The first time I told my daughter to clean up after herself, she laughed at me.
Okay, she was 13 months old, so really she just blinked and toddled away to wreak more havoc on another room of our apartment, but, really, isn’t that the same thing? ?
As she approaches her second birthday, though, I’ve slowly found ways to start teaching her more responsibility through household chores, all with the goal of ultimately showing her that families (and communities) work best when everyone does their part.
It’s important to me that she values not only her place in our family, but also the contributions she can make to the world. For me, that starts with helping to take care of our home. Every child develops differently, so there will be exceptions, of course.
But for us and our home—these 5 chores are helping my daughter learn self-sufficiency and teamwork.
1. Pick up toys.
Don’t be fooled by that wide-eyed deadpan—your toddler knows exactly what you are asking when you tell them to pick up. The trick to starting a habit of tidiness for me is patience. When I ask my daughter to clean up using clear directives (i.e. “Please put your blocks in the bag.” vs. “Pick up the living room!”), there can be no caving if she doesn’t do it right away. I might get her started by picking up two blocks to show her where they go, but from there, I know I have to wait her out.
If she simply refuses, I don’t let it turn into a power struggle. I usually just say, “okay,” and leave the toys where they are. Later, when she asks for a snack or to go outside, I’ll say, “Yes, but first you have to put your blocks in the bag.” She’s almost always willing to do something I want to get something she wants. Plus, there’s no denying the look of pride on her face when she successfully cleans up a mess and we get to celebrate her helpfulness. ?
Pro tip: Baskets are a mama’s best friend. We keep all her toys in open-top baskets and bins to make it easy for her to put everything away when she’s done playing.
2. Wiping up after meals.
After every meal, I hand Vivi a damp washcloth to wipe her face and hands and then I have her use it to wipe down her booster seat. Real talk: She doesn’t always do the best job. But I usually have to follow up with a disinfecting wipe anyway, so for me, this task is more about the principle of, again, learning to contribute to caring for the house. ?
Pro tip: You might feel silly, but I’ve found that singing songs about “this is the way we wipe our face!” can be a huge motivator for reluctant little cleaners.
3. Putting away shoes.
Like most mamas, coming home is often comparable to unloading after a quick jaunt up Everest. I’m usually carrying my overloaded bag, sometimes a car seat, sometimes a lunch box or shopping bags, my keys, and struggling to keep our dog from escaping while we all squeeze through the door. It’s such a help to me that Vivi can take her own shoes off and put them away, and I always make sure to call out what a great helper she is. ?
Pro tip: Designating a specific spot for her shoes has worked wonders. Now she is used to the whole routine of taking her shoes off herself and putting them away in their spot.
4. Helping in the garden.
Recently, we were in Homegoods when Vivi happened upon a small metal watering can that came with gardening gloves and a tiny spade and rake. I decided to capitalize on her love for playing outdoors and brought it home. Since then, it has been a great way to get Vivi involved in caring for our backyard plants. I feel like we get bonus points for this one because it’s also a) teaching her to care for the planet around her and b) teaching her the basics of physical science. *pats self on back* ?
Pro tip: Once our veggies and herbs start growing, I’ll let her pick them with me and help me bring them inside to wash and eat or cook with.
5. Cleaning up her own messes
Toddlers are basically whirling dervishes of mess when they want to be. On any given day, Vivi will dump a basket of laundry, spill the dog’s water and spit a mouthful of string cheese onto the floor. This used to stress me out (“I just folded those!”), but I find the stress is relieved when I turn it into an opportunity to remind Viv that she is part of a family that all pitch in.
Now, when her sippy cup spills onto the floor, I simply hand her a paper towel and say, “Okay, now you wipe up!” She’s usually actually pretty thrilled to perform this “big girl” activity and I’m pretty thrilled I don’t have to break out the mop again. ✨
Pro tip: Next step in my chores plan for this specific task is to ask Vivi to throw her paper towel in the garbage when she’s done.