Household Chores for Children

Father and toddler sweeping kitchen

Are you wondering when your children will be ready to help with household chores? My family’s bumpy experience may help you decide that now is the time.

My family was terrible at sharing household chores with children because my husband and I took completely different approaches when the children were very young. I remember the conversations I had with my husband.

“Let her help you wash the dishes.”
“It’s easier just to do it myself.”

He was right. It is easier and faster to just do it yourself. The point wasn’t to get the work done, though, but to let children learn the work, to let children learn that they are important to the functioning of the household.

Once they hit a certain age, my husband expected them to do chores, but they didn’t have a strong pattern of helping yet.

“Ah! So, that’s what you meant.”

We had to work to bridge the gap between parents’ expectations and childrens’ habits. We caught up later than I would have liked, but now each person in the family has responsibility for certain areas.

We don’t have a perfect system. When there is a bigger job, the two teenagers moan about having to help one another, but they often help one another anyway. We have a generally functional and moderately liveable household, and my children feel ownership and responsibility for the housedold—a household that is messier than I’m happy with but cleaner than others might be willing to live with. (Ahem.)

Where to Start Children with Chores

Start when they start. When a child plays alongside you working—washing dishes or folding laundry—share your chore with your young child. It’s play for your child at this stage, but it also helps them learn the vocabulary of work around the house.

Child with toy cooking set

Play in parallel to your work. A toddler wants to do what you are doing, so they will pretend to do your work. The kitchen is an ideal place to make a space for a toddler to play at your work. We made a simple kitchen out of cardboard boxes, and my children spent a lot of time there while I was in the kitchen. That wasn’t as fancy as the beautiful wooden kitchen sets we carry at bynature.ca. We find that toddlers want toys that let them be part of the flow of the family.

Grow as they grow. Make assigned chores age- and person-appropriate. A toddler can carry folded laundry, but it might not arrive folded. If you don’t mind that, it’s a simple job. The younger the child, the simpler and more specific the chores need to be. You could make their chores dependent on an adult. “When I pour out the dog’s food, you put the bowl down and feed her.” An older child, especially one who has been doing chores in parallel with an adult already, needs less specific instruction. My children gradually figured out how to wash their own clothes then fold and distribute clothes to the whole family. That involves a string of many tasks, each of which they did separately before they just stepped in to take care of laundry. They actually divided laundry between themselves, with one gathering and starting the washer and the other drying and carrying laundry to the bed, where they fold together.

Don’t expect perfection. Thank your child specifically for what they did and how they did it. Rather than “You didn’t do that as well as I would have,” you could say, “I like how you scrubbed and rinsed each plate. Thank you for doing that.” It’s about more than just getting the job done.

Explain the role. Don’t just focus on the immediate task, but explain the role your child plays. “We all live here, and we all help one another.” I want my children to understand that they are important within the whole family.

Explain the goal. Like explaining the role, I like my children to get the big picture with the goal behind their chores. The goal isn’t to move an armful of recycling to the garage; the goal is to clear the counter so we cook in a clean and clear space. The goal isn’t to spend one hour weeding; the goal is to clear the old plants from the garden before winter. (This was a conversation just yesterday as my son and I walked through our garden that is full of both last year’s dried plants and this year’s optimistic yet confused little flowers. We failed to clear the garden before winter.)

Make it fun. When everyone is cleaning together, we turn on music, and we all sing along. It makes us sound like the von Trapp family, but it’s more like 80s karaoke. Our attitudes as adults toward household chores will rub off on our children.

Make an assignment. To make it easier to remember and to help your child feel more responsibility for the work, assign chores and acknowledge the assignment until everyone remembers.

It’s All Part of the System

Chart? I have tried many different chart systems as reminders: magnetic grids with movable pieces, calendars, me hovering over everyone. None of this worked for us. They seem to work for others, though, so I think they are worth trying for your family.

