How can a toddler help around the house?

Babies are a lot of work, but as they grow into toddlers, they start to grow more independent …right? Well, as any parent of a toddler knows, it isn’t quite as simple as that, since that growing sense of independence comes along with a greater ability to get into trouble. Still, it’s true that toddlers are capable of doing a lot more things than they could in infancy, from feeding themselves to kicking their own shoes off. And at a certain point, toddlers can start to experiment with their very first experiences of doing chores.

What can toddlers do to help around the house?

It’s certainly true that introducing a toddler to the idea of helping out probably isn’t going to start to take any of their weight of keeping the house running off of your or your partner’s shoulders, at least for a few years. There are two main things that starting to introduce toddlers to the idea of helping out can achieve, though. First, you may not want to start out by calling them “chores,” because a lot of things that toddlers can do are the first steps towards cleaning up after themselves. Second, though, by assigning things that are chores, you can start to introduce your little one to the idea of helping out around the house as a way of being part of a family.

Cleaning up after themself

A lot of the things toddlers can start to do now that they can walk, talk a little, listen, and pick things up and put them down against without throwing them (usually) are basic, self-care tasks that parents often find it more helpful to think about as basic expectations to teach than anything they might talk about as “chores,” or a job. Depending on your child’s level of maturity, coordination, or height, these tasks might include:

  • Putting their clothes in the laundry hamper
  • Putting toys into a toybox or bin, and books back onto the shelf when they are done with them
  • Putting trash in the garbage
  • If they are out of their crib, maybe even making their bed, if their bed is close to the ground and doesn’t have much complicated bedding
For tasks like these, make sure the place to put things “away” is easy to reach, easy to differentiate, and not too complicated – one big, colorful bin at floor-level for toys, for example, instead of separate shelves for separate parts of games. If your little one isn’t used to cleaning up after themself, it might take a little prompting from you, and you might even want to help them out a few times, but they are at a great age to learn new habits that will stick with them as they grow.

Helping out around the house 

For many families, helping out around the house is one big way they pitch in to work together as a team, to keep the place where they all live running smoothly. This can come in the form of regular, scheduled chores, or just in the form of a more generalized expectation of helping out.

In either case, chores, or helping out, don’t always have the best reputation with kids, but it doesn’t start out that way. When children and toddlers are young, they love to be included in the things their parents are doing. That’s why if chores are pitched to them as a good thing, instead of presented as something they’ll need to be pressured into or rewarded for doing, there’s a good chance toddlers will be enthusiastic about doing them. The best way to get kids to fight the idea of chores is to use them as a punishment.

There are still a limited amount of things toddlers can really be helpful about, but there are a few. Other times, you may find yourself inventing some important “jobs” for your toddler to help you out with, but even then, you’re setting the stage for them to want to and be used to helping you in the future, as much as you’re actually asking for their help now.

Tasks tots can help out with might include:

  • Setting the table, minus knives or anything glass
  • Sweeping or raking the yard – you might have to clean up after them, but it’s a great way for them to practice, and child-sized brooms and rakes are always a hit (and make an adorable picture-taking opportunity)
  • Wipe low windows with safe cleaning products like a water and vinegar solution
  • Weeding with you
  • Stirring things for you as you cook, as a way of getting them involved in the process of making meals
  • Helping with laundry by sorting colors before it’s washed, sorting socks afterwards, or even doing some simple folding of things like washcloths, dishtowels, or child-sized t-shirts. This kind of help can also help them learn their colors, the names of things, and work on their coordination 
As your toddler grows, they will grow more and more able to help out with simple tasks, but even if what they can do is limited right now, it’s not too early to get started.

  • KJ Dell’Antonia. “Age-Appropriate Chores for Toddlers (And Why They’re Not Doing Them.) New York Times. The New York Times, January 27 2014. Web.
  • Raising Children Network. “Involving children in household chores.” Raising Children. Raising Children Network, April 30 2014.
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