In our house, part of our familial closeness translates into “doing your part.” This isn’t a forced value -- kids like to help. From a very young age, if I was completing chores around the house, my daughters would ask to help. The tendency can be to shoo them, because I’ll admit, sometimes it’s harder to work with a kid at your heels. So as to not cast them aside, I started creating a list of jobs they could handle at a young age. Sometimes it’s helpful, sometimes it’s not; but the point is involvement. Here are seven ways that your toddlers can help around the house:
- Room cleaner! Creating age-appropriate systems for cleaning their room not only made it less of a battle, it made it a chore I could send even my youngest toddler off to do on her own. An independent job immediately builds confidence, especially when it’s done and you can shower the praise. We’re a basket house, and my daughters and I worked together to initially decide which toys would go in which baskets. They have a plan of action when they clean their room, and know exactly what I mean when I say, “Will I think your room is clean?”
- Duster! For the dust-concerned mother, this might not be the most ideal job. But I’ve got to tell you: I despise dusting the house. It’s one of those infinite jobs, and the infinity makes it meaningless for me. But if I hand a cleaning rag to my kid, she instantly feels like she has a real, grown-up job. (To make this kid-safe, I use washable linen cloths, lightly sprayed with a vinegar and water mixture.)
- Laundry assistant! When we first lived in Brooklyn, our apartment building had a nice laundry room, one floor above us. In a city where people normally send their laundry out, it was convenient, and it wasn’t; but we designated a set laundry day. On a Monday morning, no one else was home to wash clothes, so we had full reign of all the machines. We would drag all the laundry into the living room, dump it into a big pile, and the girls would help me sort it. They thought it was a great game, running back and forth from the dark colors pile to the whites pile. Once all is said and done and the clothes are clean, I get a lot of offers for help again. I keep all of our rags, washcloths, and cloth napkins in individual drawers in a hutch; so I will fold those things into manageable piles, and my girls will run back and forth putting those things away.
- Sous chef! I probably hear “Can I help?” more when I’m making dinner than the rest of the day combined. And I get it. It’s the end of the day, the witching hour; I’m tucked away in the kitchen, no attention to spare; and I’m using cool shiny (and sharp!) tools. Prepping food is definitely the most tempting time to say, nicely, “Stay out of my way!” and there are days when I do that (chopping veggies is cathartic, and sometimes I need the space). But when I can, I include my daughters in meal prep. For example, they get my produce squeaky clean, because what could be more fun than playing under running water with food and a colander? And I have also found that tiny little fingers are especially good at peeling garlic--a task which will buy you a lot of time for other things.
- Porch sweeper! What is it about a broom that makes kids instantly want to help? As soon as mine is out, there they are. I have a smaller broom that I use for outside sweeping, and it’s easy for me to send them out to the front porch to sweep away. (Obviously not so easy in a city apartment; but kids are surprisingly good at Swiffering, too.) The bonus to this chore? It lends itself to great imaginary play because a broom can be so many things.
- Hunter of odors! My girls are the designated Febreezers, just to keep things fresh. (And if you’re like me and keep the house as free of chemicals as possible, there are some great homemade anti-odor sprays you can make; just be careful of anything with baking soda because it can streak or stick to your upholstery.)
- Collector/Runner/Sorter! Sometimes it is easier to just come up with odd jobs on the fly, and honestly, this is when the kiddos can be most helpful. Maybe I need to vacuum but there are toys and magazines in the way; my collectors get the job done quickly! Maybe I’m cleaning the bathroom but I left the sponge in the kitchen; my runners quite literally run to retrieve it for me. Maybe I’ve folded the socks into one big pile; my sorters know how to group Daddy’s, Mommy’s, and their own separately.
Whatever task you choose to give your child, I think the main thing to remember is that they are capable--and that they want to help. It will take a little patience in the beginning, teaching them methods or establishing ground rules. But it’s time worth investing in a family that makes life together.
Image of a Land of Nod cleaning play set that is (sadly) no longer available.