are you too tired to clean up the dinner dishes before going to bed? Do you throw a load of laundry in the washer when you realize that you need a certain item the next day? Do you leave clothes as they come out of the dryer in a heap until you get around to folding the laundry? Do you let the old newspapers pile up on the floor rather than putting them in the recycle bin?
Parents and nannies have long, stressful days and sometimes they feel that they just need to kick back, and leave these daily chores to when they feel a bit more energetic. This sets a bad example to the toddlers and children in the household. The kids see that clutter is acceptable and they think this applies to them as well. It isn’t fair to demand that your children should pick up their toys, keep their room straightened up, hang up their wet towels, and make their bed if their parents don’t do the same.
Step one is to set household rules that everyone needs to obey. At the end of the day all things are in their proper place. This includes purses, keys, dishes, toys, dirty clothes, etc. Step two is to set up daily routines that include all beds are made and bedrooms are tidy before leaving the house, all dirty clothes are in their hampers or laundry room, all wet towels are hung up, and the dishwasher is run and emptied on a daily basis. Make doing chores a family event.
These first two steps should be followed by all members of the household if you want to teach your child that keeping an orderly environment is good. Working together as a family will teach unity and help the children to feel connected. Children thrive on order and feel confused and frustrated in chaos.
When to Start
A two year old is able to be taught to put their clothes in the hamper and their shoes in the closet. They can put their puzzle pieces together when they are done playing, they can put their blocks into the box or bin, and at the end of the day they can put their toys into the toy box and see that the room is neat for the next day’s play.
A three year old can pull up the blankets on their bed and place their pillow properly. It may not be perfect, but do not do it for them or “fix it”, it may not look like an adult did it, but with praise the child will learn to take pride in their accomplishment and will try harder to do it even better.
A young child will do their chores more willingly if their parent or nanny is present and cheering them on.
Getting a Late Start? Make it fun.
Super Hero: Little boys can turn into Super Hero, Chuck the Chore Master, and little girls can be a magical princess as they set about ridding the house of the Messy Monster. They can morph into their fantasy character by wearing a prop such as a cape or crown.
Surprise me: This works well with the child that likes to please people and be praised. The parent or nanny can say “I am going to the other room for just a few minutes and I would be soooo surprised if everything was clean when I got back.” They could further encourage the child by saying, “In fact if I was really happy I might read two books to you, or we could watch a video together, or go out to the park. “ Midway through the time out of the room the parent or nanny should call out: “I’ll be there in just a few minutes.” And add “What are you doing?” More than likely that will keep the child motivated and on task.
The Inspector: “Let the inspector know when you are done.” When the child has finished his or her chore and invites the Inspector to come see, you walk in wearing something silly such as a hat or glasses and in a funny voice you comment on what you see. The funny voice allows you to give the child correction regarding areas that aren’t done as well as they should be without the child feeling like they are being criticized or lectured.
Competition: Games can be a good way to motivate children. Races to get the work done quickly may start out with: “How many minutes do you think it will take to pick up all the blocks? I think it will take you five minutes.” Then use a stop watch and be so surprised that he/she finished in less than five minutes. Or maybe you could ask: “How many books do you think will fit on the first shelf? I think ten will fit what do you think?” Then let the child choose a book for you to read.
The Bag Man: This is a last resort for the child that can’t be won over with encouragement and games! The Bag Man needs to have a bin or paper sack. Explain to the child that when the room is left messy at the end of the day or the end of play time that the Bag Man may come and take all the toys that aren’t in their proper places. If you ever stepped on a Lego with your bare feet you understand why someone has to pick everything up! You will need to set up the rules and you will need to negotiate how the child will win back his or her toys.
Chores and Rewards
A task that could have a reward attached to it is something that enhances family life. The daily tasks of picking up toys and making the bed may be considered part of the household rules, in other words they are expectations, you may want to award a full week’s achievements with stars or allowance. A family working together has each member doing certain tasks. When the child contributes by performing additional tasks that help make family life more enjoyable, you may want to consider rewards for this behavior. A parent goes to work to earn money to house and feed their family and a child can contribute to the family by helping out at home. Parents and or nannies shop for food, cook meals, do yard work, take the trash out, do the laundry, etc. The child can have certain chores as well. The reward may be monetary, a weekly allowance or payment per job, or they may be rewarded with privileges such as going to bed later on Saturdays, or an extra story at bedtime, or treated to a visit to the ice cream shop, park or zoo. Let the child choose what reward they would most like. All the nannies that I heard from said they use chore charts and a few said that they stagger the chores if there is more than one child old enough to do the same tasks. Here is a website where you will find charts to customize for your family. http://www.activityvillage.co.uk/free_printable_certificates.htm#Pictures_charts
Using a Mason jar, candy bowl, or other similar container, write down various task that the child can handle on a small piece of paper and fold it up. If Saturday is “chore day” let the child put their hand in and pull out a chore for that week.
Chores that Children Can Do
Laundry: They can gather the dirty clothes or towels and bring them to the laundry room. They can be taught to sort colored clothes from white clothes. They can fold towels. They can put their clean clothes away in the drawers.
Meal time: They can help set the table or bring the napkins, condiments, glasses, etc. to the table. They can help clear the table after a meal. Older children can learn to stack the dishwasher and help unloading the dishwasher if they can reach the counter tops or cabinets.
Groceries: If they are old enough to wander on their own through the grocery store, they can find certain items on the grocery list and bring them back to you. They can help carry in the grocery bags and if tall enough they can put away items when you unload the grocery bags.
Trash: A 5 year old child can have the weekly job of emptying the small waste paper baskets in bedrooms, bath rooms, etc. around the house. By the age of 8 years they can take the larger kitchen trash out to the trash bin and by 10 years they should be able to bring the trash bin to the curb. Younger children may enjoy being named the Recycling Manager.
Bathrooms: From the age of 5 years old a child should be able to wipe dry the counter tops of the vanity in the bathroom. By the age of 7 years a child could be taught to use “Scrubbing Bubbles” and wipe down the bath tub.
Yard work: Get a child size rake and broom for little ones. Many children feel a great deal of satisfaction from planting and helping to maintain a garden, but they need child size garden tools. Digging and planting is great fun. This will promote parent and child bonding plus watching vegetables grow makes the child really love eating the produce that they helped produce! They can have the daily duty of inspecting the garden, help with weeding, watch for insects and be rewarded with picking the veggies.
Pet Care: A child can make sure the pet has water and receives their food at a regular time. If the child is old enough and gentle enough, he or she could be in charge of pet grooming.
When the job is done, remind the child to let you know that it is inspection time and then using your funny accent you become “The Inspector” and let them know if something needs improvement or that they did a great job and congratulate them.
Having Responsibilities Teaches Children Life Skills
The child learns:
- a sense of accomplishment
- that they are an important part of the family
- the importance of setting goals
- to take direction
- the rewards of maturity
- the satisfaction of a job well done.
- rewards and consequences
- a sense of team work
- about time management
- self discipline
- organizational skills
- about structure
- to be self sufficient
- the joy of being of service to others
- self confidence
Thank you to the wonderful nannies that contributed to this article:
MaryAnn X. Meddish, Michigan, 2009 INA Nanny of the Year
Becky Kavanagh, Minneapolis, 2006 INA Nanny of the Year
Michelle La Rowe, Boston, 2004 INA Nanny of the Year
Kellie Geres, Washington DC, 1997 INA Nanny of the Year
Tonya Sakowicz, Phoenix, Baby Dream Team
Lisa Rodrigues, Houston, Morningside Nannies staff, Former Nanny