Dr Richard C Woolfson
Now’s a good time to let your child get involved in simple household chores because he views this positively. At this age, he actually wants to help. (It’s only later, when he’s six or seven, that he’ll complain whenever he’s asked to do something around the house.)
But the problem is that your house often ends up in a bigger mess than before he started! You have to find a way to encourage him and, yet, at the same time help him to manage it effectively.
Before asking your four-year-old to help out, remind yourself that this is good for him. True, he’s not as organised as you, and you can certainly complete the task far quicker than him. But he’s old enough to start playing his part, too. Engaging him in basic chores harnesses his enthusiasm for helping you, enables him to see that he has a positive contribution to make when it comes to keeping the house clean, and encourages him to think about others.
Here are some guidelines to keep in mind when getting your child involved (without turning your home upside down):
CHOOSE THE TASK CAREFULLY Pick something that’s within his current abilities, even though he’s probably more ambitious. Select a chore that you think he should be able to manage independently – for instance, putting his toys in the toy box.
EXPLAIN WHAT HE SHOULD DO Your four-year-old doesn’t think as systematically as you. For instance, he might try to lift too many toys at once, or start at the bottom of the pile instead of at the top. Suggest a way he could tackle the challenge.
ALLOW EXTRA TIME You’ll only end up tense if you expect him to finish the job as quickly as you would. Give him – and you – lots of time when he is on-task. That keeps the atmosphere relaxed and positive.
HANG BACK Watching him struggle, say, to put a sweater back on the shelf creates a knot in your stomach because you know he could do it better if he uses both hands. But give him a few minutes to try to find that solution by himself.
STEP IN WHEN NECESSARY If you see that the task is beyond him and that he is now starting to become upset with his lack of success, suggest ways he could achieve completion. That will boost his confidence instead.
KEEP IT SLOW AND GRADUAL Slowly build up the pace, perhaps giving him only one chore per week to start with, so that he can steadily adapt to his responsibilities. Extend the amount and difficulty level very, very gradually.
HELP OTHERS Make sure some of the domestic chores that he does are for the benefit of others. For instance, he can put his brother’s books away or lay plates on the dinner table.
RECAP Your four-year-old’s confidence and understanding of chores will improve if, after the job is done, you ask him to tell you how he did it. This makes your child more aware of the strategies he used.
AVOID TANGIBLE REWARDS Don’t offer sweets every time you suggest a job – you may end up in a situation where he puts a price tag on everything he does around the house.