It’s Always One Step at a Time with 4-Year Olds


Is being a helicopter parent undermining your child's ability to perform chores?

Q. My 4-year-old is just plain messy. I expect her to help out around the house, and she does, but she rarely finishes a chore. If I ask her to pick up a room, for example, she will leave things on the floor. Having to constantly bring her back to the scenes of her crimes and finish her chores is driving me crazy. What can I do to get her to be more attentive and conscientious?

You need to start over on this project. Your frustration is knee-capping your ability to be an effective teacher, and it sounds to me like this is nothing more complicated than a 4-year-old who needs some help organizing her approach to tasks.

Take your daughter into a room, and ask, "What needs to be done to straighten and clean this room?" Help her figure that out, then leave. Hovering over a child who is doing a task stimulates either resistance or anxiety. Tell her to call you when she's finished.

When she calls you, go back into the room and—assuming she really didn't finish—ask: "What did you tell me needed to be done that still isn't done?" Do this diligently, without getting upset, until she's doing a good job. At that point, move to another area of the house.

The general rule of thumb when teaching a new skill to a child this age: Take things one step at a time.

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