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.

Energetic, Adopted Preschooler

Q: I am a single mom who adopted my three-year-old daughter two days after her birth. She is super energetic and sometimes aggressive. Her current phase involves saying, “No!” to everything as well as changing her mind on every choice I give her. For example, I will say, “Do you want peas or corn?” Her answer: “Corn.” I fix the corn, then she screams, “No, I want peas!” It happens with any choice lately. any advice on her bossy and fickle behavior?

Tired

A: This is normal 3-year-old behavior. It sounds like she had a fairly calm toddler period and is now asserting herself more. All four of my kids breezed through the twos, but became rather like little dictators in the threes, much like your daughter.

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Part of the problem is that you’re giving her too many choices. Kids should not make many decisions on a daily basis—that’s the parent’s job. Asking her what she thinks or wants each time there’s a possible choice gives her way too much control and say-so in the running of your household. Soliciting her opinion on what should be served or done or worn elevates her to be your equal because you’re giving her veto power.

Unfortunately, parents today have heard that children should have more a say in what they eat, wear, do, or go than warrants their tender years. Kids are not capable of making rational decisions or of even making the right decision for their own well-being. After all, most children would prefer to eat ice cream and candy for dinner, rather than the well-balanced and healthy meal you cook for them. Sure, we should let them make a small number of inconsequential choices, but at age three, kids should only be allowed to decide one or two things on a daily basis.

Here’s the nitty-gritty answer: Ignore her nos—that’s just white noise because she didn’t get what she wanted at that moment. If she throws a temper tantrum beyond yelling “No!,” confine her to her room until she calms down. Give her only one or two choices a day, such as letting her pick out her outfit or choosing her lunch option. (By the way, your daughter’s adoption has nothing to do with her behavior. It’s all part of the growing up process.) She’s going to complain, throw temper tantrums and basically act like someone who can’t make up her mind. Again, this is very normal!

When she does protest her choice (or your choice for her), don’t try to reason with her or try to get her to see the illogical nature of her response. Deal with the temper tantrum if necessary and ignore her protestations.