Domains. What has worked for us is dividing chores into four general domains for the four family members: kitchen, garden, tidying throughout the house, and away from home errands. We do have other jobs, but we own these areas. Once we distributed responsibility, we had less complaining about messiness and fewer questions about who would remedy the situations.

Meeting. Our new family meeting routine gives us a space to talk about non-routine chores or figure out why things aren’t getting done.

For example, I have a black dog and light blue carpet. Dog fuzz shows. My son is responsible for keeping the floor clean.

“Why isn’t the carpet clean?”
“I can’t use the vacuum because there aren’t any vacuum bags.”

So, my husband is assigned the task of chasing around the city to find a vacuum bag that fits our ancient vacuum, then the floor is clean—or will be clean, since we finally got the bags yesterday.

When we’ve done 30-day challenges to tackle certain difficult areas of our house, we all pitch in.

Everyone in my family participates. We don’t all do equal work, but we do all feel free to ask for help when the work is more than we can handle. It took a while to arrive at a smooth(ish) system.

I hope sharing how we got here will help you as your young children learn to participate in household chores.

Image © Mast3r | Dreamstime.com - Father And Daughter Cleaning In The Kitchen Photo

Cultivating Compassionate Kids

Child sitting quietly

How can we help our kids be kind to others? Beyond telling them, “Be nice,” which seldom reaches past the surface, science shows us that there are specific practices in cultivating compassion that can change our brains and our actions. If we help our children learn these practices, we help them learn kindness and compassion on a deeper level.

I’ve been writing a bit lately on mindfulness and meditation as it can be applied by us, the adults, in simple ways in our busy lives. This comes from my own seeking. I’ve been calling it my Happiness Project for myself and my family.

As part of this project, I’ve recently been taking a course through edX (online MOOC, massive open online course) called The Science of Happiness, taught by two scientists from the UC Berkeley Great Good Science Center.

It’s easy enough to express a vague wish to be happier or to help my children be happier, but understanding the science of happiness helps motivate me to take clear steps forward. I know what works and why. No barrier left.

Over the next couple of months, I will share with you some of the work of the Greater Good Science Center on children, parenting, and marriage. I figure, if you find that cultivating this kind of peaceful focus is working well for you as a person, as a parent, as a partner, it makes sense to want to share this with your children.

Today, I want to share an article and short video from the Center suggesting that when you want to start meditating with children, an option is loving-kindness meditation (metta). This is a specific kind of meditation in which we repeat a few phrases that express our desire for safety, health, and happiness for ourselves and for others.

Read instructions for the meditation and watch the video here:
Christine Carter, “Greater Happiness in 5 Minutes a Day: How to Teach Kids Loving-kindness Meditation,” Raising Happiness blog, Greater Good Science Center, 10 September 2012.

Research on loving-kindness meditation is interesting. A little bit (7 minutes) can increase your feeling of connectedness, and a lot (10,000+ hours practice for those studied) can change your brain.

One of the researchers into this neuroplasticity, Dr. Richard Davidson, has also been active in finding application of the research through mindfulness and meditation training to cultivate well-being. I keep meeting him through articles and videos, so I’m sure I’ll mention him to you again.

In a couple of weeks, I’ll come back with ideas about how to teach your children gratitude.

Resources

  • “The present study demonstrated significant effects of loving-kindness meditation on both explicit and implicit positivity toward neutral strangers. Even a brief (7-min) exercise in cultivating positive regard was sufficient to induce changes of small to moderate effect size.” Cendri A. Hutcherson, Emma M. Seppala, and James J. Gross, “Loving-Kindness Meditation Increases Social Connectedness,” Emotion 8:5 (2008), 720-724. http://spl.stanford.edu/pdfs/Hutcherson_08_2.pdf

Image © Eleonoraos | Dreamstime.com - The Girl Meditating On The Beach Photo

Garden Fresh Snacks for Children

Vegetable Kebabs

If you planted a garden with your child earlier this year, she’s probably been eager to sample the results. Now is the season for fresh garden snacks with children.

