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I absolutely HATED chores while I was growing up. To be perfectly honest, I still hate them as an adult. Doing the dishes, laundry and vacuuming just aren’t my idea of a good time. I think this is probably true for most people. My son, on the other hand, loves helping us around the house (in fact if we don’t let him he gets upset with us).

Even though he’s less than 2-years-old he is performing meaningful jobs around the house. Not only is he learning valuable life skills and developing good habits, he is also gaining confidence and finding success in ways that are helpful to us. It also makes doing chores more fun for me because I enjoy them more when he is helping. Here are some of the ways that Little Man helps us around the house, and tips for how you can do it too.

Doing the Dishes

You let your son handle breakable dishes?!? Yes I do. Before he gets in there I remove anything dangerous (sharp knives) and anything really fragile (wine glasses) and then I let him take out all the dishes and help me put them away. He will set things in the lower cabinets himself, and if they go in an upper cabinet he will hand them to me and I will put them away.

He is learning how to handle things gently and carefully, and also working on memory skills because he’s starting to learn which dishes go where. He’s also starting to help us load the dirty dishes; his job is the silverware. As he gets older he can start putting away higher dishes by standing on a step stool, and helping to load the larger dirty dishes.

To date, Little Man hasn’t broken anything, but we know that is a possibility. We don’t have any dishes that we aren’t willing to replace, but if we did we would just be sure to take them out first. When you have a toddler help you with the dishes it’s going to take a lot longer than if you were going to do it yourself, and a few dishes might get broken. The important thing is he or she is learning, and they will get better at it with time.

General Clean-up

We ask Little Man to help clean up his toys by putting them back in his toy bin. He will also throw things away in the garbage when we ask him. One routine we have is he will throw away his own dirty diaper (and then we go wash our hands together). This helps him learn to take responsibility for his own messes, and helps us keep the house tidy. I’ve even caught him doing things I didn’t ask him to do, like dropping his (thankfully plastic) dishes in the sink and putting our dog’s bowl in the closet where it belongs.

The most important thing to remember about this is that he won’t always do it. Sometimes he’s not interested in helping, or has lost interest in a longer task. The last thing I want to do is force him to help me. It is important that he learns to pick up after himself, but I need to remember that he’s less than 2-years-old, and he is learning at his own pace. This whole process needs to be fun for him, or he won’t want to do it in the future.

Doing the Laundry

As you can see, Little Man is the perfect height to reach into the washing machine. When we have dirty clothes I let him load them in the washing machine. When that load is done, he will pull things out and hand them to me to put into the dryer. I also let him turn on both machines, and after I select the settings I want he pushes the start button. Another really easy way to involve toddlers in laundry is to have them pair socks. This is also a good way for them to build those matching skills! As he gets older I’m going to let him help me sort clothing into different piles and help fold the clean laundry.

In the past I had to set the child lock on the washing machine so that he wouldn’t mess with the settings or turn it on/off. Since he’s been helping me I haven’t had that problem. He understands that there is a time to push the buttons, and a time to leave the washing machine alone. After we finish with the laundry we say “bye bye washer!” and that’s another signal that reminds him to leave it alone for now.

Vacuuming

Ok, so Little Man is a little young to do this all by himself. The vacuum cleaner is bigger than he is! However he does help me by hanging onto the vacuum. This means that it takes me a little longer to get the job done because I’m pushing and pulling toddler plus vacuum, but it’s fun for him and he thinks he’s contributing. This also keeps him from wandering off and getting into things – or making messes – while I’m trying to clean.

One thing I’ve had to accept during this process is that I’m not going to do as good of a job cleaning when he’s helping me or doing it himself, and that’s ok. Doing it by myself will not help him learn how to do it. As a teacher I learned that students need to do things for themselves, and do not pick up a skill nearly as quickly if they passively watch someone do it. And really, no one is going to notice if I missed a spot vacuuming.

Gardening

This is a skill that we’re currently working on. I tried to get him to help me weed the garden the other day, but he’s not yet able to differentiate between what is a weed and what is a vegetable. I tried to point out the difference (pull these, not these), but he got frustrated. After that I tried getting him to put the weeds I pulled into the wheelbarrow, and he did that for a little bit but lost interest. Toddlers learn at their own pace, so I let him roam around the garden while I was weeding, and he ate all the tomatoes off of the bush. At least he likes tomatoes.

Throughout the summer I will keep coaching him on weeding, especially because I think he will really enjoy it. He likes to pick dandelions and other flowers, and he loves to be outside. It takes a few tries before toddlers (or anyone really) will pick up on a new skill, so patience is key.

Cooking

I just started him on this a couple of days ago. Whenever I’m cooking he wants to be in the kitchen with me, but since he can reach the counters I’m always afraid he’s going to grab the stove. He also doesn’t understand that when I’m cooking I can’t pick him up and hold him. I used to try to distract him with food or the games on our iPad, or even worse, I would do all of the cooking while he was napping (which didn’t work when he woke up and I was halfway through a meal). Now I’m going to start giving him jobs that I think he can handle.

In this picture I was making corn chowder and I was chopping up potatoes. I set him up on a stool so he could reach into the crock pot, and instructed him to put the potatoes into it. He did it… one piece at a time. After a few minutes he lost interest, and then went into the living room to play with his toy cars, and I assembled the rest of the meal by myself. Again I want to encourage him to help me, but not force him by making him do it because then he won’t enjoy it.

Hidden Benefits

The best part about having him help me with chores (aside from skill building of course) is that when he naps I can relax because most of the chores are already done. I really feel like this helps me be a better parent, because I can rest instead of getting stressed about getting all of the things I HAVE to get done before he wakes up. Then after his nap I have the energy to play with him.

Have you had your toddler help you with chores? What do you have them do? If not then hopefully you read something that inspires you to trust your toddler and allow him or her to help you around the house. What are you going to try?

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