It’s never too early to teach toddlers to help out around the house. As soon as Rocket transitioned from staying put to crawling, I found that giving him “chores” was the best way to keep him occupied while I did the real cleaning around the house.
Of course, when they’re 1, it’s more busy work than efficient helping, but raising little helpers has to start somewhere! By being given responsibilities early on, he felt like an important, contributing member of the family and did his best to accomplish the tasks I gave him… until he got distracted, of course!
But as time went on, his focus grew sharper and before I knew it, this “busy work” turned into real help. I’m sure this varies for every child, but in our home, it was somewhere around the 19 month point when I first noticed that Rocket was actually being a big help.
Now at 22 months old, he has the system down. When we clean, he is my little sidekick.
“Can you throw this in the trashcan?” I ask. He excitedly grabs whatever I hand to him and takes it straight to the trash, and then he is right back at my side, signing “more”.
“Can you pick up the toy cars?” I then ask. And he does, happily singing the clean-up song as he goes. Then he’s back.
“Can you put the shoes in the shoe box?” I ask. And to the shoe box, he goes.
He’s not even two, so of course, he gets distracted sometimes. I’ll peek over as he’s cleaning up the cars and he’s vrooming them across the floor. Or I’ll glance over as he’s taking Dad’s sandals to the shoe box, and he’s clumsily trying to walk over there with them on his tiny feet. But he always gets the job done… even if it takes a bit of encouraging reminders!
I have learned that children are incredibly capable, even when they’re still young toddlers, and that they’re so hungry to help. It shapes their view of themselves, whether we are constantly treating them like they’re “in the way” as we try to get things done or whether we involve them and give them important tasks to accomplish to help run the household smoothly.
They desperately want to do their part. It satisfies this innate human desire to contribute. No one wants to be told they’re a troublemaker all the time, would you?
For me, cleaning has become an ongoing quest of what Rocket can do next to help out. I’m always finding new things! And he loves every moment. Cleaning, for him and me both, has become such a cherished and fun time since he started becoming so engaged in it all. It definitely has transformed my own personal approach to housework.
It makes all the busy work from his brand new learning days worth it. I’m talking about the days when I tried to fold laundry and he was right there behind me unfolding everything I set down instead of putting the socks in the basket. I once read that trying to clean the house with a toddler is like raking the leaves during a windstorm. There is certainly truth in that… at first. Every parent has to endure that windstorm and try their best to maintain a positive attitude amidst the chaos before reaping the reward of their efforts. But when that reward comes, you realize your efforts were not just an empty, momentary distraction. It was always an introduction, a first level of raising little helpers.
I learned early on that no matter what household chore I was doing, there was something I could do to incorporate Rocket. For some chores, it’s more challenging than others to discover what that something is and sometimes it’s not what I originally thought it might be, but there is truly always something. And if there’s not, I just have to create something for him to do!
He doesn’t want to be in his room playing by himself while Mom is folding the laundry or doing the dishes. He passionately wants to be a big boy and help, so I find ways to make that happen. When I’m folding the laundry, he puts the socks in the drawers, the cloth diapers in the diaper basket, and the cleaning cloths under the kitchen sink. It’s genuinely a big help. When I’m doing the dishes, he is up there with me on a stool, helping me rinse, or putting the silverware away after I’ve dried them.
He is legitimately a big helper around here, even if I have to take things slower to make sure that happens. It’s very worth it. It makes me so excited to think of what he’ll be doing in a few years from now if he’s already so helpful before he’s even reached the age of 2!
I greatly value his contributions and I let him know it all the time. This positive reinforcement will help him to establish great cleaning habits early on that will serve our home for a long time, and will continue serving him throughout his life, long after he’s moved out.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s not always smooth sailing. He’s still a tot with a strong will of his own, so I don’t want to paint an unrealistic expectation. But more often than not, he is cooperative and ambitious to help. So how do you set a good foundation for early helpers? I’ve compiled a list based on my own personal experiences that should help you achieve this outcome.
Tips For Toddler Chores
You really have to use your best judgment and creativity to find the perfect job for your toddler. I have found that there’s always something toddlers can do; we just have to discover what it is! It’s important not to overwhelm them with a responsibility that they can’t handle and equally as important not to bore them with something they’re beyond capable of doing. Finding that fine line in between isn’t always easy, but it’s always rewarding when we do!
Show Them How It’s Done.
Especially before they’ve learned what you’re asking them to do, it’s crucial that you do it with them. Don’t just tell them to do it and get frustrated when they don’t understand. If they don’t get what you’re asking, show them. Make it fun. Play games. Sing songs. It may take much longer getting the house clean this way, but your #1 job is as a parent building a strong child with a positive attitude and healthy habits, not as a house cleaner. That comes second. Never lose sight of that!
Always makes sure they are left with a positive association with the task, whatever it may be; this will increase the likelihood of them doing it on their own without you present later on. Children mimic our behavior as parents, so we must demonstrate how to perform tasks and model a positive behavior while doing so.
