Giving Toddlers What They Crave

Toddlers are a conundrum. They’re not quite big/coordinated enough to undertake a ton of chores, but they want to help you with your chores. This leads to a lot of headaches unless you can come to terms with letting them help. My favorite ways of letting Little Man have some independence and feel like he’s contributing are:

  • Let him help me unload the dishwasher. I always pull the silverware caddy out first so he can’t grab any sharp knives, and I check the top rack if Hubby ran the last load, because he has a tendency to put knives up there. This works great for us because almost all of our dishes are mismatched pieces of hand-me-down Corningwear, which is virtually unbreakable, or mismatched pieces of plastic.
  • When I bake, I pull a chair up to the counter and give him a little cup of lentils, a spoon, and a bowl to transfer the lentils to. This usually results in me vacuuming up lentils, but at least it doesn’t result in eggshells and too much flour in whatever I’m baking.
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  • When I fold laundry, I give LM all the cloth diaper parts and ask him to put them in his diaper bin. That way they’re corraled when I get a chance to stuff them, and he feels like he’s helping me with laundry. We have been working on folding small towels, but LM tends to put one thing in the basket just to take another three (already folded) things out. I also give him single socks to put in our bastard sock bin, which I match during naptime.
  • I’ve given LM a paper towel with a little bit of vinegar on it and had him wipe the glass door. It doesn’t get super clean (in fact, sometimes it gets worse), but when toddlers help with chores, it’s mostly to promote doing them in the first place.
  • We used to have a little cordless vacuum that I could adjust the handle all the way down on. LM would follow me around and vacuum as well. It wasn’t super thourough, but it did cut down the time I spent vacuuming. Sadly, LM’s vacuum met a violent death at the hands of Hubby, who didn’t realize it wasn’t capable of sucking up sawdust and screws in the garage. We’re still searching for a replacement.
  • Putting away toys and books is the best chore for little kids, since they made the mess in the first place. The key here is to keep your expectations low. They will find a toy they haven’t seen in a while, and they will stop cleaning to play. I consider it a success if 5 or 6 toys get put away.
  • LM frequently waters the plants on the front porch. I always have to go back and re-water, and a towel waiting on the sidelines is a must, as are clean clothes. This is best done in warm weather.
  • Putting clothes in the dryer is easy for little kids to do. I usually hand LM the clothing that has to go in one piece at a time, rather than letting him remove them from the washer himself, especially if it’s a load of diapers. Otherwise, things that aren’t supposed to go in the dryer end up in there.
  • One of the earliest chores LM learned was to wipe things, so I like to give him a dry rag to wipe up wet spills, or a wet rag to wipe down dirty surfaces. Babyproofing is key here- LM goes crazy and wipes EVERYTHING he can reach, so make sure those outlets are covered, things that can’t get wet are put up, and that you have a snack ready to distract.

When LM gets a little older, we’ll add in more chores, including hanging clothes on the little clothesline we have (right now clothespins are way too fun to be tools), wiping his high chair after a meal, and mopping with vinegar. Keep your expectations low, and remember that it’s more important for your toddler to learn to contribute at this stage than it is for them to learn to fold/clean/mop correctly.


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