Yes, at two and a half, our son has “chores!” It’s never too early to teach kids to care for themselves and be a helpful member of the family. Luckily, tots naturally want to copy their parents, help out, and be independent.
Our son insists, “No, Mommy, I do it!” for many tasks! I had to bite my tongue when his helpfulness included taking ALL our infant’s clothing (I had just folded and organized!) out of the bassinet storage bin in his attempt to help me “clean up.” It was a prime “teachable moment” for me to reinforce “Yes! We put away clothes after we fold them. Let’s put them (back) away in the bin together!”
Capitalize on your toddler’s tendencies to help them grow their range of responsibilities! Here’s some tips for getting toddlers to do chores:
Simple. Young children find it difficult to remember a series of directions. (Hey, I forget what I opened the refrigerator for!). One-two step tasks are best, depending on your child’s age and ability. Also, toddlers are still developing motor skills, so a simple task is easier to complete.
Dusting: We give our son a damp cloth wipe and have him “dust” alongside us. He’s happy to wave his wipe over the furniture, and we’re happy with the pleasant lavender and lemongrass smell, no residue, and a toddler who loves to help us clean!
Specific. A general instruction can be both overwhelming and confusing for a preschooler. “Pick up” – what do they pick up? what do they do with it once they pick it up? how many do they pick up?
Toy Pick-up: Instead of telling my son to pick up the entire living room, I tell him, “Put all your trains on the train table.” When he’s done, then I give a new task.
Routine. Preschoolers love the security of knowing “how things go.” Make chores part of the process.
Clearing dishes: We talked about how we put dishes in the sink while our son watched (they watch everything!). Then, we carried him while we put the dishes in the sink. Then we, gave him an item. Once he was walking he carried the items himself. Because “doing dishes” was part of our meal routine, he doesn’t view this as work, it’s just how it goes in our house.
Reward. I am not a fan of bribery. I don’t want to create children who always ask “what’s in it for me.” At the same time, we don’t work for free, so there’s nothing wrong with having children earn something for their tasks.
Ideas: Earn high fives, a celebration dance or song, a sticker on a chart, game time, or money to save up for something. Also, teach the value of time management and community, with rewards that are less tangible, such as “When your toys are cleaned up, we will be able to go outside to play for a few minutes.” This teaches kids that doing a good job quickly allows them time for other fun things (this time concept can be rather difficult for younger kids).
Fun! Who says work should be boring!? We would all rather have kids who did chores with a happy spirit.
Ideas: Play upbeat music loud! Sing silly songs about the job. Read a book aloud while your child cleans up toys. Set a timer and try to beat the clock. Have your child find all the orange items to put away, then all the red, etc. Hide pennies and have kids dust – when they find a coin while cleaning they get to keep it! (PS: also, giving children “real tools” like the Earth’s Best wipe mentioned above helps them see their work is geniune – this can be fun too!).
Try these tips out with your child – and remember, every kid is different, and like all learning, it takes time for children to learn to do a task correctly. Still, we can gently guide them towards independence and responsibility even at a young age!
How do you get your tots to help out around the house?