Ask your toddler to do the chores

Ask your toddler to do the chores

If you ask for a spoon in my house, you may expect to be directed towards a drawer of neatly nestled stacks of stainless.

Instead, you will likely find this a tangled mess of silver and plastic in no apparent order.

I used to be bothered by a such a disorganized silverware drawer, but that was years ago. I have let go of the need for nestled stacks. Now, the upside down forks mixed with the oversized spoons just make me smile.

Because my 2-year old did it.

The clean forks and spoons are always the last left in the dishwasher. It is my 2-year-old’s job to put them away. And, he does it. His way. His pace. His chore.

And the best part? The smile on his face when the last fork is dropped in the drawer.

I believe chores are important, even for toddlers. As toddlers are learning their independence, and testing acceptable boundaries, they are developing their foundation of self-esteem and family belongingness. Chores are a way to promote responsibility and personal pride, while providing a routine opportunity for praise and love.

So, after the second birthday, I suggest something to each of my patient families.

A two-year old should have 2 chores.

Giving a toddler a task, however, is very different than creating a chore list for an older child. Here are some tips on what to expect from the littlest members of your family.

5 tips for toddler chores

1. Take advantage of a toddler’s natural tendency to mimic adult behavior. Turn an activity your toddler is modeling into a routine task. For example, is she following you around with a rag while you are dusting? If so, dusting may be a great first chore. Pushing laundry baskets? Putting clothes in the hamper? By routinely asking to repeat an activity your toddler is already showing interest in, you have successfully started chores! Need ideas? Look at this list some toddler-appropriate jobs.

2. Help your toddler understand that every member of the family has unique jobs to help one other. Use a consistent phrase to describe the essence of the task, and use the same phrase when talking about housework you are completing. For example, “Mommy is taking out the garbage to help the family. Can you put the napkins on the table to help the family?”

3. Toddler chores are an opportunity for praise and acceptance. If a chore is not completed, a toddler should not be punished.

4. Help your toddler understand what is expected of him by breaking down larger tasks into little pieces. For example, instead of saying, “pick up your toys,” consider starting with, “put the truck in the box.” And, remember to show your child each step along the way. Praising your toddler as each step is completed will motivate more self-directed tasks in the future.

5. The goal of the chore is to complete the task to the best of your toddler’s ability. The goal is not perfection, efficiency, nor “correctness.” Expect your toddler to need some redirection and some extra time to get the task completed.

And remember, if you come to my house and ask for a spoon, don’t expect to find it in a neatly organized location. Instead, expect to be rummaging through the silverware drawer, only to look up and see a smiling two-year old proudly saying, “I did it.”

Natasha Burgert is a pediatrician who blogs at KC Kids Doc.

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  • Elisabeth Dahl

    I have a distinct memory of my mother allowing me to iron cloth napkins and other simple small cloths at a very young age (definitely before kindergarten–because I remember it being during the day while my older brothers were at school). Now that I am an adult I don’t think I would be okay with a kid using an iron but I guess it was a whole different time back then…

    • Constance

      If you could handle it, I think your mother knew you were ready. You knew that the iron was hot, and you knew to be careful. You can set different tasks for your children, though.

      I have a distinct memory of being told to “go play” when I wanted to help out as a small a child. Then I grew into a teenager who rolled her eyes whenever she was asked to do anything. I know for a fact that it wasn’t just me; this was a learned behavior. If there’s work to do, go play!

      I’m so infuriated by parents of teenagers who smile wistfully when they think of the days when their children wanted to help, because they “knew it wasn’t going to last”. How was it supposed to last when these parents refused to give their children a chance?

      • Lisa Cunningham

        Very true, Constance. My boyfriend and his sister were never allowed to use the kitchen. Thus, they have zero interest in cooking. Much to my chagrin. My ex, however, learned how to make all kinds of great dishes.
        As the oldest of five, we were always shown how to cook, do dishes and do laundry. My mother might have killed herself if she hadn’t had help!

  • Lisa Cunningham

    This is great advice. It’s never too early to show a child how to pitch in and help the family. We’d have a lot fewer selfish, spoiled people in the world if everyone did this with their kids!

  • lauramitchellrn

    My job was to set the table.

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