5 Age-Appropriate Chores for a Toddler

It can be hard to balance being attentive to your child’s development and just letting them be a kid. On the one hand, you feel the weight of responsibility that comes with raising the next world changer and on the other, you just want to get through the day without loosing your…mind. So you buy the tactile toys and limit their TV all the while secretly enjoying the way your child mispronounces a word or two.

We all want our children to be responsible and knowing how much responsibility we can put on their tiny shoulders can be a challenge. There are moms out there who have this down to a science (we see you with your sticker board and your prize box), but for the rest of us, it’s trial and error.

Chores are a great way to encourage participation in the adult world and to create patterns of discipline. I would like to say we intentionally doled out chores to our son but now that I think about it, it was mostly accidental. Now that we recognize his ability, we are intentional about giving him the responsibility.

Here are five suggestions based on our experience with a three year old:

1. Laundry

We have a front-load washing machine and our son has always loved to watch the tub spin during the wash cycle. It was natural that he also had an interest in putting in and taking out items. We exaggerate our enthusiasm for laundry to reinforce his own enthusiasm each time. As he has gotten older, his responsibilities have expanded to pushing the buttons and loading and unloading all on his own. He still needs assistance because he is not nearly tall enough to transfer clothing to the dryer, but he can manage most of the process on his own.

2. Clean-Up Time

Every child, or adult for that matter, should know how to make a mess and clean it up. Every night, we do a family clean-up time and we all sing the “Clean-Up Song.” If you child is attending school or preschool, they may be doing a variation of this you could copy. I think the reason it has worked so well for us is that everyone pitches in and it isn’t seen as a chore for our son. He isn’t always enthusiastic about clean-up time but we do say “if you don’t want to clean up, then we won’t be able to watch a *movie.” That usually does the trick.

*Yes, we are one of those families that lets our kid watch TV as a part of the bedtime routine. It’s usually only 20 minutes and it’s early enough in the routine that we have time for reading after. We don’t do it to get back and it’s not a habit we’re stuck in. We enjoy the time together. But why am I explaining this to you?

3. Put Away the Groceries

This is a tricky one because of breakable items such as glass jars, eggs, and pretty much anything else in the hands of a toddler. You just have to weigh the risks on this one. If your child is capable of carrying the egg carton, decide if you are ready to trust him with it even if he breaks every last one. It’s important to give your child responsibility and demonstrate trust. After all, eggs are $1.39 (or $4.69 if they are Grade A, cage free, large, organic, hand-polished). Our son does really well with dry goods, produce, frozen chicken, and yes, even the eggs!

4. Sweeping

Ok, I’m going to be really honest here. My son’s version of sweeping makes me cringe. The broom head goes in every direction and the handle is perilously close to impaling a wall. We have even tried the small brush that comes with our dust pan and the results are scattered to the wind. So why do I let him “sweep” when it’s done poorly and requires my extra effort to remedy? Because he won’t get better at it unless I let him try, try, try.

5. Water the Plants 

We have an enclosed patio that requires frequent watering in the Summer and a few lush house plants that never turn down a drink. My husband typically does the watering but my son is fascinated with the water hose so they tag team on this chore. Both daddy and son end up wet from head to toe but that’s the fun of it! I love this chore because it gives us the chance to encourage water stewardship and the care instructions for living things.

One chore we are introducing our son to is loading and unloading the dishwasher. This task is fraught with peril because of knives, forks, and glass.

What are your kids doing to demonstrate responsibility (and what are you doing to demonstrate restraint when it isn’t done right)?

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