Why read: Research shows that kids who do chores grow up to be more successful adults. Read for ideas related to chores for toddlers and how to raise a willing helper.
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“Come on, dad. Let’s clean up the table so that we can build the railroad station” says my 3-year-old as he finishes his dinner.
We had a friend visiting from overseas the day before. And my boy had received a huge set of Thomas and Friends railroad station as a gift. He couldn’t open it right away because it was already late and he had to go to bed.
Today as soon as he came home from preschool he ran to the big box waiting for him in his room.
“Mom, let’s open it, let’s open it” and he jumps around in awe like a kangaroo.
“Oh, sweetie, you know your father asked to wait for him. He wants you to build it together. Can you wait a little bit longer until he comes back from work?”
Have you ever tried to keep a 3-year-old from opening his long-awaited gift for two days? If yes, then you know what I felt at that moment looking at my boy. His eyes filled with tears of despair and disappointment. I hugged him and tried to ease the situation. We agreed to open the box and get all parts out so that everything is ready for them to start putting the set together as soon as my husband returns home.
Later in the evening, while we were making the dinner together, I had to prepare the ground for yet another delay.
My boy is not a picky eater, but I don’t remember him finishing his dinner so enthusiastically and all on his own. And of course, I knew what he was eager to do when he was done eating. But to have him rave about his railroad set again, I asked:
“And what is it that you’re going to do now?”
“Oh, sweetie, thank you. But you can skip the cleaning today. You’ve been waiting patiently for so long, go go and start building.”
And I sat there for another 5 minutes or longer, feeling emotional and happy and looking back at what I did right that led to this episode in my life…
Why My Mom’s Method Didn’t Work
Earlier that summer, we traveled to Armenia and stayed at my parents’ house. My mom completely took over the caring for my son and I could sleep till noon and relax all day. So one morning when I come out of my room, I witness an interesting scene. My boy tries to grab the broom out of my mom’s hands while she’s sweeping the floor.
“Grandma, give it to meeee! I wanna help!”
“You go play, sweetie! Don’t worry I’ll do it myself”
“Mom, why don’t you let him help you?” I interfere.
“Because he can’t do it. And he’ll scatter the trash all over the place. It’ll take me twice as long to clean up after that.”
“I know! But if you let him be part of this now and show how to do it, then when he comes next year he’ll already know how to do it properly and be a real helper.”
And then it struck me that my mom never let us help when we were little. That’s why when she asked for help when we were teenagers we never wanted to help. Helping around the house was a dreaded chore for me that I always tried to find excuses to avoid. I’d either get away with it, and my mom would do everything herself. Or she’d get frustrated, start yelling and I’ll help with no wish to do so.
Some days things would get even worse. My dad would get involved and shame my sister and me for not helping our mother. And I knew it was wrong, but I couldn’t help avoiding any housework. It felt unnatural to me.
And even now that I am an adult and have my own house, and I’m a mother myself, I still dread all types of housework. And keep procrastinating for hours until I start doing what inevitably needs to be done around the house.
What I Do Differently with My Boy
From the moment my son learned how to walk, he wanted to be part of what I was doing around the house. He’d never play on his own. He wanted to be around me and do whatever I was doing together.
And while I wanted him to help. When you’re a wobbly toddler who can hardly walk, things get spilled, scattered, broken, sometimes even thrown right and left on purpose all the time.
It’s especially hard in the evenings. After a long day – when you’re already exhausted to your core – you gather all your final will power together and drag your feet around to lay the table and finally have a peaceful dinner.
And yay! Your toddler runs up to you full of energy like it wasn’t him running around playgrounds and parks all day long. And he wants to help!
Ah, if I give the plate to him, half of it will end up on the floor like yesterday. And I just washed the floor as we expect friends for coffee this evening. I can’t, can’t do it again.
“Mom, give me the plate!”
“How about we do it together today, sweetie? You hold it from one edge and I’ll hold from the other.”
“Nooo! I CAN do it myself!”
“Of course, you can!” And I let the plate go.
I then watch my son make a tremendous effort to hold the plate straight. His little feet move slowly and cautiously resembling Nik Wallenda’s tightrope walk across Grand Canyon. And as the food keeps dropping, all I can do is take a deep breath and hope that at least something is left on his plate.
But then he gets better and better and better.
At 3 years old I can trust him with any plate full of food.
And you know what the best part is. By taking on that responsibility he feels needed and grown-up.
