Chores for Enthusiastic Toddlers

Two-year-old Jack (and his black eye) doing a little mopping.

I have had two different readers request that I address the subject of chores and chore charts. For us anyway, this is an area that has seen a lot of flux over the years. Since the answer to this question is so different depending on the ages of the kids involved, and has created a crazy web of tangents in my mind, I'm going to break it into a series of posts.

Today is chores for toddlers: what we let them do, what we make them do, and when we just turn on the TV.

My toddlers have always been very enthusiastic helpers. Whether I want their help or not. Especially when I don't want it. I learned pretty quickly that my lovely little plan of toddler Jack playing quietly while baby Betty sleeps and I don my frilly apron and tidy up each morning was not realistic. Specifically, the Jack playing quietly part. He wanted to HELP.

Of course, help from an almost two-year-old makes everything take at least twice as long. But I came to realize that under normal circumstances, it was worth it to let him tag along. I got him a little spray bottle filled with water, and a rag. He would come along with me while I cleaned, happily spaying and wiping.

It kept him engaged and occupied so I could get the real chores done.

My little guys have also really enjoyed sweeping with their own
little broom (the push-type broom seems to be easiest for them to control) and dusting with a feather duster.

Quick side note: why isn't this real?

Watch the video here!

But then somewhere between two and three the kids around here have to start earning their keep. Hey, we're not running a charity ward. You don't work, you don't eat.

Are there any chores a two-year-old can actually be helpful with? Yes and no. Yes, there's stuff they can (and should) do, but they still require my attention while they're doing it. I try to just think of it as homeschool preschool, and -- hey, two birds with one stone!

The place we usually start is laundry. They can put dirty clothes in hampers. They can sort the clothes into lights and darks. They can help switch loads from the washer to the dryer. At folding time, they LOVE the sock matching game.

By the time my kids are four, they are already WAY more competent with laundry than I was when I went away to college. It's a good starting chore, because I figure if I'm going to have to be sitting on the ground anyway, I might as well pay attention to the two-year-old. Could I do it faster alone? Yes. But is my child a huge obstacle to the accomplishment of the task? No. So it's a keeper.

My least favorite place to have help is with dinner. I'm all for quality time, but I rarely feel like today's the day I want entire eggs dropped into the corn muffin batter. I used to very regularly let my little kids watch a DVD while I was trying to get dinner ready. That said, it's an area in which I have made progress. The kids so love to be involved with the cooking.

Anita was banging away on chicken breasts with a "meat hammer" (that's what my kids call it, I think it's actually called a tenderizer) this evening. Good times.

This topic deserves its own post, but . . . I used to let my kids watch TV daily because I needed them to. Now, the TV is rarely on in our house, because the little kids have the big kids to entertain them, and we are really busy with other stuff.

Anyway, the first independent chore we usually assign is around three-years-old. And it looks like this:

When you have as many feet in your family as we do, you end up with shoes ALL OVER THE HOUSE. And no one can ever find their shoes when it's time to go somewhere. My three-year-olds have been pretty successful in independently finding, identifying, and returning shoes.

During all of this we really emphasize the idea of: "What are you doing to help our family?" It's a question that gets asked loudly of our kids during chore time. Even two and three-year-olds can develop a real sense of pride in the fact that they are performing an essential service for this family. Everyone likes to feel important, even better to actually be important. Even if you're a little guy.

But what about the chores you want them to do, but perhaps they are not quite so excited about, like picking up their own toys?

Picking up our own toys?

Well, if you'd like to read my further takes on realistic expectations, appropriate chores for other age groups, chore charts, bribes, rewards, and punishments, and how to set your kids up for success by organizing your toys . . . you'll just have to come on back.

So, Diana, did that answer your question? And for the rest of you . . . what chores can your toddlers do? How do you find the balance between helping and interfering?