Including Our Children In Daily Tasks

A common question that I get is how and when do I start having my kids help around the house. My kids are still young so I definitely don’t have this all figured out, but it really happens fairly naturally in our home.

I did spend some time thinking about how it works around our home, and will try to explain our thought process and what we try to do with our children. However, the entire culture of the home will effect how this plays out in each individual family. It will look differently in your home!

When it comes to children helping I think we tend to both underestimate what children can do, and overestimate what they can do.

We Underestimate

When children are working with their parents, you will be amazed at what they can accomplish. Whether it is simple jobs in the kitchen or picking up their own toys, we sometimes forget that they are little people capable of doing actual jobs that are quite helpful.

When children work alongside you, they pick up on what you are doing. I have never sat down and taught my kids how to fold laundry, and yet I have been amazed at how well my son can do it. We usually fold together, and usually he is playing around or messing up my piles, but I’ll throw him a dish towel and he folds it.

He watches, he practices, and he learns. And then one day you will come in and find what was moments earlier a basket of laundry now nicely folded on the bed. And you think, “when did he learn to do that?

The basket of clothes my 4-year-old folded without being asked

Children are capable of far more than we realize if we will only include them in our day to day activities. They just want to be with mom, so why not get something accomplished and teach them a valuable skill in the process? This is part of teaching our children independence.

We Overestimate

You are probably fairly used to hearing that we underestimate what children can do, but what about overestimating? This is I think a key reason why many parents try to have their children do things, and when it fails, they give up. Our children are capable of doing a lot, but they are still children. We can’t forget that.

You might send your toddler to clean up his toys and you are frustrated that the job doesn’t get done. Much cajoling on your part, and whining on his part, and eventually the toys get picked up. You start to wonder if this really is worth it.

When a child is just learning a new skill, remember that it is in its baby form of learning. He may know how to do something, but if he is still in the early stages he is still in practice mode. He is insecure in his skill.

I think too often when our child succeeds in a skill we think, “Great! He knows how to do it now!” and then we expect him to continue to be able to do it on his own from here on out. That is rarely the case.

When we as adults learn a new skill we need practice to gain confidence in that skill. When you learned how to drive, you may have had a particularly great day at the wheel. You think you’ve got it. But the next day, you get back in the car, and you’re nervous again.

Why? You had it yesterday, you should be confident today. The reason is that that skill is not engrained yet. Yes, you did well yesterday, but today you wonder if you will remember everything again. In short, the skill is in its baby form and therefore, even though you have done it well before, you approach each time with a certain amount of apprehension. Of course, each time you gain more and more confidence until eventually you don’t even think about it.

This is how we need to view children helping around the home and learning life skills. Yes, they can do a lot. More than we give them credit for. But they are still in the early stages of learning. They approach each situation with a lack of confidence until they have truly mastered the skill.

This goes for something even as simple as picking up the toys. Sending your 3-year-old off to pick up his toys can be overwhelming. It is particularly overwhelming if you have not limited the number of toys in your home. A 3-year-old will look at the mess and not even know where to start. In theory, they know where all the toys go, but they will easily become overwhelmed. He needs to practice putting away toys over and over with you as he gains confidence.


Practical Ways We Teach Our Children to Help

Habit Train: When it comes to things like putting their clothes in the laundry at night, putting their shoes away, or making their bed, we habit train our kids. Work on one particular thing at a time until you feel that they have really taken it on as a habit. You will still have to remind them from time to time, but it should be fairly engrained. There are many good reasons to instill habits in your children.

Do it with them: Most of the time, I just include my kids in whatever I am doing. If I am cutting vegetables, I give them a safe knife and teach them to cut with me. If I am cleaning the bathroom, I give them a rag and spray bottle of water. If we are picking up toys, we pick them all up together. My oldest is at the point that I can send him off to pick up the toys on his own and he can do it, but 90% of the time we still do this together.

