Working alongside our children

Eliyahu (22 months old) helps with dishes...

Melissa posted these questions in a comment last week:

I love reading about how you involve your children in your chores. This is something I'd like to read more of.

You have mentioned that you do your cleaning while your children are awake, which is just a mystery to me. When I have attempted this, we've ended up with more of a mess than we began with! I would like to hear a detailed description of how you work along-side your children. How do you get/keep them involved? How do you deal with them not even wanting to help you (or getting tired of it just as you've begun)?

Also - out of curiosity - do you follow a particular parenting "method"? If not, what standards to you use to discipline/bring up your boys?

First, I'd like to recommend my podcast from about 5 months ago: Cooking with Children. In that podcast, I try to explain and describe how I get my little ones involved in cooking. :) Now, about your questions... :)

Cleaning (or doing anything!) with little "helpers" takes extra time, especially when they're still small. And yes, it tests my patience lots of times, too! ;)

But for general cleaning, I let the children help by sharing the vacuum cleaner with them (before or after I've used it to vacuum what really needed done!), letting them use the hand-held vacuum (always after I'm finished with it, since they run the battery dead!), giving them their own cleaning rag (with water or vinegar sprayed on it), letting them sweep and try to use the dust pan, letting them help mop with their own rag, giving them a dust cloth...

Usually it is fairly easy to get them involved, since they're still at that age where the work is mostly fun for them! But, if we need coaxing, I sometimes offer a reward (such as a Tic Tac or some small treat) or a promise of something that comes "after".

For example, if Yehoshua isn't wanting to help sort laundry, I remind him that as soon as it's washed, we'll go outside to hang it up -- and he loves to go outside, since that means he gets to ride his bike while I hang laundry. :) Or, I'll say something like "After the dishes are done, we'll read a book together!" These sorts of "rewards" give him enough motivation to keep on helping. :)

Eliyahu helps with dishes...

The other thing that helps a LOT is to work right along beside them. I think pretty much every chore or job they do, there is a parent right there helping or directing. I'm sure this will change as the children get older (they're 3.5 and almost-2 right now).

This might mean that while I wash dishes, Eliyahu rinses/plays in the water, and Yehoshua clears the table and brings the dirty dishes to me. I am constantly thanking Yehoshua for the dishes he brings, and telling him what a great help he is being. He feels like he's doing his part for the family, and pulling his weight as a "big boy". And in the mean time, I'm "entertaining" both children while getting work done!! :D

Or, for a meal, I will tell Yehoshua how many forks or spoons to get out for us. He knows that it's his job to get out silverware (it's hard to start eating breakfast without a spoon for your cereal!) and so while I am busy with last-minute meal preparation, Yehoshua is right there helping set the table. (It's great for learning counting, too... :D)

From my personal experience, it seems that children do best when they are constantly directed and motivated by having a parent right with them. My boys do go off and play by themselves sometimes, but I don't (at least at the ages they are right now) just send them off to do a chore for me.

No one, children included, really wants to do a bunch of work if they feel like their authority figure is just sitting around. Now, Yehoshua WILL go and do things for me (like if I am resting, and ask him to bring me my water bottle, for example) but I really think his positive attitude about serving others is because he is made to feel like an integral part of the family, but with responsibilities. :)

Besides interspersing work with fun ("Let's do this first, then we'll play a game together!"), and occasionally giving a small treat or reward (which I also do as a surprise; when the children have been especially helpful or polite, I surprise them with some sort of treat and tell them they've been so helpful/kind/polite/etc.), I also give a lot of verbal encouragement.

I am truly so impressed with the things little children are capable of doing (or trying to do!!) and I tell them that a lot. :) Words are free, right? :) I don't try to make them prideful, and it's always sincere -- and I also try to praise what they've done or how they've acted rather than just praising them. So, for example, instead of saying "You're such a good boy!" I say "You did such a great job sweeping up those crumbs! The floor looks fabulous!!" or "Wow, you really got that window clean! It looks so nice." Praising their work makes them want to do good work in the future. :)

And lastly, I do try to keep things reasonable. We don't usually spend the whole day working. ;) We spend time playing, reading, coloring, and stuff like that. :) I don't feel like I'm forcing the children to work, because for the most part, we can find a way to make it fun, or some motivation to make it through another 5-10 minutes before we move onto play. :)

Right now, here is my chore chart for Yehoshua (3.5 years old):

•Help put away clean dishes (he puts away the ones in drawers or low cupboards)
•Help set the table for meals
•Help clear the table after meals
•Help fold laundry (washclothes, simple things)
•Help put away clean laundry (in the drawers he can reach)
•Pick up toys
•Help take out trash/compost

