My three year old does chores. She does. She's been doing them since she was about 2 ½ , actually. It all started when a friend of mine came over to watch her for me and I got home to find out that my little Bunny had picked up all of her toys by herself thanks to my friend's kind but firm instruction. It was a “duh” moment for me. Of course she was capable of picking up her toys but being her Mommy since she was incapable of doing anything, somehow her development had brought her to a place of being capable of new responsibilities without my realizing it. Granted, some of this is because I'm sort of OCD about her toys. I have a different box for each type of toy and I even organize her play food in her fridge according to food groups. I used to have her bookshelf categorized but that stopped long ago when I realized what a huge book-lover she was. In any case, I am quick and efficient at putting her toys away in a quick and orderly fashion. Teaching her to do it requires extra effort. But still, I felt it was a short coming on my part that I was lazy enough not to take the time to teach her to pick up her toys. That day with her babysitter was a wake up call for me.
From then on out, she started doing chores--picking up after herself, mostly. We even started paying her. I know, I know, kids shouldn't always get paid their chores but there are benefits to paying them too. Sometimes she doesn't get paid, she's just expected to do it because we asked her to or it's her responsibility. Sometimes we give her a choice--“You can clean your room to earn money for (insert coveted toy here), or you can play and you won't earn any money,” and some times she has to do the chore like it or not and if she throws a fit about it she won't receive the money but will still be expected to complete the expected task. There were and are still some days where I just clean things up for her because it's easier, and also I don't want to over work a three year old, but my husband and I also make a point of having her put away one set of toys before taking out another once in awhile. I used to clean or have her clean her room once every two or three days or even more often, but now that I'm pregnant I'll often be too tired to do anything about it for over a week. So once a week I'll sit on the bed nursing my nauseated stomach and direct Bunny to take care of her room one task at a time. Babies go in the crib. Doll clothes go in the blue box. Dress up clothes go in the dress up trunk. Blocks go in the green box, and so on and so forth. She gets an appropriate amount of money for each task. $.25 for putting babies away. $.10 for cleaning up the puzzle pieces. $.50 for putting away all her books, etc.
At first, Bunny didn't really understand the money thing. We told her she could use it to go to the toy store and pick out a toy but having never experienced that, she had no concept of what that would be like so it was slow going those first months. Then, shortly before her third birthday, we took her to Toys R Us with her piggy bank and a coupon and we let her choose her own toy. She immediately bonded with a talking (yeesh!) baby doll whom she named “La La” and suddenly the whole working for money thing started to make sense. She now worked with a purpose. She had her heart set on a new Disney Doll (She has all the princesses, most of the princes, and some of the villains and friends). She wanted Lotte (Charlotte) who is Princess Tiana's best friend and that became the driving force behind all the chores and extra chores she did for us. Soon, she was traipsing into the Disney store with another bank full of pennies, quarters, and nickels and she was able to claim her prize in all it's pink, taffeta glory. While we were there, she spotted a Boo doll (Boo from Monsters Inc.) and fell in love with her. It became her next goal. For the next few months she talked about Boo, integrated her into her stories, and worked very eagerly (some of the time) to save up for her. When she wasn't so eager to do her work Boo became a very important incentive to buckle down and do what she had to do. Then, last Saturday, we realized that she was only $2 or $3 away from her goal. “Bunny, you want to do some extra chores so we can go to the store and get Boo today?” her response was enthusiastic and I began racking my brain trying to come up with age-appropriate tasks for her since her bedroom wasn't that messy. She unloaded the dishwasher, wiped down the bathroom sink and counter, helped load the washer and dryer (which carried its own reward of getting to press the on buttons), tried to make her bed, and cleaned up anything that was out of place. It was fantastic. Since she'd never done this much work at one time before she got tired after awhile and her preschool attention span started going bonkers as she made somersaults around her room on her way to put away a stuffed alligator. So we took a break to watch her favorite show and then finished up her tasks with a flourish. Then, it was off to the store as promised to buy the doll who was already a part of her world. When she found Boo on the shelf, it was much more than just any toy that Mommy or one of her Aunties bought for her, it was hers. She really owned the doll because she'd done the dreaming, scheming, and working to earn her all by herself. When we went to church the next day she proudly took Boo with her and showed her to anyone willing to listen and we told people over and over again how Bunny had worked hard to save her own money so she could buy Boo all by herself. I've never seen her look so proud of herself and so grown-up before. It was amazing! In fact, on our way home, with Boo barely wrenched from the box with a pair of nail clippers that I keep in my purse, she was already planning her next toy--a stuffed Sebastian the crab.
I tell this story to say one thing--doing chores around the house has really been beneficial for my daughter in more ways than one. Honestly, it's still hard work for me and my husband to crack the whip over her to make sure she stays on task--you know how long three year olds focus on one thing! And it is harder work for us to teach her and coach her through the chores than it is just to do them ourselves, though occasionally she rewards us with a job well done with a smile and lots of self-motivation. There are lots of times that she whines and tells us that “This is so hard!” or “This is too much work!” even though she just spent double the energy taking apart whatever it is we're asking her to put back into place, but overall, we're all reaping so many benefits from the whole experience. Here's what we've discovered so far:
- Doing chores teaches her responsibility. It also helps her understand the work that goes into putting things back where they go so that when she takes things out she's aware of how much effort it will take to put them back together again. In fact, since we've had her cleaning up after herself I've heard her comment on many occasions about how messy her room is or even how messy the kitchen is (which is my responsibility, of course.). She is fully aware now of what is messy and what is neat.
- Earning money helps teach her about numbers and math. She doesn't understand much of it yet but every once in awhile we get together and count the money in her piggy bank together. She's quickly learning that even though five pennies seem like much more money, it's better if she has a quarter because it's worth more.
- She's learning that hard work reaps benefits. Not only does she get to have a nice clean room when she's finished putting things away, but most of the time she gets a little money out of it too. Also, it means that she knows where all her toys are so she can access them more easily.
- She gets to spend more time with Mommy. Face it, some of the time spent doing chores is time we're not playing with our kids, but clothes have to be washed and dinner has to be cooked. Having my daughter help with these tasks means that I can get them done and spend time with her at the same time. She fairly glows when we cook dinner together and she gets to grate the cheese and she loves going to the basement with me and loading up the washer with “stinky socks” while I fold the clean laundry.
- She's learning about delayed gratification. In a “now” society--especially for kids--it's nice that she's learning that good things come to those who wait.
- She feels an intense amount of satisfaction and pride in something she did all by herself. In fact, she loves bragging to her daddy or to others about how she helped with the dinner, or cleaned up her messy room, or earned the money to buy her favorite doll.
- I think there is potential for her to learn not to take our money for granted and to realize the value of a dollar.
Whether or not you decide to give your toddler or preschooler chores is up to you, of course, and it honestly depends upon the ability and maturity level of your child as well. But I think that for every personality and ability, there are ways to allow your little one to take responsibility for things around the house and find fulfillment in hard work.
So how about your kids? Do you feel that they should be doing chores around the house? What age do you feel is an appropriate age to start? When did your kids start getting regular chores?