They are also natural-born spillers, knock-over-er’s, slow-down-ers, and breakers of all things breakable.
So although their helpfulness is adorable, it is also super inconvenient.
So why should we consider having them do chores? Wouldn’t it be easier to wait a couple or five years until they have better control of their limbs?
The University of Minnesota completed an analysis of data collected over 20 years. They found that the best predictor of success in young adulthood was if they had begun doing chores as a young child or not. You can read more about that study here.
But the challenge is that children are most eager to help their parents when they are least capable.
For a young child, scrubbing, wiping, and doing dishes is a blast! But it’s a blast because it is MESSY!
When most of us are doing chores, we prefer to get them done with as little interference as possible.
We lovingly tell our children “Mommy’s busy, go play with your toys” as we gently shoo them out of the room.
The problem comes a couple of years later when the child is very capable of helping around the house and the parents excitedly announce that it is now time for them to learn to do chores!
The child is less than impressed by this new idea and usually protests loudly and often.
Let’s be honest though, I would probably be annoyed too if I was used to happily playing 24/7 and someone came along and told me that I had to work now!
It would be a pretty disappointing trade.
So how can we teach children to be helpful around the house without the argument?
And is that even possible?
Yes, it is. But you need to start a lot earlier than you think.
According to a npr.org article titled How to Get Your Kids to Do Chores, psychologist Suzanne Gaskins has found that we are doing our children a disservice by waiting until they are old enough to be useful to use their help.
She has studied Mayan villages for the past 30 years and found that their children are incredibly helpful around the house.
This is because they don’t think of their toddlers and disturbances to their work, but rather as an asset. Instead they harness the willingness and helpfulness of the toddler and use it as a time to teach them how to do the chores.
Eventually, over time, as the toddler learns to control their clumsiness, the child becomes invaluable to the parents who took the time to teach him.
How to Teach Your Toddler To Do Chores
That may work well for the Mayans, but we live in a different culture.
Can it translate for those of us living in a more western society?
It turns out that it can work well with toddlers across the globe.
Before we dive into the chore ideas, I’m going to give you the Five Rules I use when getting my toddlers involved in chores:
Rule 1: Start Them Young
As soon as my girls started walking I would have them help with basic things that I was doing. I use the term “help” quite loosely here. I was mostly looking for familiarity with the household rhythms and duties.
So between the ages of 12 and 18 months, I get my girls used to doing chores. It is a normal, predictable part of the day at our house. And it usually happens in the morning after breakfast, unless we have an appointment that we are heading to.
I start using phrases like “we work before we play,” “thank you for helping Mommy,” “it makes everyone’s job easier when we all help a little,” and “I need your help with ____________” almost every day.
It is important for them to learn that they are an important part of the family and they are needed and appreciated.
When your toddler wants to be right next to you every step of the way, grab an extra rag and have them “help.” They are usually more than happy to get involved and it’s a great way to channel their endless energy.
The best part is that they are learning life skills at the same time.
Rule 2: Let Them Help
Both of my girls would come to me and ask to “hep, hep!” before they could even speak in complete sentences. They wanted to be a part of the action. Especially if that action had anything to do with washing dishes, making bread, or spraying a spray bottle.
I always knew the job could take almost twice as long with their “help” but it was worth it to me to get them excited and involved with the work.
I can’t think of any job that they couldn’t at least watch me do. And most jobs they could play as small part in.
Rule 3: Enlist an Older Sibling
This has been the best way to get my younger daughter excited about doing chores. If my oldest daughter is doing dishes, my younger daughter runs to the sink and says “hep, hep!” frantically, like she is missing out on the most amazing activity in the world.
I sit her on the counter and she immediately sticks her chubby little feet into the water and grabs a measuring cup, or spoon, or anything else that her sister gives her and begins playing in the water.
Nope, she isn’t really helping. But she is learning the process of after we eat, we do the dishes.
The key thing here though is thatshe thinks she’s helping!
Research has found that it is important for children’s development to feel like they are needed in the family. We tell her “Thank you for helping!” and “Good job helping!” many times throughout the process.
*Disclaimer* Be sure your child can be safe on the counter before you put them on it. Teach them to stop when you say “no” first so you can be sure they won’t get too close to the edge. They could be seriously hurt if they were to fall off, so be sure they can understand how to be cautious, with your help and reminders of course.
Rule 4: Give Them a Piece of a Real Job
Children want to be helpful… and that means they want to take part in the work that is needed around the house.
Studies have found that having children do “fake work” (like re-sweeping a floor that was already swept) did not increase their desire to help. Instead, the children realized that the work was fake and went off to do something else.
My girls have both loved helping with real jobs. As soon as daddy walks in the door, they like to tell him how they helped Mommy that day and sometimes even take him to show the area that they cleaned “all-by-themselves.”