And here is Eliyahu's chore list (he's 22 months old):

•Help wash dishes (really, this is mostly playing in the water, though he does rinse the silverware and put them in the drainer for me)
•Put dirty clothes in the hamper
•Help put away clean clothes (mostly dish rags, which he runs to the cupboard one at a time, for lots of exercise!)
•Pick up toys

Those are the lists that I made to help ME remember to make sure the boys are doing "their" chores... since it's still too easy for me to just start folding laundry and forget to ask for help! :)

Sooooo, those are some of my thoughts on the topic. :) Remember, I just have two children, and they're still young -- so I am not an expert when it comes to raising children. :) But hopefully you've gotten a few ideas you can incorporate into your own home! :)

I'd also love it if some readers shared chore lists/ideas for their young children! I'm sure there are a lot more ideas out there than what I've had myself. :)

Melissa also asked about parenting methods. We don't follow any certain parenting methods, and haven't read a lot of parenting books (besides the Bible!). :) We do see the fruits of consistency and boundaries. We're still young, still learning, and still just getting started as parents. :) Through my blog here, you'll get an idea of how we live. We're not perfect, but we're always aiming high... higher than we attain. :)


Submitted by TaftMommy
Honestly, I need to get my kids pulling more of their share. ;) You're right though, it's easier for them to work if a parent is working alongside them. When I unload the dishwasher, it's 2 yr old's job to help. When I fold the laundry, it's 6 yr old's job to help and to put away. She is also responsible for keeping the livingroom floor picked up.

Other than that I just try to involve them in what I'm doing. And I've noticed that things...rub off. If there is a spill, my kids usually will take care of it themselves right away. If the broom is out, they want to sweep. I am not sure how long all that will continue, but for now I'm enjoying it. :D

Great Stuff
Submitted by SarahMay
Thank you so much, Tammy, for posting this! It's so encouraging to see someone who takes the time to involve their children--I see some parents with the "Oh, it's quicker and easier if I just do it myself" attitude (the same one I see in ME most of the time!). This post (along with your others about how your boys are involved with what you do) inspires me to encourage my children to be helpful and serving without using the "He's too little" excuse.


Submitted by Anonymous
I can remember my niece and nephew, still in diapers, happily standing on a sturdy old hat box and helping Daddy with the dishes by eagerly sorting the silverware. I remember them, too, at Grandma's proudly setting the table for big dinners and folding the napkins. Then I recall my nephew "graduating" to being aloud [with and adult] to light the candles for Christmas desert. And the pride of accomplishment that came with all that! No one is "too little" to help. Mom may not have the patience at that moment though! Many is the time my Mom "re-cleaned" when we or n/n were asleep to avoid hurting feelings. Let them help. Real work is necessary to healthy growth. I know that because my own children, pre-adoption, were given very little of this. Their pride in accomplishments like this is out of size for their age. Keep at it. Find the patience! Here are a few things they can easily do:

Sort dark or light or jeans or towels
Sweep or vacum [anyone else know a kid who "rode" the vacum cleaner?? When he's bigger he'll push it!]
Put stuffed animals on his bed in a nice order
Fold his napkin or put it in a napkin ring [if cloth is used]
Take his dishes to the sink

Kid sized stuff is fun, but expsensive. Still, my nephew LOVED his kid sized sweeper and I happily spent hours "ironing" my Daddy's handkerchiefs with my little iron next to my Mom. My daugher still loves using a little brush and dustpan.

We as Moms often just want it "done" and some days that's necessary. But, becuase they are little only once the do have only once to learn!

Lisa at


Submitted by rowannrose
Great ideas, Tammy! I can't wait till William is able to help in little ways. Right now, I just love to have him play with my pots and pans while I am busy cooking... he keeps me company. ;)


For older children
Submitted by shorty
I have older children, 11 and 6, and they still like to be right along side me. Now they both have stuff they do alone but we ALWAYS do the kitchen together and have fun doing it. We don't even have to try and have fun, it just happens. Here is what they do in the kitchen

11yo- dries as I wash, puts all dishes and pots away, clears counters and wipes them down
6yo-clears table, picks up all the stuff that fell on the floor (including toys the baby brought in), cleans under the high chair, puts all silverware away and does any odd job I can think of till we are all done.