Choose Age Appropriate Chores.
If your child, like mine, isn’t even two yet, you can pretty much assume you should keep it simple. Obviously, they aren’t ready to clean out the refrigerator quite yet (we wish)! However, they may be ready to bring you a cleaning cloth from under the sink so that you can scrub the fridge or throw some expired yogurt containers into the trash. Likewise, a two year old doesn’t quite have the hand-eye coordination or fine motor skills to fold clothes, but they should be able to throw the socks you’ve already rolled up into the sock drawer.
As they get older and “level up” in what they can do, find new tasks that challenge them. In the meantime, always make sure to assign them tasks that are age appropriate and somewhat challenging, but not to the point of frustration (if it frustrates them too much, they’re just going to give up).
It’s so important to praise our children for a job well done. Model excellent manners by asking your toddlers to perform tasks politely with a “please” and appreciating their efforts with a “thank you.” Your goal is bigger than getting the house cleaned up today, so try to take it slowly. Your goal is to raise little helpers who LOVE cleaning and contributing, on a long-term scale. In order to succeed with that goal, you must be mindful of your own disposition and how you’re dealing with your toddler.
Don’t be a dictator or a micro-manager. Especially when they’re this young, they should be doing chores because they love to help, NOT because you’re the authoritative parent and you said so. Chances are that if your attitude is positive and you make cleaning a fun experience, they will be more than happy to do their part, even begging to help. If they aren’t, you should examine what you may be doing that is putting them off from the errands. They may have a negative association with cleaning due to watching the frustration that you model.
Make cleaning fun. This may mean that you have to reprogram how you think of cleaning. Because let’s face it, as grown-ups, it isn’t always so easy to feel like cleaning is fun. But our children are watching us and copying more than just our actions- they are copying our attitudes. We must always remember this.
Also expect that they may try to perform certain tasks their own way. This is all part of the learning process of developing creative minds and that’s perfectly okay. Feel free to kindly steer them in the “right” direction, but if they insist on continuing to do it their own way, that’s not necessarily the end of the world either (as long as their way isn’t dangerous). It’s possible that the task is just a bit advanced for them or that they’re just using their creative toddler minds to explore.
When it comes to toddler chores, every moment doesn’t have to be a helpful one and that shouldn’t be expected. Just be sure to value their contribution and lay down the praise by saying things like, “Thank you so much for putting all those diapers in the basket, now they are all in the same spot and we know just where to go when we need them!” The rest of the cleaning mastery will come with time.
I can’t stress this enough. With toddlers, cleaning should be a fun experience. Don’t be so hard on them. Remember, they’re learning.
Think about how far they’ve come in the short time they’ve been alive rather than focusing on how much is left to learn. For my own son, I have noticed that one of his favorite things about doing chores is that he gets to spend so much time with me and that he can do things that make me proud of him.
Children are precious and they love to please their parents. I always stay close by and make conversation or sing songs the whole time we’re cleaning. Cleaning offers plenty of learning opportunities and lots of quality bonding time with our young ones, if we let it. We parents just have to be observant and jump on every chance we see to teach them!
Stick To A (Flexible) Routine.
Do your chores at the same time every day and your toddler will know what to expect. This will make it more likely for him/her to internalize those habits. But of course, as parents of toddlers, you should always be flexible with your routine. Have something to shoot for, but don’t be too disappointed if the day didn’t go as planned. It happens to the best of us and it is a crucial skill as a parent, for our own sanity, to learn how to go with the flow!
Be Flexible With Toddler Chores.
Always remember that you’re dealing with a toddler. If you wind up having to go solo with the cleaning, it’s okay. Continue to set a positive example and show how much fun you’re having cleaning up, but allow him/her to play with blocks if he or she is feeling particularly uncooperative.
In my personal experience, this rarely happens. Cleaning the house with me is one of Rocket’s favorite things to do and almost nothing else beats it. But some kids may not feel the same way, not necessarily even because you’re doing anything wrong or because they don’t like cleaning. Perhaps they are just so engaged in their new toy or imaginative play that they don’t want to redirect their focus.
Use your judgment and know when to be flexible. It’s way better for building a positive internal mind frame about chores if toddlers have a willing and eager attitude when it comes to cleaning, rather than feel begrudged about being ripped away from their creative playtime and forced to do something different. Use your best judgement and pick your battles; flexibility during that fleeting preschool age is essential for raising well-rounded children.
If you give an order, always follow through with it. Don’t waiver, but be kind in doing so rather than angry or mean. However, if you’re peering into the playroom and your child is completely concentrated and absorbed in a task, also be flexible and consider not giving the order to begin with. Sometimes it’s just better for kids to play! There will be plenty of time later on to enforce the rules about chores; for now, the goal should be to develop a love of helping.
Chore List For Toddlers Under 2
So what can a child under the age of two really do to help out around the house? A lot, actually!