Rule 5: Don’t Use Rewards
I know, this makes me sound like a super mean mom.
Here’s the thing though, I want my girls to be motivated within themselves to be helpful, not because I’m going to give them a reward.
So, aside from chore charts that can be checked off if they wish, there are no stickers, pennies, goldfish, or any other reward currency in our house for doing chores.
It turns out that the Mayan mothers follow this rule too, so I think I’m in good company!
Chore Ideas for Toddlers
The important thing to keep in mind with your one-, two-, and three-year-old’s chores is to recognize any effort they put forth.
Remember, you are creating a habit of helpfulness, not looking for actual help cleaning your house.
The chore will probably take you twice as long as if you do it alone. Sorry to break it to you! But trust me, it will be worth it!
Here are some simple, practical chores that toddlers can do to help around the house to get you started:
1) Picking Up Toys
This is the perfect first chore for toddlers.
My motto is: as soon as they are old enough to dump the toys out of the bin, they are old enough to put them back.
One thing that makes this easier on our girls is keeping the toys to a minimum and only having a small amount out for them to easily access every day. Any additional toys are stored in a bin in the garage that they can rotate toys in and out from any time they choose.
Around 18 months old, my girls were able to start folding washcloths. Whenever I was folding, I would pull all of the washcloths out of the pile for them.
They would carefully lay them on the floor and fold them in half, and in half again.
One time my friend who teaches toddlers at a preschool asked me to come in and do a talk for her class. During the talk, I showed all the kids how to fold washcloths to help their parents at home. Each one was able to do it with minimal instruction.
3) Putting Clothes Away
My oldest daughter (4) has the job of folding and putting away all the kids’ clothes in our house. She loves enlisting my younger daughter (17 months) to help her with putting everything away.
My oldest will generally fold one article of clothing, hand it to her sister, then take her to the proper place and show her how to put it away.
Yes, it takes them quite a while to do it this way. Yes, I could tell them how to do it more efficiently. But at this point they are having fun together, learning a process together, and frankly, it’s nice to have the little one entertained for so long… so I don’t micromanage.
4) Wiping the Walls or Floor
If you are cleaning the kitchen, hand them a rag and ask them to clean the wall.
Especially the wall by the trash can usually use a good scrubbing.
I also have them help clean up any time they spill something. Instead of getting upset with them, just have them help clean up and they will learn to be more careful more quickly.
5) Helping Clean the Mirrors and Counters
When I’m cleaning the mirrors and countertops in the bathroom, I hoist my younger daughter up onto the counter and hand her a rag. She happily helps me spray and wipe.
Spraying is a great way to teach kids to listen. I will tell my girls where to spray and how many times to spray. If they decide not to listen, they lose the fun of spraying for that day. It’s only had to happen once for each of them because they love spraying so much!
*Disclaimer: Please make sure your child can be safe on the counter and listen to instructions before putting them on the counter!*
6) Doing the Dishes
Like I explained above, doing the dishes is my younger daughter’s chore of choice. If she could sit beside the sink and play in the water all day, it would be time well spent in her opinion.
No, of course, she doesn’t do this all by herself. Big Sister or Mommy is always close by to tell her not to get too close to the edge.
No, she doesn’t do the dishes. But she is learning to be involved in the work that her sister and I do.
*Disclaimer: Please make sure your child can be safe on the counter and listen to instructions before putting them on the counter!*
7) Closing the Cabinets
Yes, I know this isn’t an actual chore, but it can make a toddler feel like they are helping and keep them busy while you are cooking.
Often at the end of the day when we are all in the kitchen together working on a meal, my younger daughter is happily walking around closing all the cabinets that I have left open (I have a bad habit of this, just ask my husband…)
It makes her feel like she is part of the action and has an important part to play (which is kind of true since Ross will often run into the cabinet doors that I leave open and bang his knees or head on them).
8) Starting the Dishwasher
After my oldest daughter loads the dishwasher, she helps her sister start it.
My youngest gets to help put the soap in and close the door. We have an old dishwasher so she can’t quite turn the dial and set it to wash, but she pushes it in to start it when her sister has it ready for her.
She gets the biggest smile on her face when she hears it going!
If you have a newer dishwasher, show them how to push the buttons by themselves!
Any time you are dusting, give your toddler a rag. They will probably also want to dust the couches, the floor, the ottomans, and anything else with a flat surface.
But once they realize the dusting oil, they will stick close to your side wanting to spray.
Dusting the piano was one of the first real chores that my oldest daughter was able to do all by herself.
10) Working in the Garden
I don’t think I need to convince you how much toddlers like the dirt or tell you how excited they will be if you ask them to play in it!
When we weed the garden we get my younger daughter involved. She usually takes the weeds we pull over to the yard waste bin for us.
