Should a Preschooler Have Chores?

Q: What chores are appropriate for a four-year-old to start doing on a regular basis?

A: This is a great question because it shows that you realize your four-year-old can—and should—contribute to the family’s upkeep. Too many times, we adults forget that young children, even toddlers, can do chores and help out around the house. Sure, a preschooler isn’t going to cook a four-course meal for us, but there’s lots he or she can do to contribute to the household and learn essential skills to boot.

Chores are as essential to a child as regular sleep and food because it solidifies his place in your home. A child who doesn’t help out around the house on a regular basis can acquire a sort of “guest” mentality. Chores, both daily, weekly and occasionally, ground a child in his proper place in the family.

And four year olds can do a lot! Some suggestions for weekly chores:

  • Helping to collect trash
  • Sorting/matching socks after laundry
  • Changing bathroom towels
  • Washing kitchen or bathroom floor with rag/bucket
  • Dusting baseboards

Some suggestions for daily chores:

  • Setting the table for dinner
  • Clearing own dishes after meals
  • Picking up/taking care of own toys/things
  • Making bed
  • Making own breakfast or lunch

Other occasional chores could include picking up sticks, watering plants, weeding gardens, helping with mulch, etc.

For more on how to implement chores and suggestions for how to teach kids how to do chores, I recommend my ebook Chores for Kids ($2.99).

For what every child should learn while living at home, read my article, “The key life skills parents should be teaching their children” in the Washington Post.

February Parenting Thought of the Month: The Consequence Trap

On Feb. 28, Sarah will host a webinar on “The Truth About Consequences.” Sign up today!

Today, many parents have a meh relationship with consequences—they know punishments should be doled out when a child misbehaves, but they don’t like having to carry out the sentence. The trouble lies in the fact that most parents view consequences as only punitive—that is, to punish a child for doing wrong.

That way of thinking makes it hard for moms and dads to be consistent with punishments and to actually levy strong enough consequences to make a difference in their child’s behavior. What they often forget or fail to recognize is that consequences have a purpose beyond a “sentence” for wrongdoing.

Consequences have two main objectives:

  1. To make a child feel bad about the misbehavior AND
  2. To make a child think twice about misbehaving in the future.

Most of the time, children don’t feel bad about doing the wrong thing on their own. It’s something we must teach our children. Not to shame them, but to help them recognize that there are right things to do and there are wrong things to do. Kids who don’t learn the difference usually have a more difficult time navigating life’s rough waters.

Images Copyright: Kat and Steve Smith |


To achieve the first objective, parents must be willing to allow their child to feel temporary (emotional mostly) pain or discomfort when correcting the misbehavior. A child who cries when caught with a hand in the cookie jar is feeling emotional pain, but mostly because he or she was caught. Levying a consequence will reinforce that wasn’t the right thing to do—and help the child remember not to reach into the cookie jar again without permission. Consequences should also deter a child from misbehavior in the future.

Sometimes, though, moms and dads don’t carry out a sentence that will impact a child’s future. In other words, we sometimes will levy minor punishments in the hopes that will curb future “crimes.” And when it doesn’t—as will happen at times—we pile on more minor consequences in the vain hope that those “slaps on the wrist” will change a child’s wrong direction.

We also misstep by telling a child exactly what will happen when he or she does something wrong, i.e., “You leave your bike out one more time, and I’m putting it away for a week.” On occasion, this will work as a determent or an incentive to correct behavior, but more often, a child simply decides he or she can “handle” the punishment, so does the crime.

What is more effective is a parent who simply does something when a child misbehaves, but the child has no idea what that will be. We follow this practice in our home, in that, we rarely tell our kids what will happen if they misbehave. What they do know is that we are very creative in our punishments, and that we “hit them where it hurts,” i.e., we tailor consequences to have the most impact on that particular child. Not a one-size-fits-all approach.

