Chores for Toddlers – Steps to Parenting your Child to Freedom and Independence

A whole bunch of people have emailed me wanting to know why I think toddlers can and should do chores.  So here goes.

You are not your children’s servant.  Taking care of them does not mean you fold their laundry and put it away until they go to college.  You CAN be a caring parent and teach your kids to take care of themselves in these basic ways.  In fact, I’d say that being a responsible parent means you MUST teach them how to be responsible for themselves.  The ability to do things for themselves  builds confidence, and self-confidence is the first step towards raising a “free-range” child.

Is your toddler able to throw in a load of laundry when he gets home from Gymboree and grill you a steak while he’s at it?  Of course not.  However, children as young as 2 are capable of contributing on some level.  And, like puppies, they want to be a part of the pack and have a role.  When they feel useful they feel safe and happy.  Here are some things your toddler can do to contribute:

  1. Get a Swiffer or a Swiffer Duster and let them have at it.
  2. Give them a baby wipe and have them wipe down their seat.
  3. Help set the table.
  4. Bring their used plate/cup/utensils to the sink.
  5. Pick up toys (age-appropriate; we had the child pick up and put away as many toys as their age, although by 4 they were doing more than that).
  6. Get dressed themselves.  Yes, they can do this.  Suck it up and pretend the outfits match.  You can comment, “Wow!  You’re so colorful today!”  We often refer to our daughter as “Technicolor Shayna.”
  7. Have them help you sort laundry.  This is a great way to build on color identification.  He/She can make piles of whites, reds, blues, etc.  Bonus:  at this age, they actually think this is fun.
  8. By 4, most children are able to schmeer some peanut butter or cream cheese on some bread or a bagel, and certainly can pour milk/juice.  Buy an inexpensive “toy” pitcher for them to use for this purpose, to make it easier to handle.  Voila!  They can help with their own lunch.  Put some cereal and bowls on the table and they can do breakfast.  Be prepared to do a bit of extra clean-up in the beginning, but it gets better quickly.
  9. My toddler helped brush our cat.  This worked for us; if you think your kid can be gentle, by all means go for it.  Pet care is important for everyone to pitch in with.  Now that she’s 5, she’s moved up to being in charge of morning feedings of dry food.

Age-appropriate expectations are important.  No toddler can spend 45 minutes cleaning up.  5 minutes or so is probably closer 🙂  The important thing is to engage them in this family activity as early as possible to lend structure to their day and help them feel useful and a part of the family “pack.”

Anyone have other suggestions out there?

Oh, and we don’t pay them for this.  These are are things that are part of the responsibility of helping the family run smoothly.  Any chore I would pay someone else to do (such as mow the lawn or clean out all the fridges/freezers), I will pay them for if they take the project on and see it through until the end.  Wow I just re-read that; no one’s toddler should be mowing a lawn or cleaning out a freezer.  That comment was directed at older children 🙂

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6 Responses to “Chores for Toddlers – Steps to Parenting your Child to Freedom and Independence”

  1. Rachel Says:

    I had my kids putting away their laundry at a very early age. I invested in some inexpensive plastic drawers to make it easy for them, and told my self it didn’t matter if t shirts, pjs etc got wrinkled as long as they were putting it away themselves.

    As for getting dressed themselves, if it’s really important to the parent that the child matches, put “acceptable” outfits into cubbies piles etc and let the child pick the outfit for the day, and dress themself in it.

  2. Edible Torah Says:

    Make a list of all the chores, and then let them sign up every week. Some jobs are very popular (everyone wants to clean windows because it involves spraying smelly blue stuff). Some are popular with certain children. My older son loves cleaning toilets. My younger daughter loves cleaning the stove.

    If a child had the chore last week, someone else gets to have it first. If nobody wants it, the child can pick it again the following week.

    Each child must pick a number of chores equal to 1/2 their age (rounded down. So the 9 year old still only has 4 chores)

    The point is that people should be able to pick the jobs they like best (or at least hate least). People learn that a chore is not a lifetime sentence, that you can look forward to Sunday when we switch. Or that you can trade mid-week with someone else who is willing.

    On top of chores, there are things everyone has to do each day/week. Fold and put away cloths. Vaccuum/dust their room. As a group, all teh kids have to keep the kids’ bathroom clean.

    For those with very very young kids – it’s more important that the child be involved than that they do it anywhere near “right”. I miss the footprints on my floor from when my (now 18 year old) helped me mop when she was 3. Far from re-doing it, I used to point them out when company came over. Nobody was scandalized.

  3. Edible Torah Says:

    Rachel:
    in response to the dressing. After the birth of our first child, my wife purchased two buttons that were applied before dropping my daughter off at daycare.

    One said “Dressed Myself”
    The other said “Daddy Dressed Me”.

  4. beanie Says:

    My daughter was in charge of feeding the dogs, unpacking her own lunch box, and getting all of her clothes each day in the hamper at the age of three. By the time she was five, I could send her into the living room with a dust cloth or out on the porch with a bucket of sudsy water and she could wipe things down. She has picked out her own outfits since she was four. At the age of nine, she still doesn’t match about 30% of the time. I call it self-expression. 😉

    I agree heartily about each child needing to feel like they contribute something important to the tribe.

    Thanks for writing this. You’re a wise woman.

  5. Meagan Says:

    I don’t have kids yet, but I’ve noticed with my young nieces that they were always so happy to have a job, even if tou have to invent a way for them to “help.” This attitude seems not to stick around forever, so it seems like starting the habbit would be easier with toddlers, rather than springing it on older kids. Only suggestion I have is to make sure to thank kids for the things they do.

  6. surflife Says:

    My boys did their laundry from the age of 3 – I would help them to start off with but by the time they were 4 they were doing it on their own. As for breakfast have not made breakfast on a regular basis for years. Thing 1 learnt how to make his at 3 and the when Thing 2 wanted breakfast his older brother would make it – a bonus we did not anticipate ! The both make their own now! They iron and put away laundry and I am now teaching them to fold it to. My sons will not go to university not knowing how to look after themselves.

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