When my kids hit age three or four, they LOVE to clean up, just like Cinderalla and Snow White. Children love to mimic the activities they see others do, so it is common for kids as young as one to want to wipe their highchair or try to sweep. It is not easy to turn this natural desire into routine chores.
Chores are important. Chores and household responsibilities teach children life skills and responsibility. Chores help them see their role in the household and help them see their own accomplishments. Children want to help the family and it makes them happier to have the opportunity to do so.
There are several things to consider when introducing chores to children. First, do the activities together, when possible. I find folding laundry, making beds, sweeping and wiping to be easily done together.
Second, make things routine. This may mean a chore chart or schedule, or getting it into a regular time frame - such as making your bed before school or helping with dishes after dinner. Sporadic chores can be confusing and often lead to frustrated parents, especially if chore completion is not expected on a regular basis. Pick a time that works well for your child - ideally not when they are overtired or hungry.
Third, keep expectations in line with age. A three-year-old may be expected to do three tasks, while an older child can do several. For example, a one-year-old can help put toys away and carry their plates to the sink after meals. A four-year-old can shelve books, put away socks and underwear and wipe the sink. An eight year old can fold laundry, put away clean dished and help cook.
To make it more enjoyable, put on music, make a timing game and be silly! Housework can be fun. However, injuries are not, so please supervise any use of cleaning products or machines such as vacuums. The AAP recommends using a minimum age of 12 for lawn mowers (16 for riding mowers) due to the high number of severe injuries that occur with these machines.
Finally, many parents ask if chores should have a reward or tied to allowances. Many experts do not recommend this because they’re expected family duties and learning opportunities. However, rewards or money may be given for doing housework beyond those a child is expected to complete. There may also be expected consequences for avoiding chores, such as loss of video time or loss of play time. Let your child know what the consequence will be when asking them to do the chore.
Feel free to ask about reasonable chores for your child at their well-child checks, which are yearly for children 3 and older and more frequent for younger children.