You’re in for a treat today. Following my article on executive function skills and how we can help our children to develop them, my dear friend, Daniela of My Pretty Good Home, has very kindly written a post for us all about how to specifically use housework as a means of developing our children’s executive function skills.
Daniela and I have done pretty much everything together for the last 10 years. Recently, we had our daughters together! While I always had a nanny for C, she didn’t always have one for her daughter N for various reasons. But this allowed her to develop methods of including N in the housework, which is why I knew she would be perfect to write this article for us.
As you will see in her post, Daniela provides a very easy, sensible, no-frills approach. Not only does your housework get done, but you get to spend quality time with your child, AND you’re effortlessly supporting her executive function skills.
Grab a cup of coffee with us and enjoy!
I get it. Work, a toddler, and the household can just be too much sometimes. Often we end up spending most of our time cleaning up or working, and we feel that at the end of the day we didn‘t spend enough quality time with our child.
What if I told you that doing housework can be not just a necessary evil, but also a great way to connect with your child and to teach her important life skills while using your time efficiently?
There are many proven benefits of doing housework with children and assigning specific tasks when they’re older.
Why you should consider doing more housework with your children
Housework is actually a great tool for both parents and children.
Involving your child in household tasks might just take some strain off you, and it’s an efficient way to educate your child and bond with her while getting some stuff done.
Then, child-free time can be used for work or other passion projects.
I try to categorize household tasks by answering the following: Can I do them with my child or not?
When my daughter N is napping, away at the nanny, or outside gardening with her daddy, I try to do the things I don’t want her around for, like writing this article or mopping the floors (she slips too easily).
Developing executive functions: the most important thing you can teach your child
They are important life skills that will help your child to grow into a more self-reliant, self-controlled, responsible, autonomous adult. And isn’t that what all parents want for their children?
There are 3 key skills young children have to develop:
Working memory—remembering, retaining, and using information.
Self-control—setting priorities, resisting impulses, and concentrating.
Cognitive flexibility—detecting errors and correcting them, creative thinking, and applying information to different settings.
To help children develop these skills, you should prioritize simple activities which have sense and meaning. While imaginary play with toys, as well as playing with child-size objects that imitate everyday life (a play kitchen for example), certainly have their place and function for your child’s development, it is also very important to let them participate in the real deal.
The basics of doing housework with children
First, I’d like to give you some guidelines to keep in mind when doing housework with young children:
Don’t insist too much with small children. It has to stay fun.
Mind your words. Don’t say, “Put this away or we won’t play.” Instead, say, “Let‘s put it away, and then we’ll play.”
Don’t make it into a huge deal. Make housework a fact of life, part of the daily routine, just like getting dressed, eating meals together, and brushing teeth.
Try not to establish a reward system for doing housework. If you want to, use charts with pictures of the tasks or lists, but use themonly to visualizethe tasks that need to be done and when they have been completed.
TRUST your child. We often underestimate what they’re capable of. Oftentimes a child is not motivated to do something not because it’s too hard, but because it’s too easy and boring or because we fuss too much.
Housework with small babies?
If you have a small baby, you might think you can’t have them help much, but remember—they’re always watching you. Set aside times when you just go about your business in the house while they are in a safe place. My child loved to watch me, and as soon as she could, she was keen to help out and imitate.
Here are some things that I have found very useful to integrate my very small child into helping with the housework:
A bouncer or high chair for a child who can sit upright. You can place it at a safe distance, and the child can observe you doing your housework. (Don‘t use bouncers for too long at a time. You should always prioritize free movement!)
A playpen. We had one in the sitting room, and N would watch me while I vacuumed away.
A baby carrier or scarf. These are very handy when you do things outside or things that require you to move from room to room. My child would always fall asleep in it though, and they can be impractical if you bend down a lot.
A stroller. Especially outside, our all-terrain stroller came in handy.
A Montessori-inspired observation tower for a child who can walk. Especially for work in the kitchen, they are THE best thing! (I’ll explain more on that later.)
Housework supplies for your child
You also might consider getting some specific supplies, such as:
Plastic bowls or basins to wash things in if the sink is not accessible
A spray bottle with water and some spare cloths and sponges
Gloves for gardening
Unbreakable jugs and receptacles for cooking
Small cooking implements
Now let’s get started on some housework.
Before you let your child do the task at hand, remember to:
Tell her what you’re going to do (“I’m going to wipe the table.”)
Use clear and simple gestures to show her (Take the cloth or sponge and proceed to wipe away.)
When she is ready to do it on her own, don’t talk! Yes, you read that right. They will remember your movements better if they’re not distracted by listening. This does not mean you can’t talk with them once they got the hang of it or give them instructions later, of course (“Could you please wipe the table?”)
How to do indoor housework with children
Here is a list of the household tasks a child could feasibly help with. (I’ll discuss everything kitchen-related in greater detail later on.)
Children, and especially young children, actually thrive in a tidy environment, even if you may have trouble believing that sometimes. It helps them make sense of the world if things have their place and when they know where that place is.
It will be immensely helpful to you when your child does even the smallest amount of tidying up. At the end of the day and before her nap, my daughter N and I tidy away the toys she played with. Granted, I help a lot, but as long as she picks some stuff up, I am happy.
Also ask your child to throw things into the garbage bin herself. Kids love getting to do that after watching you do it for the thousandth time.
If you have more than one child, you can ask them to help each other.
This is generally a great household task to do, especially with little kids, because it’s pretty safe.
Hanging up laundry
My child loved taking out the wet clothes and throwing them around. I circumvented this rather disruptive play into something useful by asking her to pass me the things to hang up. You can let your child hang up some small items, like washcloths and towels, when she is little.