Eat Foods Fresh and Raw

Fresh fruits and vegetables straight from the garden can be such an intense taste experience that they become lifelong memories. I remember very well trailing after my mother through our garden, tasting as we went. In particular, I always remember biting into a tomato. I don’t like tomatoes, and that is the only time in my young life that I remember voluntarily eating one. I just remember how incredibly good it felt to bite through the sun-warmed flesh of the tomato before the taste exploded through me. This one little fresh fruit (or vegetable, depending where you want to come down on that issue) is the anchor for all of my other childhood garden memories.

Now, without giving it much thought, we’ve put our mostly likely garden snack foods next to our main doors near our house. Because our herbs are next to the door we use most frequently, my children often stop to eat mint or fennel on their way inside. We have planted grapes by our front door, but they are only two years old and aren’t fruiting yet. I like to picture guests snacking on our grapes as they wait for us to answer the door.

Walk through your garden with your child and see what there is to sample and taste as a snack.

Choose Dark Vegetables for Micronutrients

We know dark, raw vegetables provide phytonutrients that help our bodies repair damage on a cellular level. For our smoothie series a while ago, we focused on the 5-7 color categories that fruits and vegetables can be divided into, each category rich in a particular set of phytonutrients.

Dark blue and purple foods can contain anthocyanins, which contain antioxidants that help protect cells from damage. From Sour Purple Blast Smoothie.

Carrots in particular are an incredible source of Vitamin A—or, rather, provitamin A carotenoids that can form Vitamin A. Alpha carotene is a cancer fighter, and beta carotene promotes repair of damaged DNA. You probably know that beta carotene will help your eyesight, which is related to this repair function. From Earth Orange Smoothie.

Green plants have chlorophylls, which play an important role in photosynthesis—capturing energy from sunlight and converting it into chemical energy. The phytonutrients in our smoothie included the carotenoid lutein, which works with zeaxanthin (both from raw spinach) for eye health. From Easy Green Smoothie.

As you are planting your garden then later strolling through for a snack, keep in mind that a variety of colors means an abundance of vitamins, minerals, and micronutrients.

Quick Vegetable Kebab Snack

It’s cooling down. My children have been requesting hot snacks and lunches, so it is time to put together simple, warm foods. They do like raw vegetables, but one of the ways we create variety straight from our garden is with quick grilled vegetable kebabs. My children love crunchy grilled vegetables, and it’s a great alternative to fried foods.

  • Garden vegetables – Use whatever you have in your garden, like zucchini, tomato, onion, sweet pepper, and summer (yellow) squash.
  • Oil, vinegar, and spices for marinade
  • Skewers – We use metal skewers because they are easiest to reuse.

Rather than buying anything special for this snack, it’s an adventure for a young child to go out into the garden and eat what he finds. Collect vegetables early in the morning, then prepare a marinade using oil, vinegar, lemon juice, mustard, salt, pepper, and any herbs you collect. Cut up the vegetables into large, bite-sized pieces. Place the marinade and the vegetables in a container for 2-3 hours. Shake it around to be sure that the vegetables are coated.

When it is time for a late morning snack, help your child skewer just a few of each kind of vegetable. Vegetable kebabs are wonderful grilled, but we try to keep snacks simple since we’re only cooking a small amount of food. We broil until the zucchini starts to steam and brown because we like the texture of the crunchy crust outside and the hot, soft inside.

I love the idea of simple snacks from the garden because it makes such a profound connection for children. They help grow the food with their own hands. As they eat and enjoy the foods in simple ways—either raw or just cooked but still recognizable—they begin to realize how much power they have to care for their own bodies and their expanding world.

Image © Michael Zysman | Dreamstime.com

Camping with Baby Round-up

Father and baby hiking

Wish you could go camping but worried about your baby? Worry no more. Many families continue camping even with a baby. You definitely need to prepare more than you would for adults only, but you can certainly have a successful great outdoors experience and a happy baby.

Read the articles below for a few of our tips to make your camping trip go smoothly for the whole family.

Camping with Baby Checklist

This is our must-have packing list for camping with babies. If you are already confident and ready to go, start here.