When a child doesn’t know what will happen—but does know it will be something that impacts his/her way of life negatively—the child will be more apt to think before doing the misdeed. That’s why you don’t always tell exactly what will happen, and you make sure your punishments are designed to maximize discomfort for the child. This is to help the child’s conscious to develop and to provide an external check to misbehavior.

Here’s one example from my household. When my oldest daughter, Naomi, was 10 years old, one of her daily chores was to refill the cats’ water dish before school each morning, which was in the downstairs bathroom. She started to get sloppy about it, and I would go downstairs after they were on the bus to find the water dish empty or nearly so. Nagging her didn’t help, and neither did a week of early-to-bed nights.

Then I realized she didn’t care enough to “remember” her chore—it was up to me to make her an offer she couldn’t refuse. The next day, I put up a 30 block chart on the fridge with Naomi’s name at the top. When she noticed it after school, I told her what it meant: She was to fill the cats’ water dish every day for 30 days, telling her dad or me so we could check it. If she missed a day, the 30 days started all over from day 1. Once she had gone 30 consecutive days without reminders or misses, she would get her books back.

Silence from Naomi. Then, “What do you mean I’ll get my books back?” I had noticed that she was reading in the mornings before school Now I love it that all of my kids love to read, but in Naomi’s case, it was interfering with her morning chores. So I took them away. For a month. No reading at all at home. She threw a fit (of course), but do you think she missed filling the cats’ water dish once in the next 30 days? Nope. Suddenly, her “memory” problem was fixed! Have I had to bring out the big guns like that again with her? Nope, that’s a memory that sticks! Have I had to remind her younger sister (2 years younger) to do her chores? Nope, she’s prompt because she doesn’t want something similar to happen to her.

Consequences should be memorable, cause a child discomfort, temporary (they don’t last forever in most cases), and provide a lasting lesson to deter future infractions.

Walking the Fine Line With Play-Fighting Boys

Q: We have four year old and three year old boys. They wrestle, fight, hit each other, push each other, etc., half of the time happily and the other half angrily. We know this is very normal behavior. But where do you draw the line? 

Our oldest is currently on the chart system (see the Discipline tab on this site for a description of how Charts work) for disobedience and tantrums. If he hits, kicks, threatens us, calls us names or throws things at anyone, he goes straight to his room. Also, if he hits anyone with an object he goes straight to his room. 

But with the boys tussling, we’re not sure how much to interfere with their hitting and being mean to each other. It’s very equal, one is not worse than the other. Our friends and family all smile and say things like, “They’re typical siblings,” and “They’re just being boys.” We want them to be boys, not girls, but how much is too much?

A: Ah, boys! So energic! So fighting with each other 24/7! At least, that’s been much of my experience, especially when my two boys were preschoolers (they are close in age as well, now 9 and 11). On the one hand, you want to encourage wrestling and play fighting because they do love to do it. But on the other hand, you don’t want it to devolve into something nasty and hurt their relationship with each other.

The line between “everyone’s having fun” to “he hurt me” is razor thin. So how do we guide our boys to have fun but not cross that line? Here are some things that worked for us.

Banish the name calling. We absolutely forbid any derogatory names at all—no stupid, dummy, moron, etc. When we hear one child call another one such a name, we immediately call him or her on it and put a stop to it. Now, this doesn’t eliminate the name calling entirely, but it does keep it to a minimum and lets all the kids know it’s unacceptable.

Separate when necessary. Sometimes, the boys will want to play together more than they should because too much togetherness can trigger more rough play. But at 3 and 4, your boys aren’t able to voluntarily take themselves out of the playtime when things start to head down that pathway. So enforce time apart a couple of times a day (like for half an hour in the morning, and again in the afternoon). This will help calm things down.

Remind them how brothers treat each other. We often say, “Brothers love each other,” “Brothers treat each other with kindness,” “Brothers aren’t mean to each other” to our boys. We also talk one-on-one on occasion when we see one being meaner than the other on how to make allowances for differences, how to adjust their own expectations, and how they wouldn’t like someone to treat them the same way (Golden Rule).

