The up side of simple chores

You’re struggling with eight bags of groceries, all by yourself, because your loving children have disappeared inside without a backward glance. You make it through the hallway only to trip on your oldest child’s coat. After trying to quickly put away the refrigerator items, your drama queen comes running in demanding to know when you’re going to change her sheets. Your son wanders in and wants to know what you’ve made for lunch.

As you look around at your family, you suddenly wonder, why am I the only one working?

Sound familiar? It doesn’t have to. There are simple chores your kids can be in charge of that will make your everyday life easier and the kids more responsible.

Everyday ups

Pick up. In the few short minutes it takes to answer the phone, your youngster can have your tidy living room turned into a sea of play things. Cathy Hannigan, mother of two in Gurnee, has a system to help her kids clean up effectively. When they were about 18 months old, she had them clean up by picking up toys and putting them into a basket. Hannigan wanted her children to realize that everything had a place. As her children got older, she made a basket or set aside a place for each type of toy. She labeled it with a picture and the name of the toy. Then she would role play how to put the toys away. This was a fun way to get her boys to understand what she wanted."The toys are theirs and it should be their responsibility,” she says.

Set up. You have worked hard to get food to the table. Now it is your child’s turn to help. Even a young child can lend a hand. Although she may not be ready to bring out the plates or drinks, she may be able to put out silverware and napkins. When you feel your child is ready, have her bring out extras like salad dressing or condiments. After the meal, they can help clear the table.

Hang up. If you want your child to take care of his coats and hats, you have to give him opportunities to be successful. Add a hook on the wall at your child’s level, so he can hang up his coat. Be sure to have a convenient spot for his hat and sunglasses. Try using a plastic shoe box container with his name on it so he knows exactly where to put it when he comes in and where to find it the next time he goes out. Lastly, find a location near the door for his shoes and show him how to line them up neatly so no one trips.

Weekly ups

Fold up. Doing the laundry offers many opportunities for your child to pitch in and help. From start to finish, laundry can be broken down into many smaller, more manageable jobs. Your child should have a hamper in his room so he can put the clothes into it instead of on the floor. On laundry day, your child can collect the hampers, assist in sorting into piles, help rotate loads, fold and put away his own laundry. Begin by giving your child just one part of the chore. Add on when he is able to do the first one consistently. A child as young as 18 months can put his own clothes in the hamper and take dry clothes out of the dryer. By age 10, if shown, your child could follow all the steps by himself.

Dish up. Denise Orlando, a mother of four from Mount Prospect, had her children help with meals from a young age. Her children learned their way around the kitchen and were making simple dinners, like spaghetti and all-in-one casseroles, on their own by age 10. Start with small activities that add to the meal, like getting out ingredients, washing the vegetables or adding lunchmeat to a sandwich. As your child gets more comfortable you can expect more from her. Just think—when she’s ready—you’ll get a whole night off from cooking dinner. Orlando says she teaches her girls that"being part of a family means working together to help our family run smoothly and we couldn’t do this without them.”

Change up. Changing sheets on the bed is a chore even your young child can be involved with. Your child will probably love to tear his bed apart, but getting him to put it back together is the hard part. Start by having him put the pillow case on. This can be a little tricky. Lend a hand as needed, so he doesn’t hit frustration level and stop helping. Next, have him help with one corner of the fitted sheet. As he gets better, add corners. Then have him lay the flat sheet on top. When he’s ready, have him help with tucking in. Lastly, have him place the comforter on top.

Ups on demand

Wipe up. Part of keeping your child from crying over spilled milk is teaching them how to take care of it when it happens. Accidents happen, but that doesn’t mean the parent has to clean up. The earlier your child becomes responsible for her own spills, the more careful she’ll become. Kids as young as 2 can wipe up an area but still might need an adult to check, especially with a sticky spill.

Stock up. Grocery shopping can be an exhausting experience. There are a few simple ways your child can be an asset and not a liability while shopping. Start off the trip with small jobs your child can be in charge of, such as holding the list, pushing the cart or opening the produce bags. In the checkout line, have your child help put the food on the conveyer belt. When you get home your child can bring in the bags. For a younger child, give him individual items. Your child can be instrumental in putting the food away, too. Choose a type of food for your child to be in charge of, such as canned goods or lunch meat.

Fill up. You go to grab a napkin because your hands are dirty from breakfast only to find it empty. The paper towel roll and tissue box are bare. In desperation, you look to the toilet paper only to find a barren roll. Teaching your child to replace the empty rolls will be helpful for the whole family. If you want your child to replace the item, then have it in a spot she can reach. You need to lead by example. Be sure to have her close at hand when you change a roll, so she’ll understand exactly what is expected.

“Doing chores or simply following routines of putting toys away when finished teaches children important skills such as cooperation and responsibility,” says Gina Finaldi-Schmidt, a school psychologist for District 46 in Lake County."Chores also teach children about fairness and commitment—and these values will benefit kids throughout their lives.”

Once all of the chores are finished up, the family can have some down time.

More tips to try

Gina Finaldi-Schmidt, school psychologist for District 46 in Lake County, shares her tips on teaching your child a new chore.

• Break down the chore into small parts. Also be very specific with your instructions. For example,"Clean your room” may be too vague. Use precise directions, such as"Put your clothes into the hamper, the books on the shelf and your LEGOS into the box.”

• Show your child how to do the chore. This shows him exactly what is expected of him and is a great time to do some silly role playing.

• Explain why she needs to do the chore. Tell her that what she is doing is important and describe how it helps the family.

• Praise him for successful completion and effort.

• Decide on logical consequences for chores not getting done. Children should be aware ahead of time of what will happen if the chore is not done. When she is old enough, she should be a part of the process of choosing the consequences as well as the rewards for a job well done.

• Teach only one new chore at time. Be sure that she can do it consistently before moving on to other chores.

• Create a chore chart. Your child can make check marks once the chore is finished. The visual reminder may require less"nagging” from you.

• Use the"When/Then” technique. For example,"When the dog is fed, then you can have your snack” or"When your toys are picked up, then you can play on the computer.”

• Have a"Bonus Day.” Once in a while hide a little surprise, like some coins, in an area she needs to clean. Whatever she finds, she gets to keep.

Amber Beutel is a teacher, private tutor and mother of two children living in Grayslake.

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