While toddlers may not be your first choice for hired help, Grace Cormack finds that little kids can be taught how to help with chores — with plenty of patience and practise.
Teaching toddlers to do chores may seem like an impossible chore in itself. If it takes a perfect world before teenagers will tidy, it feels unfathomable that a tiny toddler could help with the housework. But however chaotic life may be with toddlers in the midst, these minions can help, and will do so with a smile on their face. Toddlers love to be involved with chores because they strive to play a part in their family’s day-to-day activity. At this age, they like to replicate whatever it is that their parents are doing. Let's make the most of it!
Getting children involved in daily chores can benefit their development. Plunket advocates involving children in jobs around the home to teach new skills and provide a sense of belonging. Chores can teach toddlers basic skills, such as bed-making or vacuuming, as well as life skills like structure, self-discipline and cooperation. Even a small amount of responsibility can lay a strong foundation for future work habits, build self-esteem and develop independence.
Busy parents will benefit in many ways. Not only will you receive help around the house, but working alongside young children can provide rich learning experiences and scope for imaginative play.
While you can’t expect your toddlers to keep your home spick and span, the distraction of chores may prevent further mess. Busy hands will have less opportunity to get up to their usual mischief, such as littering lunch on your windows in a Jackson Pollock-inspired masterpiece of mashed potatoes.
If you’re lucky, your child will not only pick up their own mess, but take it upon themselves to clean up after all family members. My toddler shows that she is tidy and orderly like her father, by closing kitchen cupboards that were left ajar; tucking in clothes left hanging from my drawers; and making such a deal of fruit squirted on the floor that one of us has to clean it up – and it may as well be her!
While it will become their responsibility to tidy up after themselves, toddlers need guidance to perform simple chores. Before they turn two, toddlers can learn simple tasks, such as opening and closing curtains. If your child responds to your instructions or shows an eagerness to help, you can teach them the following chores:
■ getting clean and dressed
Many children love water play, so will readily immerse themselves in handwashing and bath times, particularly if there are plenty of bubbles. Encourage your children to brush their own teeth by having a go themselves and watching their efforts in a mirror. Give your child as much independence as possible when it comes to getting dressed. Allow them to pick out their own outfits, and put on their clothes.
■ picking up toys and books
You can ask toddlers to pick up their toys and books and put them away. This task is easier if everything has its own place, like a toy box or bookshelf. There are many games you can play to make picking up more fun, such as asking your toddler whether they have seen their toy car and where they think it should go.
■ making the bed
While they can’t be expected to tackle this chore on their own, toddlers can help straighten their side of the bed and pick up the pillows and teddies to plop on top.
■ cleaning up
You can teach children to clean up after themselves by giving them a damp rag to wipe the floors or table. Dusting surfaces is easier if your child wears a sock or a hand puppet on their hands. Toddlers love to use the same equipment as their parents, so it is useful to have more than one cleaning device for the job, such as an extra dustpan and brush.
■ helping in the kitchen
Toddlers can assist with emptying a dishwasher or drying non-breakable dishes and stacking them in the cupboard. Encourage your child to carry and put away non-perishable, light groceries which won’t get damaged if dropped. This also provides the opportunity to teach about what the packages contain and where they should be stored.
■ doing the laundry
The laundry provides a fun opportunity to play with pegs and clothes. Many young toddlers enjoy counting or posting pegs and passing washing to you as you hang it out. Encourage your child to put their dirty washing into the clothes basket.
■ working outside
Working outside can give everyone a breath of fresh air and an opportunity to learn about nature. Toddlers can perform garden activities such as weeding flowerbeds, and raking and picking up leaves. They can learn kindness and empathy by caring for pets, including grooming and feeding them.
A gentle encouragement
Toddlers learn best by observing and listening to simple instructions, then trying it for themselves. Consider these tips when encouraging toddlers to do their chores:
■ create simple jobs
It is tempting to put a toddler into their messy bedroom and order them to “Clean it up!”. However, a toddler under the age of three may be too young to comprehend how to tidy such a large area. It is more useful to include them in small chores throughout the day, or assign part of a job, such as picking up toys and putting them into the toy box. Give simple instructions, with only one request at a time.
Toddlers love to imitate their parents, so they will copy the job you are doing, particularly if you show enthusiasm or make a job look like fun. Show them how to properly wipe the table, straighten their sheets and hold a dustpan while sweeping – and restrain yourself from redoing their task in front of them.
■ work together
Getting to spend more time with you may be your child’s biggest incentive in helping with chores. By staying nearby, you can encourage your toddler if they lose focus.
Working together gives you the opportunity to play with your child and teaches them how to cooperate.
■ allow independence
Chores can provide a great bonding experience, but by taking a step back, parents can allow their child to grow in independence. If toddlers are given the chance to do a chore on their own, they will feel like it’s their accomplishment. Recently, I overheard my two-year-old daughter announce “All done!” upon putting away a drawer full of clothes. She looked satisfied for completing the task all on her own.
■ praise and reward
Encourage your children by telling them they have done a great job and remind them that their contribution is valued. Children over the age of three may respond well to reward systems or chore charts, followed by a treat such as a movie night. All that younger toddlers need, however, is praise.
■ make it a game
Children are naturally playful, so it helps to make chores into a game. Allow your toddlers to engage their imagination – recruit their teddy for the job, or ‘fly’ their toys back to the box. Consider racing against the clock, or clicking your fingers to put toys away – if it worked for Mary Poppins, it should work for your poppets!
■ move to music
Turning on the tunes can make any job fun, and it incorporates music into your daily routine. You could sing the 'Clean up! Clean up! Everybody, everywhere!' song, or download the 'Two-Minute Clean Up' song, which is available on iTunes. Try bouncing toys to the beat as you put them away
Don’t give up
Some days you will wonder why you didn’t complete the chores on your own. Not only would it have taken half the time, it would have saved your carpets from being soaked with soap, or your drapes from being doused in dirty water. It can be tempting to wait until your little one is napping so you can make the place sparkle without your little shadow standing in the way. However, toddlers love to learn and to be part of the action, so it is important not to push them away. Be patient with yourself and with your child. Remember that if it takes longer to complete the task, this is a skill your child will use for the rest of their life. Learning to tidy up is about building character, one Lego block at a time.
Grace Cormack is a freelance writer and mum of a gorgeous little girl. She loves going on family day trips and her hobbies include dancing and running.