Give them separate activities when possible. It’s tempting to always lump the boys together for activities at this age, but occasionally having one do something the other isn’t can help their playtime. Don’t insist that both go to the same parties or playdates.

Above all, give them space and time to be noisy, loud and boisterous in their play with each other. All too often, we shush and hush and constrict our kids when it’s not necessary. So yes, let them be boys but also guide them to be kind to each other.

Battling for Your Children Against the Father of Lies

by Connie Almony

I’m not perfect. I’m one of those sinner-types who needs a Savior.

Sooooo … being a Savior-needing sinner, who’s done a few things I’d hate for my kids to repeat, how can I be a good role-model for them?

When I signed up to write a parenting post, a number of ideas came to mind. I’m trained as a counselor and have worked with young people all my life. However, having a well-grounded 16-year-old daughter, I decided to ask her what she appreciated most about my parenting. She answered, “Being real!”

I’ve never hidden from her my flaws, faux paus or the sins of my past. Granted, I haven’t dumped them in her lap at one setting, either. But when she asks, “Have you ever done…?” wondering if I’ve strayed from my own standards, I answer her openly. Some would think this gives her license to call me a hypocrite, since she is not allowed to copy my sins. You know, saying “You did <insert sin>, why can’t I?”

She has yet to do this, because I’ve already given her the answer. It goes like this:

“Because I’ve been to the funerals. I’ve seen the destruction wreaked on those who’ve survived their sin—including myself. I’ve witnessed that which I hadn’t first understood, and now trust the God (and sometimes the parent) who knows more than I do.” In other words, I don’t just bare my brokenness, allowing her to also be aware of her own need of a Savior—I teach her how God loves us best by creating boundaries designed to make our lives fruitful.

It is because she knows I am aware of the power of temptation, and that I don’t judge the people succumbing to it (we often pray for them), and she knows the pressures I faced (and sometimes succeeded against), that she and her friends are open with me. They often come to me after school to describe the toxic choices of some of her fellow students. After these disclosures, we talk (again) about the temptations to do these things (sex, drugs, what-have-you) and the effects of giving-in.

My daughter has been discouraged from stating she will never engage in a particular sin. Why? Because, as I’ve told her, the minute you believe you could never do that sin, satan discovers you are unprepared for the temptation he can throw at you. She didn’t understand.

I said, “Imagine …”—this is where being a fiction author is helpful— “… you are struggling in school, and just as everything seems at its worst, I die. You no longer have me to come to. Your dad is riddled with grief and the stress of caring for you and your autistic brother all by himself. A friend shows you a tiny pill she claims will take your mind off your troubles. What could it hurt? It’s only a teeny pill. And it’s free (for now).”

My daughter’s delayed response was heavy with understanding. “Oh.”

I said, “Yeah. That’s how satan rolls.”

When battling against the father of lies, the best defense is always openness and Truth.

About Connie Almony
Connie Almony is trained as a mental health therapist and likes to mix a little fun with the serious stuff of life. She is a 2012 Genesis semi-finalist for Women’s Fiction and received an Honorable Mention in the Winter 2012 WOW Flash Fiction Contest. Her newest release, Arise from Dark Places, is an edge-of-your-seat inspirational retelling of Sleeping Beauty. Connect with Connie on her website.


A Toddler Who Hits

Q: Our 27-month-old son who goes to a child care center in a Bible study once per week is hitting and pushing other babies in the class. He specifically hits the younger kids either with a toy or pushes them over unprovoked. He has done this two times at a park, and when I am there, we immediately leave the park. How do we handle this situation especially when I am not with him in the Bible study?

Sometimes, toddlers tussle with each other like felines.

A: I often compare toddlers to cats—both can be intractable and both generally won’t do what you want them to do! And trying to keep toddlers from tussling with each other is like trying to keep cats from play fighting. It’s impossible!

This is generally a phase many children go through at this uncivilized age. Toddlers are easily frustrated, want their own way, and lash out at the closest object when things don’t go their way. Hitting and pushing are common outflows of toddler frustration. But a 2-year-old doesn’t have the long-term memory to receive a punishment later nor the self-control to simply stop.

