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Getting Kids To Do Chores Gladly

When it comes to helping out around the house, there's no such thing as being too old or too young for chores.

On Tuesday's The Early Show, Bonnie Maslin offers tips on how to get preschoolers to do their share at home.

Maslin is the author of the book, "Picking Your Battles: Winning Strategies For Raising Well-Behaved Kids."

What is the secret?

"One of the things I strongly suggest is you don't get too overwhelming for kids," Maslin tells co-anchor Rene Syler. "Don't use words like, 'You have to have responsibilities.' We make it kid-friendly. That is what I call kidology: Understanding kids. So we might start off with hands are for helping. Then when you, for example, put your child in the crib you can start that early. 'Mommy's hands help you in the crib.'"

According to Maslin, chores are like being in a minor league, called the family, which gives you training for the big leagues -- called school, work, real life.

She says, "At 18 months, children already know how to pretend play, by 3, they mimic adults. Use natural playfulness. Don't fight it; join it. Kids love to play. For example, play: Where do the block hide? You don't say, 'Put those blocks away right now.'"

She recommends having a place for your child's belongings, such as a place for the bedtime book, a basket for the toys, or a hamper for his or her laundry.

Maslin encourages parents to not see chores as "a drag," but as a job kids "get to do," which makes them feel big, strong, and able. "And that is just what family chores are, jobs to make them feel important, that they count," she says.

"Keep it simple, but predictable," says Maslin. "This orderliness can feel soothing to kids, and promotes getting things back where they belong. It helps children gain respect for possessions, and sets up as a calming ritual that things get taken care of. For example, say, 'Let's put Jonah's book in its special place, where it will wait for him tomorrow. Good night, book.'"

Maslin suggests several strategies for getting your pre-schooler to do his or her share of chores around the house:

Let Her/Him Choose The Chore: Give your child a choice, but a structured one, where either choice is acceptable. Say, "Would you like to set the table, or clear the table tonight?"

Tip: Create a "work wheel": Take a large cardboard circle and a small one. Put your family members' names on the smaller one and the chores on the larger one. Put the smaller circle inside the larger, and fasten the two together with a clip to create the wheel. Put the wheel up in the kitchen. Turn it each day so everyone gets a different task. If you have one child, you can let your child spin a pointer, and he or she gets the chore on which the arrow lands.

Build Their Confidence: Kids love to please, so give them an opportunity. You will need to give up perfection. Praise the effort, not just the outcome. Kids won't get it just right the first time.

And don't ask a child something beyond his or her capacity. For example, don't ask the child to carry a fragile glass off the table, then watch like a hawk or criticize him or her for not being careful. Remember, we give little ones fat crayons for a reason.

Tip: Get kid-sized equipment and kid-sized storage. For example, a small shovel or broom is easily available. Put low coat hooks in an entrance, within their reach. Try to put a low bar in a closet with child-sized hangers for their clothes. Give them a drawer that they can actually pull out or if not, when they are small, use baskets for their shirts, another for their pants, etc.

Show And Tell: Give Directions, Not Directives: Don't say something general such as, "Please, clear the table." Instead, say, "Please take your cup off the table and put it in the sink."

The most common and understandable mistake is assuming kids know what you are talking about when you give them a directive. Even simple things that they see all the time are not self-evident, such as hanging up clothes in a closet. Show how to take a hanger from the closet, put a shirt on it, and hang it up.

Tip: Start letting your child role-play chores he or she will soon be asked to do. For example, have him stage a birthday party for his favorite stuffed animals, dolls, robots, or pets, where he sets a table for the "invited" guests (encourage both boys and girls to learn domestic skills; they will both need them). At a later age, let your child invite some friends to join her for a party, and let the kids make the menu -- even if it is cookies and milk -- and set the table and clean up together.

Other advice:

  • Keep your goals reasonable. Make this your motto: My house is clean enough to be healthy and messy enough to be happy.
  • Praise the effort, not just the outcome: If children are not up to a task or practicing, there is room to value their efforts, even if they're not hitting the mark quite yet. Look at the glass as half-full. Don't say, "You missed getting all the blocks cleaned up." Say, "You got a lot of those blocks in the basket. Let's see if we can hunt for any that might have hidden from us." This is not something you will do until your child is thirty; it is what you do when your child is in the beginning of his or her learning curve.
  • Allowances can be great in helping a child learn to handle money, but paying for cooperation can end up backfiring. Kids might ask to be paid for their willingness to help. Cooperation is a needed life skill and is probably developed more effectively if it is not purchased.
  • Beam with joy that your little ones are getting so good at becoming a person. Use animated expressions and affection when you are showing your pride in him or her.
  • Use empathy and limits when your child is not up for the job at a particular time, such as when it interferes with his the favorite TV show. Say, "Yes, I know that it isn't fun to have to put away your toys when you'd rather be watching TV. But you need to put your toys away, even if it means you miss a few minutes of the program. Maybe tomorrow, I could give you a warning, so you could start cleanup earlier and not miss your program."