Imagine this: Every morning, your child makes his bed and puts away his pajamas. Before dinner, he sets the table and feeds the dog. And on Sundays, he helps wash the car.
Although having your child willingly help out around the house may seem like wishful thinking, five and six-year-olds can—and should—do regular chores. Assuming more responsibility at home is as crucial for children as learning to read, being physically active, and making friends.
“Children this age are better able to concentrate on a specific activity than they were at 3 or 4,” says Virginia Stowe, director of New York City’s Parenting Resource Center, Inc. They’re more adept with their hands and less likely to be discouraged by small setbacks, such as a tangled vacuum-cleaner cord. In addition, they have a sincere desire to please you and are proud of their accomplishments, such as dusting a tabletop or pouring milk without spilling it.
“In nineteen years of teaching, I can’t remember a child who didn’t wave his hand to be picked as snack helper or door holder,” says Marjorie R. Nelsen, author of A Child’s Book of Responsibilities. “Helping around the house makes kids feel independent, competent, and important within their family,” says Stowe.
What’s more, being accustomed to doing chores at home can benefit your child academically. He’ll understand that sometimes he has to do things he doesn’t want to do-and that will extend to doing homework or studying for tests. “Research has found that kids who don’t try as hard as they could in school are more likely to have been raised in families where they didn’t have to do much at home,” says Stowe. “They believe that someone will always step in and do things for them.”
If you approach chores with a spirit of fun rather than drudgery and don’t expect perfection, your child should be willing to participate.
The Kimberly family, of Beverly Hills, Michigan, devotes every Saturday morning to housework. The two older kids can do their chores on their own, but six-year-old Hannah prefers to clean the bathroom mirrors while her mother does the sinks. “She needs that motivation and partnership,” says her mother, Elizabeth. “But she can now make her bed and set the table by herself.”
If your child absolutely refuses to cooperate, administer consequences related to the chore. For example, if she doesn’t put her clothes in the hamper, tell her they won’t get washed until the next cycle.
Try not to get frustrated, though, if your child often forgets to do his chores. “Until the age of eight or nine, most kids have to be reminded,” says Dr. Turben. She recommends posting a chart with pictures of what your child has to do on the refrigerator or his bedroom door. But even with a chart, children still forget-and it’s not necessarily a sign of defiance. It’s also not a reason to give up and decide to do a chore yourself, even though it might be easier. Be patient: Eventually, your child will grow to be more independent, and the time invested now will pay off later.