I am always amazed by how capable children are, if only we give them the opportunities to prove themselves. Here are some things that my 22 month old son does regularly to help out around the house.
- Wiping Surfaces & Spills. I’ve relocated the cleaning cloths to underneath the sink where he can reach them. The moment he spills a drink, he always goes straight to the sink and grabs a cleaning cloth, even without being asked!
- Cleaning Glass. We use natural homemade cleaners, so I feel 100% comfortable allowing Rocket to join me in wiping down glass and other surfaces in our home.
- Throwing Trash In The Trash Can. This is his big responsibility when I’m doing ordinary household cleaning. He can even discern for himself what is and what isn’t trash (though, he has accidentally reached for bills to throw in the trash at times too!) When I check the mail every day, it’s his job to throw the junk mail away. Sometimes when we’re at a park, he even has an itch to clean up all the litter he sees thrown on the lawn. As long as he’s not picking up anything particularly disgusting like cigarette butts, I encourage his drive to clean up our community.
- “Vacuuming.” Every time I vacuum the house, he just has to have his toy vacuum cleaner too! It doesn’t suck up dirt, but it’s a great start to a habit that will one day be a regular chore of his.
- Sweeping. He has his own broom & dustpan that he uses while I sweep and mop our hard floors.
Putting The Clothes In The Dryer. Taking The Clothes Out Of The Dryer. Handing Over Clothes To Put In The Washer. I also sometimes carry him to the top so he can push the button to turn the dryer on. He loves doing that!
Waving the newly dried cleaning cloths.
Handing the cleaning cloths to Mom.
Closing the dryer.
- Putting Away Clean Socks, Diapers, & Cleaning Cloths. He does this while I’m folding the clothes. I open the drawers he needs to access in advance. Once he’s done putting something away, he comes back to me for something new.
- Putting Dirty Clothes In The Hamper. We keep the hampers accessible to him so that he can do this.
- Bringing Mom Diapers. I haven’t potty-trained him yet, but when he goes, he grabs a clean cloth diaper and brings it to me for me to change him. I keep the diapers where he can reach them so that he can do this. It’s worth rearranging your house a bit to allow tots more room for independence!
- Putting Away His Toys. Every time we are done playing with his cars, his books, his blocks, the musical instruments, or whatever toys we had out, it’s his job to put them all away. Sometimes I join him. Other times, he does it all by himself!
- Cleaning Up His Tot Trays. This keeps the schoolroom’s activities clean and organized. Every time he is done with a tray, he isn’t allowed to move on to a new one until he’s cleaned up the old one.
- Watering Plants. He doesn’t water all the plants in the house (he can’t reach most of them), but he does take care of the designated plants we added to the schoolroom for our Rainforest Theme.
- Rinsing The Dishes. He loves this errand and begs to do it everyday! Something about getting those hands wet; kids just love sensory experiences. I always take care of the knives and any sharp objects before letting him on the stool. I am usually standing to the left of him and he hands the items to me after he’s rinsed them first himself.
- Putting Away Silverware. He now knows how to sort all the spoons, forks, and baby spoons/forks. At first, I had to go back in and reorganize after him!
Happily doing his chores!
Sorting the silverware.
- Drying Pots & Pans. I give him a cleaning cloth and he dries the pots and pans before we hang them.
- Helping With The Cooking. There are endless things I find for him to do to help me with the cooking. As an example of one dinner preparation, here’s what he did one night to help make pizza!
- Putting Away Groceries. He pulls the food out of the bag and hands them to us. Certain things within his reach, he puts away by himself. He used to be very bored while we put groceries away before it dawned on me to make him a part of the experience. Now, he insists on putting the groceries away as soon as we get home from the store.
Pulling out the groceries.
Putting away the yogurt.
- Feeding The Dog. Every morning, I give Harmony an egg. He hands me the egg from the carton (hasn’t broken one as of yet). I crack it into a bowl. He then hands her the bowl, being careful not to spill it, and he gives it back to me once she’s licked it clean. As I’ve mentioned in other posts, he also gives her treats during training sessions throughout the week.
- Cleaning Up Bath Toys. He throws them all into a blue bucket after bath time.
- Handing Us Towels Once We’ve Showered. He listens closely for the sound of the water turning off and as soon as it does, he rushes in to hand who ever was showering a towel! He adores doing this and I love seeing his face as I reach out of the shower curtain to grab the towel!
- Passing Out Toothbrushes. When we all brush our teeth together, he grabs each person’s toothbrush and passes them out.
Cleaning Toys That Encourage A Love of Helping
When it comes to buying toys, I’m always on the lookout for toys that encourage Rocket to love chores. There are many of them out there! Some favorites in our home are:
Vacuum Cleaner: Garden Tools: Broom & Dustpan:
Lawnmower: Stool: (not a toy, but a crucial tool for chores)
Happy cleaning with your little ones!