I recently shared on social media about my toddler doing chores. And it occurred to me after a few comments from other moms that they didn’t think their children were ready to help out around the house until they were “older.” This astounded me and prompted me to want to share just exactly what I let my child (currently 20 months old) do to help out. She’s been largely helping out since she was about ten months old. Perhaps it will inspire you to include your children in the housekeeping as well!
I personally think it’s important to pay attention to their innate desire to help out, the pride they feel when they have accomplished a “grown up task” and the joy that stems from helping others. Even if it’s only pretend-help, or blatantly not that helpful. They want to emulate us so badly, and they are learning (motor skills, physics, chemistry, math, life skills, and more) every step of the way.
Our end-goal as parents is to eventually raise an independent, self-sufficient human that will survive and thrive when they leave the nest. There is this magical period when they are very little where they want to learn, copy, and help out. I think if this grace period is ignored, they learn that these housekeeping jobs are things that only the parents (and often, only mom) are capable of doing. When they’ve never been allowed to help put toys away, what makes us think they are going to want to do it when they are, say, six years old? Too often we shoo children away if we deem it a hindrance, a mess, or don’t consider how we can make it age-appropriate and safe.
So, suck it up for a handful of months and let the toddlers slow your workload down. Let them make more of a mess than what you started out with. Let them pretend to work alongside you. In the long run, I think you will be grateful that you did.
I pass my toddler each item from the washing machine and let her open the dryer, and stuff the wet article of clothing into the dryer. This is a task that I can do in about two handfuls. But to let her help, I slow the pace down and it takes about 25 handfuls until everything is in the dryer. She also knows how to pull the lint vent out, and I scrape the lent out into the trash can. Once it is clean, she gets to put it back into the slot (it’s like a real-life puzzle piece!). She proudly slams the dryer door shut and I start it.
After I remove all the steak knives and chopping knives from the clean dishwasher, I let my toddler pass me almost every item in the dishwasher. When she was much younger, I’d quickly grab all the porcelain out and leave the pot lids, cookie trays, Tupperware, and any other plastic items for her to pass to me. But a couple of months ago, I also started letting her pass me the porcelain dishes. She has yet to drop a single thing and she proudly feels that trust and responsibility I’m giving her.
She passes me each butter knife, fork, and spoon and announces what they are as she passes them to me to drop into the drawer. She is allowed to put the cookie trays and pot lids away herself because those are the only two cabinets she can reach to open. Sure, it takes much longer to put dishes away when you are standing there waiting on the next individual fork to be passed your way, but it will be so worth it when I can just ask her to do the entire “unload the dishwasher” task all on her own in a couple of short years. She also helps me put the dish soap in the dishwasher and (her favorite part!) she gets to press the button that makes the machine start.
She also gets to “wash the dishes” by hand. Now, this one is a bit of a pretend chore for her, but she loves it! It’s similar to giving a child a water-table. I pull up a chair and then pull up two more chairs to flank either side so she doesn’t slip when the chair is soaked with soapsuds. She has an apron she loves to wear, and I put some Dawn in the sink with the pots and pans. They could use a good soak, anyway! I reduce the water stream to a trickle after filling the pots with water and soap, and she could spend hours playing in the sink, washing, and re-washing those pots.
When she was about 17 months old, I let my toddler crack her first egg into a bowl to make cookies. The pride beaming from her face was something I’ll never forget! I let her do every step: pour the cookie mix into the bowl, pour the melted butter from the measuring cup into the bowl, crack the egg, mix everything together, plop the spoonfuls of dough onto the tray (so many motor skills!), and watch it cook until the timer beeped. Obviously, I was very hands-on in guiding her but she felt so much ownership of those cookies and now understood on a deeper level how her food was made.
Similarly, my child loves to pick her own food. We have a small backyard garden and she can collect the jalapenos, tomatoes and green onion for us. She watches everything we do with the foods after they arrive in the kitchen and I truly believe it contributes to her being a very great eater.
She also will help in the garden by pulling weeds. Children are smarter than we give them credit for! Show them which plants need to go and which ones need to stay, and they get it! If I’m digging holes with a spade to put plants in, then I make sure she also has a beach shovel and a nearby area of dirt where she can also dig holes and put plants.
Another great task is to have your child help pick up sticks and pinecones. We put all of ours in the fire pit. Once our toddler sees us pick up the first stick and cross the yard to throw it into the pit, she needs no more prompting to continue cleaning up the yard for us.
Every day, our toddler waters the garden. This is a super easy and fun one. Just turn on the hose and point to what needs water. If you think something is getting overwatered, point them in a new direction and show them another plant that is thirsty.
If we are at Winn-Dixie, where they offer the miniature grocery carts, she gets to push her own cart and I show her what is needed. She gets to pick that item up and put it into her cart. Usually, we are at Aldi, so I let her put the quarter into the buggy. When we arrive at the checkout line, she helps me put the items on the belt. I pass anything lightweight her way (yes, this is yet another step), and she gets to reach over and place it onto the belt. Meanwhile, I put all the heavy items on the belt. She gets to hand the cashier the cash, and she requests the receipt afterward. She is tickled pink when she receives her quarter when we return our grocery cart to its stall.
Sweeping & Mopping
We received a miniature set of cleaning supplies that came with a small broom, dust pan, and mop. Whenever I’m sweeping she gets hers out as well and “helps mommy.” I love that I don’t even have to ask for her “help.” Of course, she’s just pushing dirt around willy-nilly and can’t get dirt into her dustpan just yet, but she feels included and helpful and that is all that matters. If anything, I accomplish this chore quicker because I’m trying to stay ahead of her before she can get to my dirt piles!
Picking up toys
I simply announce that it’s time to pick up toys and just make it a fun part of life. Similar to picking up sticks in the yard, she’s happy to do the “fun activity” mommy is doing. I usually grab some sort of basket for her to help fill up and then we bring it into her room and put everything away in its respective place. I’m continually amazed that she understands where each item goes. We’ve done this enough times that she knows that the fake food goes inside her toy kitchen and that the teddy bear goes into the stuffed animal box, and the tiny dolls go into the dollhouse, etc. etc.
Wiping, Trash & Favors
An obvious way to help is to let them have a wet rag and start wiping. Mirrors, table tops, the floors…have at it! Toddlers are constantly spilling (or peeing on the floor…), so let them clean up their own messes and watch how much more careful they become.
And also, anytime I need to throw something away, I ask her to do it for me. Not because I’m lazy, but because she’s so proud to be able to help!
Similarly, I’ll ask her to bring me items, simply to have her follow orders. This is is a great way to learn manners! For example, “Etta, can I ask you a favor? Will you please bring me the red book by Mommy’s bed? Thank you so much! I appreciate it!” Cue a big grin and a toddler who says “please” & “thank you” as well.
Now, sometimes you just need to get stuff done. If my child is playing contently in her room and I need to get laundry done, I do not stop her to help me. But if she’s following me around like a shadow and interested in what I’m doing, then I include her. This does not mean my house is perfect or that I have everything together … far from it! But I don’t want to be the thing that denies my curious child from education, experimentation, and learning to love that joy you feel when you’ve helped someone out. I hope this helps you become more mindful and inclusive with your children, too. They are more capable than many of us realize!