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Little Hands, Big Help

Lisa Goldman, a music teacher in Beachwood, Ohio, wouldn't have it any other way: Her three kids  -- ages 8 through 14  -- have been doing chores since they were toddlers. They started out helping their mom in the garden and "folding" towels. Today, all three are responsible for clearing their rooms of clutter. Many experts agree that household jobs help children learn ow to be contributing members of the family. Doing chores give kids a sense of accomplishment by making them feel needed.

You don't have to load your child with a lengthy to-do list, however. Here are some simple ideas to get your little ones started:

Cash in on their enthusiasm
Toddlers and preschoolers love to work around the house  -- it makes them feel grown up. So if your child wants to dust the furniture, hand her a little rag. She may only kick the dust around, but the point isn't perfection. It's to encourage her willingness to take on duties and boost her feelings of competence.

Start small
No matter what it is your young assistant is hankering to do, he won't be able to do it without your guidance. Break down simple tasks into baby steps. At first, he can hand you the dishes to place in the cupboard; when he's 5 or 6, he can start to put them away (at least the ones that are stored on the lower shelves).

Add on as they grow
By age 5 or 6, kids can clear cups and dishes from the table, load silverware into the dishwasher, and even begin to put away their laundry. By age 7 or 8, they can wipe the table, bring in the newspaper, and sweep the floor. At 9 or 10, they should be able to fix sandwiches and pack their own school lunches, and vacuum their room.

Let them have a say
Children are more likely to want to contribute if they can choose the job, whatever their age or skill level. If your 7-year-old doesn't want to put away the silverware, find out if there's something about the chore she dislikes and let her select a reasonable alternative.

Don't expect miracles
Teaching your child to take on tasks independently is a long process, one that requires patience and lots of gentle reminders. The key is to curb the tendency to nag (that'll just produce resentment), and remember that kids really do want to pitch in. Your encouragement will teach him how to be really helpful.

Use rewards.
Each voluntary effort earns a marble or a bean in a small jar. When the jar is full, your child can have friends over for a party or enjoy a special "date" with Mom or Dad.Esther Davidowitz, a mom of three, is the editor-in-chief of Westchester Magazine.

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