By Diana McKeon Charkalis

When it was time to clean the windows, Amy Walker's 6-year-old son, Richard, begged to use the spray bottle. At first, she resisted. Walker, of Sanibel Island, Fla., didn't want Richard to accidentally get a face full of chemicals. But then his enthusiasm sparked an idea: "I filled an old bottle with water so he could help me finish up," she says. "He had so much fun, I began to recruit his help on more and more chores. Now he does all kinds of chores!"

Encouraging your children to pitch in around the house helps them as much as it helps you. Kids expected to do their fair share tend to develop a sense of accomplishment and pride. They also learn how to handle responsibility. The key is to start early -- and to be patient. 

"Children usually have an interest in helping even before they have the ability, so start them off young with something simple," says Elizabeth Crary, author of Pick Up Your Socks and Other Skills Growing Children Need (Parenting Press). "At first, it may take you more time to teach a child something than it would for you to just finish the work yourself, but your time investment will pay off in the end."

Ready to get started? Follow these five pointers for putting your kids to work:

Start with small chores

Start with a basic task and build from there. "Choose something quick and easy," Crary suggests. Starter chores might include putting toys away, stacking books on a shelf or helping sweep the floor. Making it a game adds to the fun: "Hand kids a dust pan and say, 'I'll make a pile … see if you can catch it!'"

Offer an incentive

Charts have worked well for Elisa Leone of New Paltz, N.Y. First, she laminates pictures that her kids, Wesley, 6, and Maria, 3, cut out from magazines. The images reflect the tasks they do: For example, a tube of toothpaste represents brushing their teeth. When they finish a task, they move the picture from the "To do" chart to the "Done" chart. Once they have completed 10 tasks, they earn a small reward.

Keep the beat

Play music to help energize and put family members in the mood to pitch in, suggests Crary. "Clean to the beat of the music or dance along now and then," she says.

Match the kid to the chore

Tailor the chores to your child's abilities and interests. "For example, a more physical child may run letters to the mailbox," Crary says. "A quieter child may prefer placing stamps on the envelopes when you're paying bills."

Do Chores together

It's more fun doing chores together than solo. For instance, Walker helps her sons fold laundry while they relax and watch a video. "I try to integrate chores so that they become part of the rhythm of the day," she says. "This creates the feeling that we're all contributing members of our family." Working together as a team will make you closer -- and get the job done faster.

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Parenting - Household Chores for Your Kids - How to Get the Job Done Right