Getting children involved in chores at a young age helps them feel good about themselves, writes Arlene Harris
The phrase 'A mother's work is never done' is something we are all familiar with - and of course it applies to dads too - because as soon as children arrive on the scene, there never seem to be enough hours in the day. And for many stay-at-home parents, it can appear as though they do precious little other than cater to their child's every whim.
But would-be parents Prince Harry and his new wife, Meghan Markle, are apparently keen for their unborn child to have as 'normal' an upbringing as possible, with household chores being part and parcel of their life.
Some seasoned parents will laugh at the notion of getting a toddler to do chores, but not only is it entirely possible (my own three boys were a dab hand at tidying up their toys and putting clothes back in their drawers by the time they were old enough to make a mess) but experts say it is vital for parents to teach their children how to clean up after themselves - and the sooner, the better.
"Asking your child to help is normal, natural and beneficial for them," says child psychologist Peadar Maxwell. "It makes them feel good that they are helpful and can do something and it's also a teaching moment which gives parents the chance to praise their little ones - but I prefer to call it 'helping out' or 'little jobs'.
"So don't delay in giving your child a task; of course, with toddlers, think about what's right developmentally and what is safe for them to do - and approach asking for help and teaching those tasks positively. But don't insist on or expect perfection, as that's not reasonable. Instead, ease your child into little tasks such as tidying up with lots of help, maybe singing as you tidy together and descriptively praising their efforts. That means not over-praising, instead simply describing what your child is doing in a positive voice such as: 'Seán, you're putting away all of your blocks. That looks great and it really helps Daddy. Thank you.' As your toddler becomes more capable, keep praising her or him descriptively but try to hold back on too many prompts and reminders. Just be clear, calm and positive in your request."
Joanna Fortune - author of 15-Minute Parenting: The Quick and Easy Way to Connect with Your Child - agrees and says chores are so important that she has dedicated an entire section to the subject in her new book.
"Chores are an excellent way to encourage independence skills and to provide opportunities for specific praise on a daily basis," she says. "The Stanford Toddler Studies back up what I have anecdotally been observing in my work with children for years: that in order for praise to correlate to increased self-esteem in children, it must be authentic and it must be specific. Part of being in a family is that everyone helps out and contributes to the working of the household - and chores are a great way for young children to do this.
"Even a two-year-old child can carry their used nappy to the bin and put their toys away in a toy box. But it is important that chores are not used to incentivise or reward a child; they are simply things that must be done every day. We praise the effort and the helping but we do not give them payment or treats, or incentivise them with promises of screen time if they do what is actually expected of them. If you set it up like this from the outset, it tends to alleviate the chances of it becoming part of a power struggle."
Some parents feel that waiting for a young child to complete a simple task isn't worth the hassle, particularly if a request is being met with a tantrum. But Joanna, a clinical psychotherapist specialising in both child and adult psychotherapy at Solamh (solamh.com), says it is vital for parents to persevere with the need for chores to be carried out - as failing to do so may result in more issues later on in life.
"I would probably say that if parents don't bear with it now, they will be picking up after their children when they grow into teenagers and young adults (and perhaps even older adults) so long as they are in your home," she warns.
"Just make sure to give them time and the opportunity to self-correct. It is important to understand that, of course, it will take a small child longer to get something done than you could do it yourself, but speed isn't the overall objective - whereas engagement and active participation within the family unit is."
Peadar Maxwell says we should teach young children how to do a job properly by showing how it is done with actions, rather than words, and we should consider what tasks are appropriate.
Here, he has some suggestions for toddler-friendly 'chores':
● Making, or helping to make, their bed
● Bringing out the recycling with you
● Fetching the post from the hall
● Helping to clear the table of their own things
● Maybe helping in the garden or with a pet, with instruction
● Most certainly, helping to tidy up their toys and books
● For very young children, the task could be as simple as asking them to pass something or help if you are changing or seeing to another child
● Some older toddlers really enjoy housework such as vacuuming up crumbs, giving the dog food or carrying a light bag after the grocery shop