Yes, toddlers can do chores. Will it help your workload? No. Will it be easy to get them to do them? No. Are they motivated by bribes, allowance or privileges? No. Will it quite possibly be more work for you? Yes.
So what’s the point?
I think most people initiate toddler chores to lay a foundation that we all make messes, and we all help clean up. Even toddlers can understand this simple idea. Plus, when you are home with a toddler, they really have to be in sight at all times. Silence can be deadly–or at least messy—so when you can find a way for your toddler to help you with a job you are already doing, everyone wins.
Another plus is that you can show your child how to do something or have them help you several times, and then wait for them to initiate. When they do, it’s a huge sense of achievement for you both! I hate nagging, especially when I am the one doing it, so my preference is to throw a PARTY when one of the girls takes initiative. Studies show positive reinforcement is much more effective anyway, so you can save your breath and your frustration by giving your child the tools to be a helper and then reward them when they put it into action. It takes a little more patience, but it’s worth it.
Here are some easy ways to set up your home so that your toddler has opportunities to help:
- Toy baskets or bins at floor level: I find that fabric or plastic bins without lids are the most effective way to store toys. Toddlers are experts at the game “put X in Y.” It’s their favorite game. When you keep the toys in bins on the floor, it makes it easy for your toddler to help clean up. I also keep a basket in the bathtub for bath toys.
- Care for outdoor plants or flowers. Kids love being outdoors, and gardening with your toddler can help them learn where food comes from. If you have outdoor plants, watering is an easy chore kids can do themselves and you don’t have to worry about making a mess.
- Tiny laundry baskets. I found a very small, light plastic laundry bin for my girls to help me with laundry, and they love it. They can help you load or unload the dryer, take folded items to their room, or use it to help clean up. It’s just the right size for them to carry without being too large or heavy.
- Plastic plates. Using plastic dishware for your toddlers saves your nice dishes, and it makes it realistic for them to help clear the table after meals. Just be sure to scrape leftovers onto someone else’s plate first.
- Diaper drawer. My 18-month-old always helps me put away her diapers, and gets a new one when she needs it. I have the diapers in the bottom drawer of her dresser in her room, and a diaper basket downstairs that she can reach, too.
- Clean as you go. Don’t wait for there to be a big mess before you clean up. If you teach them to pick up one game or toy before getting out another, or to put all their clothes in the hamper before bath, they will develop neat habits that help you out every day without having to stop and clean.
Songs and games are a great way to encourage helping. When we sing the clean up song at our house, it’s like Clara has been hypnotized—she drops what she’s doing, starts singing and picking up things. Routine can help, too. Make it a habit and be consistent, but don’t expect perfection.
My house is not clean all the time, and I don’t get help all the time. But sometimes my girls jump in and help without asking, and it makes me feel so loved and so proud of them. I don’t care if my house is neat and tidy every minute of the day, but I do want to raise girls who notice the contributions of others and try to do their part without being nagged.
Erin Burt is a freelance writer and mother of three who lives and writes in Queensbury, New York. She’s currently trying to figure out how to work the clean-up song hypnosis on her husband.