Chores for Little Ones

A reader asks:

I have 5 children ages 8 and under. I am just adopting the ideas of training children to have good habits and to do their best. Do you have any suggestions of where and with whom to start? I do try to teach them to obey right away and to be kind. Their rooms looks like a bomb exploded in them. They do have table chores which are not done with excellence and they do not pick up after themselves. I am going to institute a “together” chore time like you suggested and start working with my 4 year old on doing the silverware neatly.

Off the top of my head I can give you a few tips that may help you see your way better with so many little ones.

Keeping the Bedroom cleanIf a child is told to clean up his room and there are a lot of toys out, he can be easily overwhelmed just by the sight of the mess and give up on the idea. First and foremost, purge unused and broken toys. Do this on a regular basis. Children do not need a lot of toys. It stunts their imagination. Secondly, make sure that toys with many small parts are organized into sturdy plastic boxes of some kind to make clean up easier. Keep the room simple and organized so that clean up times are easy.

I suggest you make and enforce a rule that only a set number of toys may be out at a time. If they don't follow the rule, put the majority of toys up in the top of the closet or put a lock on their closet door. You get down a few toys at a time for them and they don't get to have any more until they have completely cleaned up the first ones-perfectly. Now they have fewer toys to clean up. Any child can clean up a few toys. The littlest ones (1 to 3yr olds) need Mama by their side continually singing and helping them, but 4 yrs old and up should be trained to clean up by themselves. This is a gradual process requiring patience and consistency. When they have earned your trust in this area, eventually the toys can be placed in a more accessible area for the children.

Never let the room become a disaster. I always have the kids clean up their room before they leave it to go play elsewhere and also before every meal and bedtime. In this way, it is being picked up four or five times a day routinely. When we have guests coming, we put up some of the toys in a closed closet because we understand that not all children are taught to pick up after themselves. This helps clean up time to be more enjoyable afterwards.

If clothing is a problem, go through your children's closets and drawers and figure out how many outfits are necessary per child. Most children don't need more than 7 outfits a season. Give away the rest. Be ruthless. This will free up so much space and allow your child to be in charge of keeping his drawers neat.

Chores for Little Ones
I also suggest that you begin to include your little ones in daily chores. You don't need elaborate lists. Just include them when you are unloading the dishwasher, cleaning windows, folding clothes, etc... They need to get used to work as a normal part of life. This prepares them for a more formal daily routine when they are a little older.

If children are trained at a young age to work around the house, they grow to appreciate it and feel like a very important part of the family because they are contributing something valuable. When my son was 5 yrs old he daily made his bed, straightened his room, cleaned his bathroom sink, swept the mudroom and kept the shoes straight, fed the dog and cats, help clear the table and put away silverware. His weekly chores involved emptying trash cans, shaking rugs and helping with zone chores as a family. This didn't not include spur-of-the-moment chores I gave him throughout the day such as running little errands, cooking beside me, weeding the garden, etc... He still had plenty of play time but was already becoming very responsible. He felt needed and this helped him have a healthy self image.

I hope that helps a little,

one step at a time...


4 Moms 35 Kids