Toddlers are a busy bunch, always on the go and learning about the world around them. It’s a great time to begin tracing them the importance of being a part of the team, which is what we call our family, our team. According to Nancy Darling, Professor of Psychology and author of over 60 scientific papers, allowing children to do chores makes them feel like a part of the family, rather than a bystander. She also adds that it can teach them gratitude because they notice other people’s hard work and show appreciation as they are a part of the team they can see it benefits all. As I’ve spoken on in previous posts, gratitude is often a stepping stone towards our ultimate happiness goals, therefore it is imperative we guide our children towards living graciously.
My husband and I have grown to enjoy the parenting theory created by Jim Fay, known as Love and Logic, and he has stated that children enjoy feeling needed and the knowledge that they are making a contribution to the family. We’ve noticed this to indeed be true for our toddler also. If we give him a task and he chooses to help he feels capable and helpful which boosts his confidence almost immediately. We also give a coin for the harder tasks and he absolutely loves dropping that coin into the slot of his ceramic owl bank! It’s satisfying to him knowing he earned something and what a great lesson that is for him to acquire.
What kind of tasks can a toddler actually do that are helpful to the whole family? There are actually quite a few chores that can be done with tiny helpful hands, it just takes some guidance the first few times. Below is a list of chores we currently have my 2 (almost 3) year old do, and ones we hope to begin including in the near future. Every house will have a different rhythm and it’s important that the chores fit into your ‘team’s’ rhythm. These chores aren’t meant to be stressful for the toddler, but fun and productive! With these tasks, we can build skills, confidence, and gratitude, as long as we don’t make them stressful. Follow logical consequences if tasks are not being done. For instance, if our toddler doesn’t want to help with one of his tasks that he earns a coin with then we simply say,”Okay, if you’re not going to do your chore today then we’re going to have to give your coin to the person who does do it,” to which he usually jumps on the chance to complete the task. They often need gentle reminders of why we help (because we’re a team and it’s everyone’s job, not just mommy’s) and because earning something through work can be fun!
The chores listed below don’t include personal tasks that we work on like teeth brushing, getting dressed, and hygiene-related tasks, they are more geared toward contributing to the family unit.
- Help unload the dishwasher. – In our house the toddler has the job of putting all of the silverware away. It’s closest and easiest for him to grab, he can reach the drawer, and he likes categorizing the different silverware. He earns one coin for this chore.
- Putting away laundry into drawers. – We let him put clothes into drawers because they’re safely on the ground (under his bed) and he knows where his different clothing items go. This earns a coin in our house.
- Matching socks. – This task is great for learning about matching patterns and it helps with the chore of doing laundry.
- Vacuum. – This is more of a fun game but it still counts! We purchased a Dyson children’s vacuum for him last Christmas and it actually sucks up a little dirt. He enjoys helping me vacuum!
- Feeding the pets. – What a great chance to teach kindness and to also practice motor skills like scooping and pouring. This earns a coin in our house
- Putting away toys. – This is the one most of us run into resistance because it can be overwhelming and not “fun.” To make it more doable for our toddler we say specifically what to do such as, “Let’s put away the blocks into this bin” instead of “Please put your toys away” because it gives a clear task. If there’s still fussing about it, we sing the cleanup song. If there is still refusal we say “uh-oh, it looks like you’re having a hard time cleaning up your toys. I’ll clean them up and keep them in my room for a day so you won’t have to worry about playing with them or cleaning them up.
- Water plants/garden. – With supervision and previously measured water a toddler can help take care of the household plants.
- Yardwork. – This is seen as a game for our toddler, he isn’t even aware it’s a chore but he enjoys helping out in the yard with things like picking up fallen branches or big rocks so dad can mow.
- Helping with baby siblings. – Our toddler likes to feel involved in caring for his baby brother so he will often grab us a diaper and wipe for a diaper change. He also helps find binkies, get towels, or any other errand we might need.
- Helping with dirty laundry. – By age two our toddler was most definitely helping out by putting his dirty clothes in his hamper. Now he also enjoys helping us put clothes into the washer or advancing them into the dryer. He also likes to help fold by handing us each garment out of the basket.
- Clearing the table. – We’ve started asking him to take his dishes to the sink when he is done eating his meal and wiping up his spot. He loves wiping!
- Fold washcloths – This will be one we begin working on soon!
- Dust. – We have an air purifier but we still need to dust surfaces to keep allergens at bay. Toddlers have tiny hands that can reach into a lot of spaces!
- Getting the mail. – I do this with him for safety reasons right now, until he understands that he can’t go on the road but he is tall enough to open and shut the mailbox. He also helps send out letters.