Her sister usually helps her get them into the bin, but she walks them over to the bin all by herself (which is the important thing in any toddler’s mind.)
11) Starting the Microwave
Toddlers love pushing buttons! Any time my toddler sees me putting anything in the microwave she runs over to help.
I help her push the right buttons while I tell her what they are. Before long, I’ll just have to pick her up and she’ll know what to do!
12) Feeding the Pets
I don’t have any pets so I’m glad I asked my friend, Megan if her daughter had any favorite chores. At their house, feeding the dogs and cat is her two-year-old’s job.
This is a fantastic way to teach kids responsibility and the repetition of chores because, well, animals need to eat every day.
Especially if you want your children to remember to feed their pets when they are older, start them young!
I’m pretty sure her little one won’t remember a time when she didn’t feed the animals since she started so young, and I doubt she’ll ever think to complain about it.
I knew that I wanted chores to be different for my kids. Sure, they needed to know that they were a necessary part of life, but I also wanted them to know that they could enjoy doing chores.
The question was how to make this happen.
Then I heard in a couple of places that by the age of four, a child could be acquainted with every duty required to run the house. Say, What?!?!
(To clarify, this doesn’t mean they could do them all alone, but that they would be aware of what needs to be done and would have an idea of how the chores work.)
They also mentioned that by seven, a child could be about as helpful as an adult with the household duties. Come again!?!?
I was intrigued to say the least. But I wasn’t sure how to make that happen, or how to assign tasks that were age appropriate.
One day we were talking with some friends, they have four children and mentioned that their kids took pride in their tasks to help the family run properly.
The mother did not have to micromanage the process for the older children (ages 9, 7, and 5), and it sounded like their children actually received enjoyment from doing their chosen jobs to the best of their ability.
I wanted in! I questioned them until they spilled all their secrets. My oldest daughter had just turned three and, though she had always done tiny little tasks to help every day, she didn’t have specific tasks of her own.
I decided to try out their tips and, amazingly, after only a couple of weeks, she was doing chores that I would have never thought she could handle.
Of course, I wasn’t far away if she needed help, but if I hovered too closely, she soon started telling me, “I’m ok Mommy, you can go do something else.”
The best part is that the steps we took are simple and easy to replicate.
Here are the 11 tips for teaching your children to love doing chores:
(And if you prefer to watch your content, here is the video that goes with this post!)
How to Teach Your Children to Enjoy Chores
1) Start When They’re Small
I started having my kids help me with simple chores around the age of one. I use the term “help” quite loosely here. If I was folding a pile of laundry, I would point to an article of clothing that was farther from me and ask them to bring it to me.
Each time they successfully did what I asked, I would praise them with the kind of over-the-top excitement only a mother can give. I would often entertain them like this until I was finished.
Pro Tip: Be ridiculously excited, people. They will love it and think it’s a game to see how happy they can make you.
Whatever work you are doing, find the simplest part of the task and start teaching.
Babies and toddlers love wiping things. I would hand my girls a rag and ask them to wipe a part of the baseboard or floor while I was cleaning the bathrooms.
This small task could entertain them for quite a while…well, quite a while for a toddler!
As they grow, expand and change the chores to fit their ability. Something that might be a great task for a toddler would bore a bigger child and vice versa.
Kids love spraying anything from squirt guns in the backyard to cleaning solutions in the bathroom. While I didn’t want the harsh chemicals near their little lungs, I wanted them to be able to do the piece of the task that brought them joy.
I was able to find gentile cleaning solutions so that they could help out!
I also used the spraying time to teach them to listen to instructions. I would tell them where and how many times to spray and they would do it. They loved this game!
Once they understood the process, they would lose the spraying privilege for a little while if they couldn’t follow directions (which only had to happen once for each of them!)
3) Chore Chart
Even if kids are too young to read, they will enjoy having a chore chart and checking things off their list!
For older kids, this can help them take ownership of their chores so you don’t have to micromanage them.
You can make your own chore chart using paper or a dry erase board, or you can use the one in my Autopilot Workbook.
4) Take Advantage of Mimicking
From two-and-a-half to three, it seemed as though my girls were constantly playing the game of Monkey-See-Monkey-Do.
I took advantage of this to create a good work ethic.
From the time they were awake for more than 5 minutes at a time, I would always domy cleaning routine when my girls are awake and around where I was working.
Each time the girls saw me doing my chores, they wanted to try whatever task was at hand.
Even if the chore was above their level of ability, I would let them try it out for as long as they liked.
One day, when my younger daughter was having a particularly fussy day, I had to vacuum the floor with her on my back in the Lillebaby. After I was finished, my oldest wanted one of her dolls in her doll carrier and proceeded to vacuum the floor again.
