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Kids Chores: How Your Kids Can Help Around The House (And Keep You Sane)

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If the combination of your job, your tasks around the house and your mom duties is making you crazy, it may be time to hire an assistant. Not a professional, but more along the lines of—don't panic—your child.

"It's kind of the way kids are wired. They always want to be learning how to do things," said Amy McCready, founder of Positive Parenting Solutions. "The more you teach them how to do grown-up things, it just fosters their sense of importance."

The bad news with enlisting your child to help you around the house is that you need to commit some time to training them on the front end, and you can't expect them to master their tasks right away. That means there's going to be a learning curve and some incidentals (and by that we mean, things dropped and spilled, and nothing done to perfection the first few times around).

The good news is that once your kids have practiced what you've taught them, they really can help save you time, and some sanity.

Mccready suggests the earlier you start teaching your kids to help you, the better.

"When you start them early, it becomes, 'This is the way our family operates.' It's not, 'It's mom and dad's job to do the heavy lifting.'" McCready said. "They just grow up thinking that's what we do."

But, if you haven't incorporated helping out around the house into your children's lives at an early age, there are ways to make the transition a smoother one. Susan Stiffelman, a marriage and family therapist, suggested having a family meeting to tell your kids that there will be a set time when they are to do chores each week.

Once that time of the week rolls around, try making the chores as fun as possible. This might mean setting a timer for your kids to see who can pick up the most trash, or changing up which chores they do each week by writing down tasks on small slips of paper and letting them pick out of a hat. Playing music is another good option.

"Any time you can infuse a mundane task with a little bit of fun and novelty, you're improving the odds you're going to get cooperation," Stiffelman said.

It will also help if you as a parent are doing your housework at the same time.

"Families are together so little," Stiffelman said. "If you're with them doing chores, you're adding in some bonding and connecting time." They'll repsond better to that, than to you kicking your feet up on the couch while they're hard at work.

With that in mind, here are the appropriate tasks to assign your kids based on their age:

Three and a Half to Five
Focus on tasks that won't make your life more difficult, i.e. you might not want to ask your toddler to measure out the flour or the olive oil because it's going to take a long time to clean it up if they spill.

What kids in this age range can handle is helping to fold dishcloths from the laundry, unloading the dishwasher (you handle the knives and let them do the forks and spoons) and wiping down chair seats and tables with a sponge.

In terms of food preparation, no one needs their lettuce torn up perfectly, so let them give that a try while you work on the rest of dinner.

Other time savers? Have them water the plants. Give your child his or her own watering device with a red line clearly indicating where to fill it up to and let them at it. Kids like to Swiffer, too, so don't be shy about letting them help out with the floors, or trying out the hand-held vacuum.

Six to Eight
Get your kids stripping their own beds, helping to separate the lights from the darks, and even folding their own laundry. In terms of cleaning, they can handle operating a light vacuum at this age, and dusting furniture and baseboards.

In this age group, McCready said kids are also capable of making the salad portion of dinner. If their motor skills aren't as refined as you're comfortable with, a plastic knife can work for cutting the cucumbers and tomatoes.

Nine to 12
This group can be changing light bulbs for you, bathing the family pets and washing the car. Even better? They should be able to help their younger siblings with homework. There's a good chance they've done arithmetic without a calculator more recently than you have.

13 to 15
McCready said this age group can be changing the bed sheets by themselves. They can organize drawers and closets for you, and even handle cooking dinner for the whole family one night. With a little guidance, you can put them in charge of preparing a family meal one day a week,

"You say, 'Tuesday is your meal. You've got to include a meat, a vegetable, a fruit,' whatever parameters you want to put on it," McCready said. "You have to do a little bit of training, but if you do it, it's worth it."

When in doubt about any task, McCready advises taking a step back.

"Think about, if I provide a little bit of training, could she do this? Could he do this? In so many cases, the answer is yes."

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