So leaving immediately when an incident occurs is a good way to handle it. So is separating him from the other children, which is unlikely to happen in a childcare center setting.

There’s a couple of ways to handle this during Bible study. Tell the workers to immediately let you know when he hits or pushes another child, and have them isolate him from the other children. Then you come and get him and go home. Yes, this means you will frequently be leaving study early, or sometimes have to turn around and leave right away.

Or you could simply stay home for a couple of months to give him time to mature, continuing the leaving immediately if he hits/pushes during play dates or park outings, etc.

I understand this will be an inconvenience and that you want that time with other adults. But remember, this isn’t forever—it’s temporary—and sometimes, being a parent means we have to miss out on things because our child needs time to grow up so that he can play appropriately with other children.

Parenting Advice That Makes You Go Hmmmm: Giving Homework to Parents?

In the fall, Fairfax County Public Schools included this little gem in its weekly email under the headline: “Tips for Parents: Let Your Elementary-Age Child Give You Homework.”

The short piece read like this: “For many parents, it’s been a long time since they had to do homework. So when their children complain about it, they aren’t always sympathetic. Parents can better understand what their children are going through if they go through it too. Once every week or so, let your child give you an assignment. Even if it’s easy for you, don’t show it. Instead, ask your child to help you. One of the best ways for children to learn something is by teaching it to someone else. It will make your child feel important and a little smarter. It’s a great ego booster.”

To which I scratched my head at the convoluted thought process: I can’t understand my child not wanting to do homework because I don’t have any homework of my own? However, I did go to school, and at that time, I did have homework. But those distant memories aren’t enough for me to emphasize or sympathize with my fourth or fifth grader today.

Furthermore, life is full of things we don’t want to do, like dishes, laundry, grocery shopping, housecleaning, bill paying, taxes, etc. All of us, no matter if we “work” outside the home or not, have busy work (aka, homework) that needs to be done that we don’t particularly like doing. Learning how to summon the internal will to do such work is part of growing up—and the more our youngsters have to deal with unpleasant but necessary tasks, the more used to them they’ll become and the more able to overcome their natural resistance to get ‘er done.

I originally posted a brief comment on Facebook after receiving the email, and I quickly found out I wasn’t the only parent wondering why this was put forth as a good idea. One local reader—who has kids in Fairfax County Public School too—said, “What cracks me up about that argument is that we have experienced it…because we went to school. And we had homework! And my parents just asked if I did it. They didn’t sit over my shoulder to make sure I did it and they certainly didn’t offer to do any assignments with me!”

Another pointed out, “The great thing about being human is that I can imagine what it’s like to have a mouthful of thumbtacks without experiencing it!!!” One poster had a good thought: “If kids can give parent’s homework, then can parents give teachers homework?”

The bottom line is that parents can empathize with our kids without resorting to dumb ideas like allowing them to assign us homework that we pretend to have trouble doing. When I read this out loud to my kids at dinner one night, my high schooler, middle schooler, fifth grader and fourth grader thought it was a pretty funny—and very strange—idea. As my fifth grader said, “Why would I want to give you homework?”

It’s ideas like this that make kids sometimes view adults as, well, not the brightest bulb in the socket.

How to Handle Disrespectful Teenager?

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Q: I am a mom of 4 kids: 15-year-old girl, 13-year-old boy, 10-year-old girl and 8-year-old boy. My oldest, at around age 9, stared eye rolling and disrespectful behaviors that has only gotten worse. I limit electronics/TV/social media while my husband historically has not. He prefers them quiet even if they are watching TV for hours. If I took away TV or electronics privileges, he often undermines my decision and allows the kids to do what has been taken away or go to their friend’s house even if they are being punished for something.  (Does not like confrontation.) He is either doing nothing (completely ignoring them even if they are misbehaving) or screaming.

