How to Raise a Child Who is a “Good Helper”

How to Raise a Child Who is a “Good Helper”. Your child can help around the house and do chores if you model, encourage, and allow it. 

3 year old vacuuming

We have this good, cowboy family in our neighborhood. They have four boys and one girl–all quite young. The youngest is two. The children are all really hard workers and good helpers.

One day, my husband asked the father of this family what they do to get such hard workers. The dad said he just lets them help.

Brayden has grown to be a really good helper (and has tried to be since the moment he could possibly do anything). We often get comments about what a good helper he is and questions on how we get him to do that. Our answer is we just let him help.

I know, believe me I know, that it takes about five times as long to do anything with your little one “helping.” But allowing him to help does a few things. It teaches him how to do it. It tells him his assistance is of value. It provides a way for him to feel that satisfaction of a job well done. It takes advantage of their willing hearts. You are able to teach them the value of work while they are anxious to learn.

Once Brayden hit three, he was suddenly at a point where he actually contributed to the job getting done. Now, he is a perfectionist and therefore can take longer to be pleased with his performance, and I am also a perfectionist and can be harder to please (though I try to be very pleased), so it may have taken him longer than some. But he really does help. He puts dishes back in the exact right spot (instead of the general area). He sweeps from start to finish, including sweeping up the pile and throwing it away. He waters plants outside. He weeds. He helps pick up dog poop. He cleans up his toys. He helps make food. This past Monday, he really folded clothes. It wasn’t folded like I would fold it, but it was better than the wadding into a ball like he had previously done. He really does help, and he does so willingly and cheerfully.

Another benefit of letting your child help is it teaches him about taking turns. If you are doing something (like watering plants), you can take a turn. Then your child. Then you. Then your child. etc. This gives your child practice sessions at sharing and patience.

Hopefully by this point I have sold you and you are willing to let your child help, even if it means your chores take you longer. Here are more tips to create that good helper.

How to Raise a Child Who is a "Good Helper". Your child can help around the house and do chores if you model, encourage, and allow it.
  • Be an example. Don’t only clean up while your child is asleep. Let him see you working. Also, show him that you are a hard worker. Be a good example to him. Do it cheerfully.
  • Be honest. If your child asks to help with something, are you ever tempted to say, “This is no fun, you go have fun playing while I clean this up.” Okay, maybe you are being honest. Maybe it isn’t fun. But can you see the pit you are digging for your future? You are teaching your child that work is not fun and that he should desire to play instead. I know it is easier without him. If you are in a particular rush, be honest with him. Tell him you are so glad he wants to help, but you are in a hurry right now because you need to get to XYZ, but next time you will be sure to let him help.
  • Give him something to do. Even if what you are doing isn’t something he can do, give him something to do. For example, let’s take cleaning the bathroom. Most of my cleaners are basically just vinegar, water, and baking soda, but I do have some store-bought cleaners. Those are not safe for Brayden. But of course, he wants to help me clean the bathroom. Now that he has a potty chair, I give him a sponge and a spray bottle of water and tell him to clean that. Before the potty chair, I would have him scrub the outside of the tub with his bottle of water and sponge. He loves it.
  • Get him his own tools. Get him a wheelbarrow so he can help Daddy haul dirt. Get him his own gardening tools. Get him a broom his size. A snow shovel. Before you know it, he will be using those tools to really help. You can also get fun stuff like a small lawnmower and vacuum.
  • Take turns. As I mentioned above, this is a good opportunity for you to teach about sharing. Taking turns also is a good way for you to get the job done faster. Brayden loves to help vacuum. He used to help hold the vacuum while I vacuumed. As you can imagine, it took forever. I finally started having us take turns. I would vacuum, then he would vacuum, then I would vacuum, etc. I could move a lot faster that way. Also, you can often multi-task. For example, while Brayden is taking his turn watering, I can pull weeds or draw with sidewalk chalk with Kaitlyn.
  • Thank him. Thank him for his help and being such a good helper.
  • Let him help. As I explained above, let him help.
  • Don’t redo the job he just did. This can be a hard one, and is one you need to judge based on your child’s age. But don’t follow him around fixing what he just did. Don’t remake his bed after he makes it. If he isn’t old enough to do it, help him. Don’t just stand and watch and then remake it. Also, relax your standards. He probably won’t want to help for long once he recognizes that all he is doing is being redone.
  • Point out the benefits. Point out how nice things look after they are cleaned. Point out how good that pancake tastes that he just made. There is satisfaction in a job well done. Help him to recognize it and feel it.
  • Require it. We have a few things that Brayden is required to do. You need to decide what is age appropriate for your child. Two of Brayden’s things are clearing his plate/dishes from the table and cleaning up his own toys. He has his moments where he doesn’t want to help clean up. The other day he even told me to just take all of his toys away because he didn’t want to clean them up (I had told him in the past that if he didn’t help clean up his toys, I would have to take them all away). I told him he needed to help clean up. He insisted I take his toys away, but I told him he needed to clean up even if he didn’t feel like it. I told him it wasn’t nice to make Mommy clean up all of his toys when she didn’t even play with them. He conceded and helped to clean up. This brings up a good learning moment for me. Both my parents and my husband’s parents took toys away if they weren’t cleaned up. Well, that fixed the problem temporarily, but the problem of messy toys inevitably came back up. I want to find a solution to the problem, not a temporary fix or improvement. This can go back to being honest. Give them the real reason they need to help clean up, the moral reason (you help clean up because it is not loving to make Mommy or Daddy clean up messes alone). Not just the selfish reason (you help clean so that you can keep your toys). For more on moral training, see this post: Moral Training: Love :
  • Don’t work too hard. I am guilty of this. Take the time to enjoy the work you have done. Be sure to have fun time to balance out that work time.

Reader Advice:

  • mmonfore said…
    Another thing to think about when teaching kids to clean up is to clean up everything together, no matter who played with what. This comes into play with siblings. My niece and nephews are always complaining about having to clean up, saying “But I didn’t play with it. That’s his, not mine.” My theory is that everybody has to clean up everything so everybody can enjoy a clean house.Also, my motivation to get William to clean up is he can’t watch TV unless he does. It used to work really well. It was his pattern. He would do a quick clean up after breakfast and then sit down to watch. Now, he’d rather just play and not watch. He hasn’t watched TV in 3 days. But there was definitely a time today that I wanted to plug him in, but I couldn’t. And his toy room is a disaster! Now it’s gotten to the point that it’s a huge job to clean up. Last time, I just did it after he went to bed. I think tomorrow, we’ll just do it together. It won’t be fun, but the cleaning fairy isn’t coming to this house anymore! I’m going to have to change my tactic. Maybe make it a rule before lunch time or something. Doing it at bedtime is just asking for trouble. He’s too tired.
    June 25, 2008 10:46 PM
    Plowmanators said…
    mmonfore, Thanks for your added tips and thoughts!
    June 26, 2008 11:12 PM
How to Raise a Child Who is a "Good Helper". Your child can help around the house and do chores if you model, encourage, and allow it.