Tempting as it may be to say, “Not now, honey,” on a busy day, try out one of these simple tips for turning that little bundle of energy into a real helper! (No, we’re not talking “slave labor” here; just teaching a few basic skills and investing in quality time together.)
Toddlers are often still fine-tuning their motor-skills and vocabularies, but they’ll love “working” alongside you (even if they forget to actually use soap when they’re washing once in awhile). Learning to do basic chores helps toddlers balance between their eager-to-please natures and growing desire for independence.
• Put in/Take Out
An important developmental skill for little ones, toddlers love to put objects inside bags or boxes (and take them out). Let them use this skill by helping with the laundry! As you toss the dirty clothes into the washer, your toddler can pull the clean load out of the dryer and put it into the laundry basket. Stay close by to give a helping hand, and supervise for safety.
• Pick Up
You know your toddler can pick up his/her own toys now, and they’ll love putting this skill to use when you’re doing yard work in the lawn! Little hands can carry armfuls of lawn clippings, raked leaves, weeds, rocks, and more. Show them how to carry items to a yard debris pile or bag, and work alongside them. Sure, they may stop to look at a bird or bug in the yard, but they’ll love being with you.
Give them a clean, damp rag to wipe up their lunchtime crumbs in the dining room, muddy footprints from the doorway, or after “craft time.” Using natural cleaning solutions (such as a baking soda & vinegar mix or other natural blends), is a safe way to let toddlers help you scrub the kitchen or bathroom. They’ll be thrilled to help dump in some baking soda, hold the toilet brush, and wipe down mirrors or walls (at least the lower 3 feet). Supervision is important, or they might end up painting the walls with toothpaste, but you really will have a clean bathroom!
Toddlers love to pour. (How many times have you said “No pouring!” at the dinner table?) Rather than dumping out their milk, toddlers can put this skill to use in the kitchen. Seated in a high chair with a small basin of water on their tray, they can “wash” their dishes next to you, as you do the dishes at the sink. If you have pets, they can help pour out the animals’ food or water into bowls. (My children love to help feed the chickens!)
While preparing meals, move the pots and bowls lower (a child-sized table is great, or even the floor!), and let them pour in the cups of lentils, chopped veggies, rice, or water that you’ve measured. This may slow down cooking time a tad, but it does wonders for cheering up that cranky pre-dinner hour!
• Put Away
Toddlers love habit and routine. They can quickly learn and remember where items belong. Let them help unload the dishwasher by putting away the unbreakables. (Starting at about a year-and-a-half, my toddlers have each insisted this job can’t be done without him/her!) Store items such as measuring spoons or plastic food storage bowls in lower drawers for ease. Our family stores silverware in an Ikea “bucket rack” that hangs on the wall within reach, and children love to help sort the silverware. (Yes, they may end up playing with a few forks or licking a spoon, but just keep watch, so the guests don’t end up with a slobbery spoon.)
Although easily distracted, with a short attention-span, toddlers really can be diligent- and love to help! Your chores may take slightly longer to allow for some teaching, but that’s what being a mama is all about, right?
Does your toddler have favorite “jobs” around the house?