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Why Your Child Should Help do Chores

By Brian Gresko |

chore listIf you stay-at-home even part-time with a baby or toddler, then you probably know the challenge of doing chores while minding the little one.

It should be easy, right? To make lunch or load the dishwasher, to scrub some pots or clean the bathroom. These are tasks that, if you focus on them one-by-one, don’t take all that long. But depending on your child’s level of independence, or whether you rely on the television to do the babysitting while you work, it can sometimes seem impossible to get even simple jobs done around the house.

I’ve felt embarrassed when my wife’s returned home to a cluttered mess, cruddy dishes mounded in the sink, and dinner not prepped. “What have you done all day?” she asked me once. It’s hard to explain that playing with a kid can be like the mob in The Godfather – just when you think you’re out, “they pull you right back in.”

A few months ago a friend blew my mind when she told me about how her kid helps her clean. Not with nasty chemicals or strong soaps or anything like that, but a tot can wring a good deal of helpful fun from a wet sponge, she told me.

Since then, I’ve made my son part of the chore solution rather than seeing him as a problem. Give him a damp rag, and he’ll crawl around the edge of the room dusting the molding as he goes. Toss him a sponge, and he wipes off counters to no end. Provide him a spray bottle, and he’ll wet down the bathtub in advance of my scrubbing.

But don’t take my word for it. Scientists have found that, by and large, even very young kids want to be helpful. And now a study demonstrates that older kids are can be quite sophisticated in how they help.

You know how if your partner says, “Can you please pass me that knife so I can chop the parsley?” but you’ve just used the knife to cut raw chicken, you’ll find another knife or wash the blade before passing it along? You help, but not by literally following directions – you take initiative to help in the best way possible.

Turns out that toddlers, on the whole, do the same thing. Given two tools, one real and one play, tots knew that an adult would require the real tool to complete a task, even when the adult asked for the play one. So when a grown-up wanted a foam hammer to pound a nail, the toddler would fetch them an actual hammer, knowing that’s what they needed to get the job done.

This is called paternalistic helping, as in “Father Knows Best” (though why it couldn’t be called maternalistic helping, I don’t know). You think you want the play tool, but trust me, you actually want the real one.

It’s pretty cool that even three-year-olds demonstrate this behavior, though I imagine that for toddlers who are used to being active helpers, they might be more likely to speak up. (Another author wonders if the toddler’s level of autonomy within the family matters. Strict, authoritarian parents may encourage their children to not talk back or ask questions, which would affect their performance in the study.) Like with any toddler skill, practice makes perfect. The more my son helps me around the house, the better he is at completing his chores and the more excited he is to chip in, especially since I make clear how proud I am of his hard work.

So if you’re having trouble staying on top of the housework while minding your child, don’t see the two things as separate activities. Try getting your kid or kids involved. It’ll be beneficial for everyone!

 

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About Brian Gresko

briangresko

Brian Gresko

Brian Gresko is a stay-at-home dad and writer based in Brooklyn. He is the editor of the anthology When I First Held You, featuring 22 critically acclaimed authors on fatherhood, due out on May 6th from Berkley Books. He has contributed to numerous publications, including The Huffington Post, The Atlantic.com, Salon, and The Daily Beast. Find him online at his site, Brian Gresko. Read bio and latest posts → Read Brian's latest posts →

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One thought on “Why Your Child Should Help do Chores

  1. Sanriobaby =^.^= says:

    My daughter just turned a year old and she’s been putting her toys and books away for a few months now. I think that most parents underestimate thier young child’s capabilities and don’t want to take the extra time needed to teach thier child how to clean up after themselves. Yes it takes longer and there will be many times you will have to either finish the task or redo it entirely, BUT the goal is about teaching children that A- they should clean up after they are done playing and B- it teaches them independence and reponsibility for thier belongings. I was a nanny for many years and I prided myself in making sure the children under my care learned to clean up after themselves, mainly b/c I didn’t want to be thier maid! Young children WANT to be involved because they enjoy doing “big kid” stuff and love the positive reactions to it even more, so it only benefits parents to take that enthuiastic attitude and instill some early chores and responsibilites from the start. Toddlers are far more capable than most people give them credit for.

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