Recently, my oldest used my credit card without permission and spent $700 online and had it shipped to her friend’s house so I wouldn’t notice. She did this two years ago ($100 of Victoria’s Secret stuff we returned and she was punished). She often calls me names and swears at me/disrespects me (I took her to counseling because of this because I am a 4-year breast cancer survivor and wasn’t sure if she was having issues with this).

I have taken away her phone, social media, told her she is paying me and giving me the clothes, no profanity, no sports, and on house arrest until further notice. My husband is now “feeling bad” and being overly sweet to her even though she did this to herself! Our marriage is suffering because I resent him for not being on the same page on parenting. How long do I punish her for? Am I doing this right? I do not want a criminal for a daughter or my other kids to think this is okay. Thank you so much!

A: I know it’s hard not to be on the same parenting page as your husband, as it can cause distress and problems, much like you’ve outlined in your question. But I would encourage you to sit down with your husband not to tell him what he needs to do, but to talk sincerely how he feels things are going in relation to your kids. What does he think about what happened with your oldest? What are his thoughts on consequences/punishments? Does he feel there are things that could be done differently? And listen, really listen, without judgment, without adding your two cents’ worth, without jumping in and trying to fix things. That will be difficult, but until you can start having honest conversations with your husband, things won’t get better.

You also have to let go that you know the best, only way to raise these kids. You married this man, and had four kids with him—there must be something about him that you love and admire. See if in your conversations with him you can draw out those qualities that made you fall in love with him. See if he can use those qualities to interact with your kids because kids need parents who have different perspectives.

And you can have different ways of parenting that reach the same goal—so that’s why I’m urging you to talk with your husband to find out his thoughts. How would he handle these situations? It doesn’t sound like he wants your kids to run amok entirely.

Also talk about the purpose of punishment—to make a child feel bad about what happened and to help the child’s conscious to pipe up at the beginning of the next time, to check the child before the child misbehaves. Kids often don’t feel bad on their own—they need outside influences to make them uncomfortable so that they will self-correct the next time (because there’s always a next time). I think if your husband has a better understanding of why consequences are necessary, he might be more in tune with giving them. If a consequence doesn’t hit a child where it hurts, then the child won’t be motivated to change her behavior.

Finally, it’s okay to show your child love even while punishing them! You can love and punish at the same time—that’s not mitigating the consequences, that’s showing mercy and grace to a child who’s suffering from her own choices. As for how long to punish her, let her attitude be your guide. But while she’s under house arrest, be kind to her, and show her that you love her dearly.

Why Studying the Past Helps Children, Teens View the Future

By Gail Kittleson

It goes without saying that war changes people. I would add that studying war can change a person, too. I’ve experienced this myself, and shudder to think of the real facts of our historical record being altered or whitewashed for students. How can they ever come to appreciate the common humanity we all share if they’re sheltered from the veracity of history, including the cruelty humankind afflicts on its own?

As an historical fiction author, I focus on the World War II era, where individuals learned about evil by surviving when that maliciousness was unleashed upon them. Those who lived to tell the story longed for justice and peace, and to put the hatred behind them.

One brief example of this transformation is memorialized not far from my Iowa home. Camp Algona, in a town by the same name, was built on farmland to house German troops captured in North Africa and Normandy. The citizens of Algona, as anti-Nazi as any other normal Americans of the time, had no choice but to accept the presence of the enemy in their area.

Thousands of German troops were processed at this main camp, and some were sent to smaller branch camps across the Midwest. But some of the most virulent devotees of Adolph Hitler, including officers from his North Afrika Korps, remained at Camp Algona for an extended time.

The army assigned a commander and guards from various parts of the United States, MPs and others who could not deploy for one reason or another. But a large share of the workers came from civilians, ordinary people from Algona and the surrounding area.

What transpired fascinates me—the prisoners worked in crews to help farmers plant and harvest, make hay and weed their fields. They saved Minnesota’s 1944 pea crop. Because Camp Algona treated the prisoners according to the Geneva Convention, many of them experienced deep gratitude—enough to fashion a three-quarters size nativity scene as a gift to the city of Algona before they were sent back to Europe.