Toddlers Love to Take on Responsibility and Feel Needed
“Don’t touch it, you’ll spill!”, “Don’t! You’ll drop”.
These are the phrases that we say to our kids a lot at an early age. We don’t think of having chores for toddlers because we don’t believe they’re capable of help. But when our kids get older we complain they don’t want to help with anything.
Well, here’s the hard truth. The foundations for raising a willing helper need to be set starting from toddler age.
Plus, research shows that house chores have a positive impact on a child’s development. Kids who do daily routine chores grow up to be more successful adults.
Giving your toddler responsibility such as simple chores around the house helps him to feel a sense of accomplishment and self-worth. Your child will feel confident, independent and learn to take responsibility for his actions and their consequences. You’ll also prep him to be a better student in preschool.
On the contrary, setting your child up to expect everything will be done for him creates self-entitlement that won’t get him anywhere as he gets older.
By helping you, your little one feels grown-up and needed.
Easy Ways to Get Your Toddler Do Chores
And it’s OK if after your child’s help you have to spend twice as long to clean the kitchen.
I know it’s hard!
But it’s so important to let him help while he wants to do it so that this comes naturally to him later in life.
Get your little one a cleaning set for kids – let him do his part of sweeping and dusting. I love Melissa and Doug’s wooden Cleaning set. It comes with a stand which makes it easy to keep everything in one place and neatly organized. Another important skill to teach your child.
Dyson toy vacuum is another great cleaning tool with real suction. While the suction might not be as strong to really clean the house. But your little one will certainly feel like he’s indeed cleaning.
If your toddler wants to help with the dishes or laying the table, give him plates that you won’t cry for if broken. Bamboo dinnerware set for kids works great. Unlike the plastic ones, these are eco-friendly and are actually quite cute. My son loves his set. Plus, you can get your little one a kitchen step stool to have him safely help you with dinner prep.
If your toddler wants to help with grocery shopping, many stores offer small carts for kids. Let him have his own. Get him his own grocery bag and make sure you put something in it. A loaf of bread or a small, not very heavy bag of fruit would work great. He can carry his bag to the car and then home. And feel like he was of huge help.
How To Motivate Your Toddler to Do Chores
- Never complain in front of your child about having to do housework. Our kids can feel our feelings. And if laundry or doing dishes is always a dreaded chore for you it will become dreaded one for your child as well. Find ways to make the household work more fun. Get organized and put an easy-to-implement system in place so that it becomes easier for you too.
- Make doing housework more fun. Combine chores with interesting child-friendly activities. Put on some music and dance together while vacuuming. Or turn cleaning into a game where there will be levels and prizes. You can assign a task to your child and yourself and then make it a competition of who finishes first. This will be a great motivation for you too and your little one won’t get in the way trying to help with your work.
- If your child doesn’t feel like helping, don’t push it much. I always give my son an option to choose whether he wants to help me or play on his own while I do the housework. But he also knows that if he helps me and we finish early, I’ll be able to spend quality time with him and play his favorite game. So guess what he chooses on most occasions.
- It’s important to give your child tasks that’ll benefit everyone in the family and not only him. That way he’ll feel important and won’t grow up egoistic – a person who’s willing to do things that are only for his own benefit. When I do laundry, my son knows that he’s responsible for finding pairs and folding everyone’s socks. It’s also a fun activity for him to find the matching sock. Plus he knows that mom and dad will not have clean socks if he doesn’t help.
- Do not reward your child every time he helps you. And most certainly never pay for doing chores. Research shows that by expecting money for any housework kids grow up entitled. Reward and payments kill their sincere impulses to help anyone.
- Express gratitude not for the work done but for being a good helper. I always tell my son how it would take me twice as much time and effort to finish chores if it wasn’t for him and his help. Again, this makes him feel important and excites him to get involved every time I ask him for help.
- Talk about your child’s help with others in a way that he can hear. I always brag to my husband how my boy and I teamed up and did chores together. Kids love to hear when others gossip about them in a positive way. Sometimes my son even reminds me how I need to tell dad about his part in our teamwork that day.
One Last Thing
Start giving your child age-appropriate chores around the house from toddler age.
This might be hard at first and require a lot of patience and extra work from your side but those efforts will be paid off in no time, trust me. This will teach your little one to take on responsibility and care for others, as well as respect the work others do.
How About You
Do you have any other ideas related to chores for toddlers? Please share with us in the comments.