Within the last few months, my 12-year-old daughter has started getting our 3-year-old ready for bed at night. The first couple of times she did it as part of her “mother’s helper” duties that I give her a little extra money for each week. These days, she just does it to the point where he only wants his big sister to put him to bed and she feels like she’s the only one equipped to do it. On the nights that my husband and I handle bedtime, she ‘s full of questions and tips for us about handling the job.
“Did you make sure he brushed his teeth? He doesn’t sleep well if he doesn’t.”
“Make sure you turn his closet light on and the hall light off.”
“Did you give him his dolphin? He sleeps better with that.”
…as though the two grown-ups in the house haven’t been managing bedtime for years. But I’m not at all mad at her new-found interest in helping out. Not only does having her manage bedtime give my kids a chance to bond, it frees up time for me to do things like load the dishwasher (fun!) and make lunches for the next day that I would typically be doing after the boy went to bed.
Giving your kids jobs around the house not only gives you some extra time for yourself or your spouse, it teaches them valuable life skills and helps them learn their role in keeping the house in order. Here are some tips for getting your kids to pitch in.
Give them age-appropriate tasks. A five-year-old is probably capable of putting clothes in his dresser, while a 15-year-old is perfectly capable of mowing the lawn or cleaning the bathroom. Determine what your child is big enough to help with and know that if they can walk and talk, they can help. My 3-year old has been helping me sort laundry since the ripe old age of 18 months. Back then it was a game for him and as a bonus helped him learn his colors (or at least the difference between white and everything else, because that’s all the sorting I do).
It may be easier to do it yourself but how will they ever learn to do it if you don’t let them? Since she was about 6, my daughter has had the job of wiping tables and mirrors. Yes, they often had streaks, and at the beginning it took longer to show her how to do it right than had I just done it myself, but if you approach it as a teaching lesson rather than a lesson in perfectionism, they’ll learn. Now my big girl can put a shine on a mirror better than I can.
Don’t re-do it. Imagine that you had put your hard work into a project just to have someone go back and “fix” all of your efforts. If you want your kids to be confident enough to do it themselves, you have to embrace a little imperfection for a while until they get it right.
Expect it. Cleaning and helping around the house is not “extra” and is also not something to be paid for. We are teaching our kids to be able to maintain their own households someday, and unless they are working for a professional cleaning service, grown-ups aren’t getting paid to take out their own trash. Teaching our kids how to manage their own stuff is a part of raising them to become successful adults.
Be Flexible. As a parent sometimes I just want to lay down the law—and sometimes I have to—but I realize that I also need to be open to change. My daughter enjoys putting her brother to bed, so I don’t have a problem letting her do that some nights instead of dishes. It still helps me out and gives me a little more time for me-time and couple-time in the evening.
Do your kids help out around the house? At what age did they start?
Find more tips for putting your kids to work at Real Simple.