I usually am washing this whole time. We make good messes!! As far as regular chores we break the rooms down and each gets what they can handle. The six year old gets more than he really can handle so I need to readjust that. Here is their every day chores they do alone

11yo-makes bed, cleans play room, swishes and swipes the toilet, cleans the hallway (yes there is a mess there more often than not), cleans up the living room, sweeps the kitchen, feeds all pets outside, takes out trash, cleans one bookshelf a day
6yo-cleans the bed room and makes his bed(there is no toys in there so it doesn't take long), swishes and swipes the bathroom counter (this is more fun for him than helpful, he likes to spray and wipe so he feels like he is doing something), feeds the cat, scoops the cat litter (he wanted this job, don't ask me why!hehe), help brother with outside pets (again he usually just plays with the goats or dogs but he still calls it help) and cleans one book shelf a day.

Usually we work all at the same time. I always have something to clean so I try to work when they do. We are changing up our schedule so I am not sure how it will work out now. My oldest is waking up much earlier than the rest of us so we will see. I hope I didn't bore you to tears!hehe

Thanks so much for this post, it is inspiring to keep working with our children even when it is hard. I also feel like I need to try and help my 6yo more often with his stuff. Thanks so much for this post


Older helpers
Submitted by Anonymous
We've always implemented chores for our kids. I remember as a child having them to do. Hubby grew up on a farm and there were always tons there as well. We've tried to not give them to many, so they have time for fun as well. This was a very helpful article though, because while they have they're chores, they are always complaining about them, I do tend to go take a break while they are doing they're chores. Here's what they get to do.

Our oldest is almost 8, she cleans the living room, bathroom, empties the litter box and sorts the laundry. Cleans off anything of hers on the stairs.

Our 2nd oldest is almost 6, he cleans the dining room and kitchen floors (they stay pretty clean) and feeds the dog. Cleans off anything of his on the stairs, and picks up the school/office floor.

Our youngest right now, is 2, he usually helps me switch the laundry (loves putting it in the dryer), picks up his toys for the most part. I also babysit another 2 yr old boy, so it gets hectic. Oh and I'm 6 months pregnant with our 4th child.

The older 2 take turns emptying the dishwasher, I than load it up. They both help clear and set the table. The youngest loves to try to help with the dishwasher, he often carries the non-breakable dishes to his sibling and loves throwing all the silverware in the drawer. Our oldest also enjoys helping with dinner.
I usually end up helping them clean they're bedrooms, they do it themselves, but it just takes forever. With small boys, it never stays clean. Stil working on that one. I usually vaccuum, but my son will often tell me, Mom I'm going to vaccuum the dining room today, so I gladly let him LOL.


Submitted by Anonymous
Little ones can do more than you think!

We recently instituted a more formal chore chart, and my 3 yo girl's jobs are:
clear and wipe the little table (we have a Little Tykes table in the kitchen for the small ones to use for snacks, while we schooling at the dining table) (she has a spray bottle with plain water and a washcloth)

Pick up the bathroom floor

make her bed (putting the pillow on the bed instead of the floor, nothing fancy!)

she's also the dustpan helper for whoever is assigned to sweep.

My 23 month girl loves to help with the dustpan (truly an exercise in patience for mama!) and unloading the silverware. She helps one. fork. at. a. time. It takes forever, so we don't do it everyday, but often she will run to the dishwasher when she hears it stop just so she can help.

She also shoves the wet clothes into the dryer so Mama doesn't have to bend down!

She loves to help put away the groceries too.

Thanks for the encouragement to keep them helping!


Submitted by melissalt
Thanks, Tammy!
This was good inspiration for me. My little ones are 2 1/2 and 1 yr. and I'm always looking for wise moms to learn from. I appreciate your advice.

very helpful
Submitted by Anonymous
Thanks for posting this Tammy. I find myself getting frustrated and just doing things myself. Also I struggle with wanting to help my daughter to hurry things up when I just need to let her take her time and get it on her own, even if it isn't perfect. The list gives me some good ideas about what my 2 1/2 year old might be able to handle on her own or with some help.


Submitted by Anonymous
I'm glad for that post! I needed the encouragement. My boys (4.5 and 2.5) don't have chore lists yet, but I have been trying to involve them in the chores more. My two year old loooooves to "wash dishes". And my 4 yo is happy as a clam if I give him a spray bottle and rag for the floors. He did our dining room floor this afternoon, and did a fine job. He's also good for baseboards, being so short. :D

Here's my List
Submitted by webseitler
Here are some of the things that Katie (4 1/2) does at our house:

- Set the table
- Clear the table
- Place the dishes in the dishwasher
- Put her laundry away
- Sort the dirty laundry (when we move, she'll help more with loading and unloading)
- Pick up her toys
- Clean her room
- Dust
- Scrub the counters
- Pour her own water from the pitcher

She's always been a good helper, especially when I was pregnant. She loves to help me and always asks to be a part of what I'm doing. :)

And Joshua, who is 16 months understands the words "Put it away!" He's learning how to help Momma and Sister, too. :)


Submitted by Mrs. Paradis
To say that I am not so structured with this.I do have my 12 year old do daily chores and it helps me out so much and I really appreciate it.