In business interactions, friendships were formed. Some prisoners kept in touch with Iowans after they returned home. A few, facing utter devastation in Germany, worked hard to return to Iowa and start over.

This is just one side-story from a horribly cruel war. And here’s the irony—I grew up about an hour and a half from Algona. A couple of branch camps were about half an hour away from our family farm, but I never heard about the POW camps until the last decade. When I share about Camp Algona with book clubs, most people are not aware of this unique thread from the war here in Iowa.

As parents, we can help our youth learn from history and recognize themselves in stories like Camp Algona. Through research and proactive interaction with our school systems or home school organizations, we can help bring history alive to our children and teens—and bring home the thread of humanity that runs through us all. But one thing is sure, if we sweep the past under the rug, vital lessons about our common humanity will be lost.

About Gail Kittleson
When Gail’s not steeped in World War II research or drafting scenes, she does a limited amount of editing for other authors. She also facilitates writing workshops and classes, both in Iowa and Arizona, where winters find her enjoying the incredibly gorgeous Ponderosa forest under the Mogollon Rim. Favorites: Walking, reading, meeting new people, and hearing from readers who fall in love with her characters. Visit Gail at and

Mom Says Kids Exhaust Me!

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Q: I am a homeschooling mother of three girls ages 9, 7 and 3. I frequently feel so exhausted around my kids. I know there is a better way, and I keep trying to get there, but I never quite make it. Let me explain what today felt like, and how I just feel I am not doing this job right.

We went to the bank to open a bank account. The process was lengthy and took about 30 minutes. My kids were not listening to me and being loud. I tried to get them to play telephone games and such, but it was to no avail. So trying to focus on opening the account, then all of them making noise was not fun. A lady finally brought out some crayons but that activity lasted for about 5 minutes before my youngest was tired of that and started running around. I had one stand against the wall (the little one) for a while. Then had one stand at the opposite wall to just separate them.

I feel I should be able to do something like open a bank account and have the girls be well-behaved. Are my expectations far from the truth? Is what I experienced how it should be? I feel broken that I am not attaining this. And I have been struggling with this concept for 9 years.

Also, now that this has happened, what is my next step after the bank incident? Should I take away all their belongings? I have spoken about respect and taken plenty of things away ( this whole week they missed out on karate because they would not pick up their things). I guess I am just feeling powerless and broken (this is not my usual self)!

I would be so happy to hear your expert advice!

A: Please know that you are not alone in your feelings of exhaustion when it comes to raising kids. You are homeschooling and have three active kids, so that means you have a lot of time with them.

First of all, please make time for you a priority. I’m serious—you are running on empty and that’s not good for anyone. If you need to cut back on expectations in regard to schooling, do that to find at least half an hour a day when you are just you, not a mom or a wife or a teacher, just plain old you. Use that time not to do housework or run errands, but to rest however that looks like for you. It might be a job or walk, it might be sitting in your car by yourself just to regroup or reading a book or browsing Facebook. But make time for you happen daily. For example, when my kids were younger, I used to slip outside for 15 minutes each day when my kids were resting or napping—just to sit in the sunshine and let my mind rest.

Second, use some of your homeschooling time to teach and train your kids how to behave. We often simply expect kids will know what to do when out in public, so make sure you go over scenarios of how to entertain themselves appropriately when out. We have our kids bring something to do, like their church bags, which have “quiet” activities, such as coloring books/pencils/crayons, lace-ups, activity books with mazes or word searches, books, etc. Get your own go-bags, one for each child, then start having practice runs of short duration (5 minutes of sitting quietly, working up to 30 minutes or more). If you’re unsure of the wait time, bring snacks to help as well.

As for your expectations, yes, you should be able to have your kids wait quietly, but again, this takes training and teaching and preparation ahead of time. Some kids can just sit, but others need to know “how” to sit still—that’s where training comes in, as I’ve outlined above.

I would let the bank incident go for now and start fresh. You’re not powerless and you’re not broken. You can start 2018 on the right path to calm, confident parenting.