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:
- Get a Swiffer or a Swiffer Duster and let them have at it.
- Give them a baby wipe and have them wipe down their seat.
- Help set the table.
- Bring their used plate/cup/utensils to the sink.
- 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).
- 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.”
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 🙂