Now for my 7 almost 8 year old I don't know if I just thought he was to young for alot of things but I don't have him do alot.I am looking over these lists and making a list for him.

Could we talk about rewards for these?Do you give rewards for doing chores?I don't do money.I do rent them a movie once a month but I would like some other ideas too.

Any ideas to help me with this?


Chore chart
Submitted by Anonymous
We have 5 of our kids old enough to help with chores, and I was going nuts trying to remember who did what/earned what/etc.

So we made a chore chart and it's companion, the Privilege Ladder.

The chore chart is a bulls eye and has chores listed. Each kid has their own color thumbtack. If Pink is on Unload the Dishwasher, than Pink Girl has to do that.
Schoolwork is on there too!

When they are done they can move their tack under their name.

The privilege ladder currently has 6 levels - they started at level 6 but get busted down due to poor attitudes, etc. If they raise their hand in anger to someone else, they automatically bust down to level 1. They go up a level by completing all of their chores without Mom nagging, going to bed peacefully, or doing extra without being asked and good attitude. Sometimes their tack goes up and down quite a bit in a day!

Our privilege levels are:
Level 1 - Extra chores. Read. Play in bedroom (we don't keep toys in the bedrooms usually)
Level 2 - Snacks, draw. (They don't get snacks if they are on level 1. Snacks are not necessary but are a privilege!)
Level 3 - play outside, play in playroom (where the toys are)
Level 4 - Watch TV, crafts, scissors and glue, playground privilege (our church has a slide and swings area), ride bikes
Level 5 - Computer time, Go to Boy Scouts, go to other group activities, Baking with Mom, Earn treats for extra work.
Level 6 - Playdoh, go to store or errands with parents, allowance payout, use markers and paint.

The children get an allowance each week (to teach them about money) but they can't actually get paid unless their room is clean and they are on level 6. Mom holds it until they are qualified for payout.

The privilege does not mean they automatically get to watch TV - just the TV time is available if Mom finds a show for them or gets a movie, etc. Store/errands does not mean that I will drop everything and run them to Target, but that if I happen to be going to the grocery store, they are allowed to come with me.

Hope it helps to see how some families do it!

Chores for children and rewards
Submitted by Tammy
Thanks for all the great input, everyone! I've enjoyed reading all the comments on this topic! :)

Mrs. Paradis asked about what I give out for rewards. We sometimes have Tic Tacs, which are much-coveted rewards. ;) But that is about the only candy we ever have. :) I might give out a cookie, or say, extra whipped cream on the dessert after dinner, or just something "more" than usual; even if it's not that big of a treat, Yehoshua is always excited when we tell/show him that he's getting something "extra" for being good. :)

I also will do things like taking the children outside to play with trucks, letting them play with play-dough, or reading books. Reading books isn't necessarily a "special" treat (since we do it every day, anyway!) but Yehoshua LOVES to listen to books and we have enough variety that he doesn't get tired of them. :)

Submitted by Anonymous
We homeschool, so NOT having the kids do chores is not an option. Mine are 9 and 4-a little older, but have been doing chores since they were both very little. If someone is looking for a good book on the subject of chores, I would recommend Manager of their Chores. You can google it and find it. This book is about 25-30 dollars, I think, but is well worth the money. The whole book is about assigning chores, and fitting them in your daily life. They use things called "Chorepacs" which are cards with different chores labeled on them in a little pac they wear. They go through each one and viola! the chores are done! VERY helpful to me when I first got pregnant and was sick most of the time.

I could go on and on about this subject, but the book is a lot better at explaining

Working with Littles
Submitted by missusmechanic
Hi Tammy, I just wanted you to know that I did a series on my blog a few weeks ago called "Littles in your Day - Working with Littles". If you are interested go take a peek. Go to the sidebar and look for the series. I have lots of pictures on there. Hugs...

good post
Submitted by Lilyofthevalley
I also have a chore list for my children to follow each day. Having them helping me more with other chores, is something I need to work on more. I often have the thoughts I can get it done so much faster without their help! But that is not good thinking... Good post, Tammy! I needed the reminder... ~Tanya

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