All young children benefit from developmentally appropriate and reasonable responsibilities. Here, we're talking about chores.
When we think about what a chore is, what we're typically describing is a task that a family member must do to keep the home tidy or running. Young children are a part of the family and should be encouraged to select a responsibility, like everyone else.
Many adults approach chores as tedious and boring. Sometimes, the chore really is tedious and boring. But some chores are also rewarding as we end up with a clean and tidy home that we love living in.
Young children often approach chores differently. They are learning about the world and their own bodies. Wiping down the counter feels novel and productive. Putting away toys may not be fun, but they can look back at the clean space and feel proud of their work.
Young children thrive when given reasonable and developmentally appropriate responsibilities. They want to feel productive, masterful and involved in their lives and their families. Different household responsibilities offer the opportunity to teach your child responsibility, teamwork, and accountability, all skills that will help them in their lives and relationships into the future.
So, what kinds of chores can we expect from our young children?
Chores for toddlers could include:
- Picking up toys - Clearing away the table - Putting things away - Wiping down tables/counters - Tidying their room - Helping with cooking
Having a responsibility, like a chore, helps children feel connected to their environments, gives them a sense of ownership and confidence, and supports their social/emotional skill development.
Okay, so now you're convinced and excited to introduce chores, but where do you start?
It can feel very tempting for parents to begin with a sticker chart or some externally validating system for completing chores. But if you believe that chores are just something that everyone in the family does, you don't need to reward that with a sticker. Simply reinforce the behavior with verbal praise and a "thank you."
Children naturally want to help. They may not want you to tell them what to do. Offer options and allow your toddler to select the chore they wish to complete. And expect them to be unable to complete chores at different times. A child that is cranky due to lack of sleep or food is a child that is unlikely to be able to finish the task at that moment.
Build routines and predictability for chores to help toddlers be more successful. For example, if you have a routine or habit of wiping down the table after a meal, let your toddler do this. Put toys away after playing with them (even if it's just one or two). When you build the chore/responsibility into a habit or routine, you'll find that your toddler is more cooperative and more eager to help out.
It's also helpful to complete chores with young children. If you're cleaning the window, offer your child a towel and show them how to do it. Soon you'll be doing all kinds of chores together. Most children need companionship and connection to complete any task. Chores are no different. Most children cannot clean up their toys alone. But your presence and help can make a huge difference. I often find that when I offer to help a child clean, I usually pick up one or two items and the child can do the rest as long as I am still with them.
Ultimately you are teaching your child about how your family lives together, how you share responsibilities, your family expectations and values around home life, and how to be a part of a team.
What chores work for your toddler? Share your stories with us!