Loading and unloading the machine, and sorting
N has great fun loading and unloading the machine. She knows all the steps for putting detergent in and turning it on.
Pro tip: Find out about the child lock function on your machine!
Older children could help sorting and could even be responsible for washing a load all by themselves.
When I wash towels and washcloths, I normally let my child help me fold them. They’re the ideal size for her to practice her folding. I was surprised at how well she did even the first time.
Many young children are very receptive to sorting games, so why not make use of this interest by letting them sort the socks? It helps them to understand order and classification of objects. You might need to help at the start, but over time, your child will learn and get better.
I’m sure most children are fascinated by vacuum cleaners. I just give my child something like a broom to push around while I clean, and when I’m mostly done, I let her have a go for real. Older children can easily be asked to vacuum a certain area in the house themselves.
Whether you use a little feather duster or just a damp cloth, let your child have a go as well. Let her clean the bookshelf while you take care of those ornaments your granny gave you.
Cleaning windows and mirrors
Okay, they may be a little streaky afterwards, but the kids will learn in time, and hopefully they will pay more attention to not get them dirty later.
Clean up when they make a mess
I admit, I do get frustrated the third time N spills some water on the floor. Try and see it as a learning opportunity. Let her get a cloth and wipe it up. If there is broken glass involved, though, you should of course do it yourself.
How to do kitchen housework with children
The kitchen is the area of the house where you can capitalize most on doing housework for executive function development. At the same time, these might be the tasks most parents are worried about.
I always got stressed out when my child was between my feet when I was cooking. She would reach up while I was cutting things, pull down bowls, and touch everything. It was total anarchy.
So I asked my husband to make me a Montessori-inspired observation tower for her. It was a stroke of genius! We have so much fun together. She can observe me at work surface height, allowing her to help me prepare or clean, but the tower keeps her in one place.
If you want your child to be involved in the kitchen, consider getting one of these (or making your own, as we did). N uses the tower not just for cooking, but also to wash her hands by herself or do some dishes. It’s so worth it!
Food prep and cooking
Preparing food can be very beneficial for your child. She learns the life skill that is cooking, while at the same time you can cultivate a healthy attitude toward food. The carrot she washed, peeled, and cut herself tastes just that much better.
Where possible, let your child smell or taste the ingredients before they go in.
Don’t be afraid to let your child manipulate knives and peelers. If she is used to seeing you handle sharp objects, she will likely get it very quickly. This goes without saying, but it bears repeating: please be sure to use appropriate knives, nothing too sharp. A normal butter knife will suffice.
Children can help with:
Washing. Nothing is more fun than to splash about a bit.
Peeling. Use a peeler for vegetables or practice peeling boiled eggs (really good for those fine motor skills).
Cutting. Practice with a small child-size butter knife, sharp enough to cut something like a zucchini but not enough to cut her finger off.
Pouring and mixing. While you’re at it, practice counting!
If you use recipes with measuring cups, it’s very easy even for small children to make something almost by themselves.
Pro tip: When pouring liquids, let your child work over a deep baking tray or something similar to avoid spilling all over the place.
We all have a tendency to overstress about broken glass. It is however important for your child’s learning that we also trust her to do things.
Let your child handle real dishes and drinking glasses. Some may break, but she will quickly learn to be more careful when handling them.
Here are some ideas of how to teach your child to carefully handle fragile dishes:
If you have a dishwasher:
I was worried about involving N in loading and unloading. Now that she is more stable, I feel better about it. I admit, it is still a bit unnerving when she picks out all the things and passes them on to me to put away, but I do want to trust her, and she has not broken anything so far. You do have to be on your toes however about big knives and that fancy china you got for your wedding.
If you wash your dishes by hand:
Your child can help you dry some things as well as put them away in the cabinets. Or you can just simply let her wash the dishes herself.
Laying the dinner table:
Here is another opportunity to teach your child about tidying while improving fine motor skills, and even practicing counting. Make it fun, like a little puzzle: she has to know where everything goes on the table.
Other housework you can do with your children
We have a lot of land. My husband spends much of his free time out there. He often takes N with him, and she likes to help where she can.
If you have a yard, take your child out to watch you work in it. They can help:
Water the plants
Fill pots with soil
Care for a plant or even grow some vegetables (best for older children)
Sweep pathways and patios
Rip out weeds (careful, she may pull those nice flowers you planted as well)
And later, your child can mow the lawn! =)
Caring for pets
Caring for pets is a great way to learn responsibility. Whether you have a dog or a goldfish or a chameleon at home, let them see what needs to be done for your pet. Children can help with:
Cleaning bedding or cages
Key benefits for you and your child when doing housework together
So far, I’ve laid out a long list of household tasks you could tackle with your child.
Bonding and time management (achieving something real together while getting necessary work done)
Respecting others (if you understand the work others do, you appreciate it more)
Feeling needed as a family member
Learning responsibility (such as knowing that if the table isn’t laid, we can’t eat)
How will you involve your children with the housework?
As parents, we often tend to wait for some free time to get housework done, but we really shouldn’t. Involve your children where you can.
Even if they can’t always help, let them see what you’re doing as much as possible. Let them understand that those things are just part of life as a family.
This article has shown you how to take advantage of all the benefits of sharing housework with your children. I hope my ideas and experiences will help you free up some Me Time and get you to share some great moments with your children, all while you‘re developing their executive function skills.
How are you involving your children in the housework? Share your best tips below!
About the Author
My name is Daniela.
I’m a part-time freelance language teacher for adults and small children and I live with my husband and 2-year-old trilingual daughter in the countryside of Normandy on 1 hectare of land with a dog, a cat, four chickens, and millions of bees.