Monday, August 20, 2012

Laying the Foundation for Chores

I’ll get to chores in a minute. First, I want to set the stage by reminding readers of how fundamental “habits” are to everyday life. Even when daydreaming we stop at stop signs and red lights. Many of us (admittedly, not all of us!) automatically hang up our towels neatly after using them. And most of us have a ritual we carry out when we first get up in the morning even if we’re still half asleep. These are actions that have been repeated so frequently that they have become firmly entrenched habits;.

Of course, these aren’t the habits we’re eager for toddlers to adopt. Instead, what parents need to consider is the long term advantage of starting early to establish a willingness to help with tasks that need doing, thereby laying the foundation for actual “chores.” Even though they are still too young to take full responsibility for most tasks (e.g., remembering to feed the dog), getting 2- to 4-year-olds in the habit of helping at a very young age will make the transition to true chores much easier.

The good news is that toddlers and young preschoolers love to help. In fact these days it’s often busy parents, understanding that it’s faster to do things by themselves, who demur. That’s a mistake! Taking advantage of this early eagerness will pay off in the long run. Here’s how:

Most parents are wise enough to reward volunteered help with praise and affection—two goodies that are powerful reinforcers for young kids. Such positive reinforcement tends to result in a behavior being repeated—which results in more goodies and more volunteering—which results in more goodies and more volunteering…and on, and on. In other words, the more times a child is taken up on his offer to “help” and leaves feeling good about himself, the more likely he will be to volunteer in the future. Pretty soon helping is an entrenched “habit,” thereby making the move to assigned chores when the child is older much easier.

So what can the 2-4 set help with? They are actually remarkably good at judging what they might be able to manage, so take every “I help?” seriously. The photos above give an example. Two-year-old Julia spends Thursdays in our Baby Signs office with her mom, Bonita. Here you see her accomplishing the task of unpacking rolls of paper towels from a box and stacking them on a shelf in the rest room. Needless to say, she received high praise from all of us Of course, it would have been faster for one of us to do it ourselves, but this way Julia had the satisfaction of a job well done –which you can definitely see on her face as she relaxes in the empty box!

Happy Signing (and don’t forget to visit us on Facebook)!


Linda Acredolo, Ph.D.
Professor Emeritus, UC Davis
Co-Founder, The Baby Signs® Program

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