Camping with Cloth Diapers

How many diapers? Which diapers are easiest to clean? There are a lot of ways to make cloth diapers work while camping, so we gathered some personal experience resources as well as providing a general guide.

Hiking with Baby

Many of us combine camping and hiking. Here are a few safety, gear, and other considerations to make before you head out.

7 Tips for a Successful Picnic with Kids

If you aren’t quite up for the overnight experience yet, try a picnic. Once you see that the key to success is in the preparation, you might be ready for camping.

Cool Summer Babywearing

If you will be hanging out a lot in camp, be sure to have a baby carrier that fits the climate. We help you figure out which carrier works for the way you plan to wear your baby on your camping trip.

6 Questions about Sunscreen That We Hear Daily

If you are camping, you will be in the sun. So, grab the natural sunscreen. We’ve answered some of the common questions we hear about sunscreen.

Summer in Nature for Your Children

What will you do with your children once you are in camp? Explore nature. Learning about the area where you are going and knowing about plants and environment before you arrive will make it easier for you to talk to a young child about what they see around them. When you understand how your child’s interest will grow through different child development stages, you can feed the future interests now. This post will help if you want to dig deeper into the reasons children need to play in nature.

Have a great camping trip!

Image © Ilhaformosa | Dreamstime.com

Set Your New Year’s Focus

Goal setting with children

The possibilities are endless when you focus!

Don’t try to psyche yourself into anything. Just write out three specific goals, review them every day, and make them happen. Even tiny steps will get you there.

I’m not saying don’t set a big goal, but I am saying I want you to have a guaranteed success. If you want to lose 50 pounds, how about setting your goal for 5lbs then coming back next month to set the goal for 5 more. If you want to make a quilt for your daughter’s bed, how about starting out with the goal of three squares then coming back next week with the goal for three more.

Don’t convince yourself that this is your goal setting for the entire year. New Year is just a good opportunity to check in and see where you’ve been and where you are going. This is just a milestone.


Basic Goal Setting with Children

I’ve been trying to teach my children how to make things happen for themselves, how to get past lists of wishes to lists of intentions to plans and to-do lists. An hour before midnight last night, we stopped their wild idea of what celebration should be to review the past year and talk about our new year.

You may know that I love sticky notes, so I will admit that there were a lot of sticky notes involved in multiple colors. You can see the results of our goals check in above.

How was this year? We started with one giant post-it note, but just a section of wall will do. Each of us chose a different color of notes then we wrote significant events for ourselves, our family, and the world on our notes and stuck them on the old year. A few had frowny faces, but most of our events were good. I was pleased to see that my children came up with “Had fun this year” and “I felt happy.”

How will this coming year be? I asked them to look at the things they did or things that happened in the past year and picture what they want to write in a year’s time. What do they want to do this year? We started a new giant post-it note, and we kept writing out ideas until they became silly (“Get abs” for my son).

What will you do? I told them that wasn’t the end because “Become a better musician” and “Learn to drive” weren’t specific enough. We each turned three of our wishes into goals on a final giant post-it note. We put the wishes along the left-hand side then asked what steps we can take to make them happen. “Become a better musician” becomes “Call my cousin about piano tuning” and “Go to the library for piano music books.” And, “Learn to drive” (yes, very scary) becomes “Go to DMV for driver’s handbook” and “Look up dates for drivers’ ed class registration.” After we came up with 3-4 steps that we could take for each goal, we added columns for “Next” and “Done.” We moved one note into the next column for each of our goals. My son wanted to move several notes into the next column, but I told him that only one step could be next. That seemed to help him understand what “Next” really means.

They were excited to get back to celebrations, but they told me that when they wake up today they plan to get to work on their goals and move notes into the done column.

Setting goals and checking in on progress can be easy. I want my children to understand how to move from vague ideas toward specific plans they control. Our 30 minutes with sticky notes was a good lesson. Now, the rest is in their hands.

Happy New Year! I hope you get everything you wish for, plan for, and work for.