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Sunday, February 12, 2012

How to Raise a Child Who Helps

By Linda Carlblom

We've all seen them, kids who clear their plates from the table and take them to the sink without complaint. Children who take out the trash without being told. Kids who genuinely seem to enjoy helping. How does that happen? A freak of nature? Here are a few tips to train your child to help.
  1.  Begin when your child is a toddler. When she's taking the silverware out of the dishwasher as fast as you can load them in, compliment her. "Thank you for helping! Can you put the silverware back in the dishwasher for me?" Show her where it goes. Helping becomes a fun game.
  2. Give kids a voice in their chores. Write down the things that need to be done. Divide the list by the number of people who will be helping. Then let them take turns choosing the items they'd like to do. So, for example, you have four people in your family old enough to help. Divide your list of 20 items by four. Each person will do five chores. Have the youngest choose one item from the list first. Then the next youngest does the same and so on until all items on the list are crossed off. Obviously, not all chores will go on this list since you don't want a five-year-old mowing the lawn.
  3. Take time to teach them how to do a job. It's easy to say, "it's faster to just do it myself." Of course it is. But it doesn't help your child learn or feel valued. Accept the fact that for a few years, things won't get done as quickly as they might if you did them yourself.
  4. Celebrate after chores are done. Give positive feedback or gentle correction if something needs more attention. "The bathroom you cleaned looks terrific! Oops! Looks like you might have forgotten to clean the mirror. As soon as you do that, you'll be done!" To celebrate, choose a movie to watch together, go get an ice cream, take a bike ride, or call Gandma.
  5. Give age appropriate jobs. Nothing is more discouraging than always failing at something. So make sure your kids succeed far more than they fail. For a list of age appropriate jobs for kids, click here.
  6. Work together on some jobs. Sometimes a big job like cleaning a room is just too overwhelming. Help them do it if they seem to need a hand. And break big jobs down into small steps like make your bed, pick up your clothes, etc.
  7. For very young kids, make a list using pictures. Instead of just listing clean your room, give them specific directions like 'pick up your toys' and draw a picture of a teddy bear so they'll know what that list item says. My kids loved having a list to work from that they could actually "read." 
  8. Show appreciation. This is a biggie. When a child helps in some way, whether asked to or not, thank them. Let them know you noticed and that their contribution is appreciated.
Raising kids to be helpful doesn't come easy. It takes consistency, patience, and guidance. But I remember one day working in the kitchen with my ten-year-old daughter and realizing that her help was really helping, not hindering my progress. All those years of letting her work beside me were finally paying off. And it was worth it!

How do you get your children to help? How do you instill in them a good work ethic? What special tips would you add to this list?


  1. Great article! I wish my mom would have done that. She'd say, "It's easier and faster to do it myself than to show you how to do it," or, "You'll just make a mess in the kitchen," or, "You burn yourself if you iron," etc. You gave some really practical ideas!

  2. Love these! I especially love the "call Grandma" reward for a job well done :) Ezekiel is awesome at vacuuming our stairs. He loves feeling like a helper. I hope we can keep that great attitude into his teenage years!

  3. Thanks, ladies! Rachel, congrats on Eze's expertise at vacuuming the stairs. That was one of my least favorite jobs when we lived at the big house. Way to go making him feel like a valued part of the family, which he is! :) If you figure out how to make it last into the teen years you'll need to write about it!