Make it simple: Especially with toys and clothes this is probably the biggest thing that you could change to make your children helping easier. If the system is too complicated, you can’t expect a young child to successfully do it. Remember that fear factor of adults learning to drive a car? If the system is over his head in terms of organization, you will only frustrate the child. But the child can’t tell you that, so it will usually show up in a behavior problem, or a flat out refusal to do the job. Make. It. Simple. I cannot emphasize this enough.

Be Specific: “Go pick up the toys” is much more overwhelming than “Go put the cars in the car box.” I have much more success when I give very specific instructions and the child knows exactly what is expected of him. That does mean he will keep coming back to me for the next thing, but he will learn. And the more we do this, the better at it they get.

We are at a point where my kids are able to start doing truly helpful things. Both kids can put their clothes away. My daughter can set the table. I can give my son a rag and spray bottle and he can clean the bathroom sink. They can put their toys away without much effort. My son can fold laundry.

But we didn’t get here overnight. And they are still children. So if I stopped right now with including them in helping around the house they would quickly lose these skills. They are in their very baby forms. But they are growing. And each day they get a little more confident and a little more helpful around the home. And someday I hope they leave my home with valuable life skills that will carry them through life.

How do you include your children in daily tasks?

Related posts:

  1. How to Habit-train Children
  2. Reasons to instill good habits in your children.

Comments

  1. Steph says:

    Impressive folding skills by your son. My three-year old can do a surprising amount of work but isn’t to the point of doing much on her own yet. It definitely overwhelms her to pick up toys on her own. But she loves to help me do that, to cook, sort laundry, spray stains, etc.

  2. Very helpfully written. We do very much similarly with our girls. (Since our boy is not quite to this stage yet. ;) Although, since I wear him for many tasks, he is already “a part” of many of the family activities.)

    I think it’s particularly helpful that you also clarified the overestimating part. I hear many frustrations over “I told my son/daughter to go clean his/her room, but he just won’t obey, cooperate, etc…” It is overwhelming for me to walk into a very messy room with the daunting prospect of cleaning it by myself, and so the overwhelming sensation is only heightened for a child. When our toys get messy (which is quite possible even with a minimal number ;) ), it’s so much more enjoyable to clean it as a family. In fact, my girls see it as a highlight of their day if the entire family does it together. :) (That doesn’t mean I don’t require them to take on some tasks by themselves.)

    We also can’t expect to show our children how to do something just once or twice and then expect that they get it for life. Training requires practice over and over, a perspective on parenting that includes more than just training for daily tasks. How many of us learning a new skill or job would be able to do this as adults?

    Life is often slower when we work and live alongside our children, but I think most of us adults need the reminders to slow down more than our children need to be hearing “hurry, hurry, hurry!”

    “So if I stopped right now with including them in helping around the house they would quickly lose these skills. They are in their very baby forms. But they are growing.”

    Definitely! We had Hana Kate setting the table for a while, but when we had some schedule changes and trips away, we didn’t get back into that, and it’s an easily lost habit that I’m realizing we need to pick back up again. I think the hardest part is incorporating and remembering habits as an adult–which makes me realize that habits learned and practiced through childhood is one way of equipping my children for adulthood. My husband has many more automatic habits from his childhood than me, and it is much harder for me to try to learn them all now.

    • Johanna says:

      “Life is often slower when we work and live alongside our children, but I think most of us adults need the reminders to slow down more than our children need to be hearing ‘hurry, hurry, hurry!’” — Love this perspective!

      Yes, it all takes more time this way, but the benefits are so big it is worth it. And you’re right, we adults could use a dose of slowing down.

      We have definitely found that they easily forget things when we let a habit slide for awhile, but I have found that they usually pick it up a little faster when we get back at it, so all is not completely lost.

      And, yes, even with few toys, it still gets so messy.

  3. Tiffany says:

    Great post! I began to see a difference in my children’s attitudes regarding cleaning when we started cleaning together as a family. The task gets done quicker than me attempting to do it by myself. And after they have done the chore with mommy several times I can ask them to do it alone. Though the end result is not exactly how I would do it but sufficent and thats good enough for me.

    • Johanna says:

      I too have found that my kids start to take initiative after they have done it multiple times with me. They’re still young, though, so still not totally independent.

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