5) Keep Things New and Exciting
Once you can tell your child has effectively mastered a chore, try giving them a new chore to work on next time you are working together. (Think progress here not perfection.)
When I started having my oldest help me with the bathrooms, her job was the toilet. Mainly because it was low to the ground and she loved using the scrubber to swish the water.
After a couple of weeks of cleaning the toilet once a week, she was able to do the entire thing without me saying a word. I then simply changed her chore to the mirrors when I was doing the rest of the bathroom.
This little adjustment kept her engaged and excited to learn something new.
Another way to tell if they need a different task is boredom. If they started with a great attitude about helping, but you are now greeted with “I don’t want to” at chore time, try mixing it up!
6) Model Working Before Playing
I’m sure I’m not the only parent whose children would rather play with them than to do chores with them.
But when the girls ask me to play something with them or go to the park before our chores are done, I say “I would love to, as soon as we finish our work. Work first, then play!”
Since this is the norm and not the exception at our house, they aren’t surprised by this response. Usually, they jumps in to help so we can get to the fun stuff more quickly.
7) Do Chores Together
Once they were old enough for a chore of their own (which was around three for us), I created a little chore chart for them that was based aroundMy Simple Weekly Cleaning Schedule.
On the days that I cleaned the bathroom, for example, one of my daughter’s chores would be to do the toilet and the other one would do the mirror. When I vacuumed the downstairs, they would dust.
Having our cleaning routines synchronized was especially great when the girls were learning to start doing chores. I was able to talk them through where to start and what to do next without them feeling like I was hovering over their every move. But I was close enough to evade any disaster.
I was amazed by how quickly I didn’t need to tell them what to do anymore. Now they just ask me if they want me to check something to see if it is clean enough.
Even if they are taking to chores like a duck to water, remember that they are still little and enjoy praise and company while working. Stay close enough that you can help if they need it.
Here is a video showing you how I coordinate my Cleaning Routine with my 5-Year-Old’s Routine:
8) Set Clear Expectations
If your children have never done chores before, pointing them toward the bathroom and asking them to clean it isn’t going to go well for anyone.
People like to know what is expected of them, and children are no exception. We often forget that children are rational beings who are learning to think and reason like adults.
If we simply tell our children to do chores without explaining what chores we would like them to do, how we would like them to be accomplished, or what qualifies as a finished task, they will end up frustrated and disenchanted before you know it.
Here are three steps you can take to set clear expectations:
1. Write it down: Even young children will have fun checking off their chores each day. You can use my Printable Chore Checklist for Kids if you’d like, or you can make your own!
2. Show them how: Even if something seems obvious to you, it probably isn’t to your child. Show them exactly how you want it done and have them help you with the process. The younger the child, the more you will have to show them.
3. Explain what “finished” means: This will probably mean something different for each age-group. For young children, show them how the water drops will disappear when they are done wiping the mirror. For older children, explain that they need to add some elbow grease to get dirt and grime off.
In our house, I still have the girls get me to check their work when they think the job is done (they are six and three at the most recent update of this post). Sometimes it is done, but usually, it needs a little bit more work.
If it needs more work, they have to stay and help me until the job meets the standards that we set for that job.
9) Have a Positive Attitude
If you always complain about what you have to do when it comes to housework, your children will too.
This is a challenging one to stay on top of, at least it was for me, but practice makes progress with attitudes too!
I try to be cheerful and excited when I say it’s time to do chores, and their attitudes usually follow suit.
10) Brag About Them (In Front of Them!)
When we first started doing chores, I made a big deal about this one. When Ross would come home from work and ask how our day was, I would go on and on about what a big helper my oldest daughter was to Mommy.
I would tell him every detail that she helped with (even if it was something like running upstairs for a diaper for her little sister.)
She would beam with pride while Daddy would tell her how proud he was of her. Sometimes if I would forget, she would ask me, “can you tell Daddy what a big helper I was today?”
No, this isn’t good for teaching humility, but it is quite effective for getting toddlers excited about helping.
11) Make the Time as Pleasant as Possible
It can be easy to get into the habit of only telling them when they are doing something wrong, especially with young children who have no idea what they are doing; but try to affirm them as much as possible.
I’m not saying to let them go crazy with the spray and make more of a mess for you, but look at their attitude and intentions.
If they are trying their best, keep things positive. No one wants to work for a boss who only focuses on the negative. 🙂
My girls love singing. Often as we are cleaning, we will sing their favorite songs or listen to music. This helps the time move quickly for both of you and makes it fun to work together.
You want them to like working with you; and if you make it fun and encouraging, they will!
What? It’s not your favorite thing in the whole wide world? Oh sorry, I must have been thinking about something else.
Here’s the thing: I truly believe we aren’t enjoying this piece of our lives because we aren’t doing it correctly.
When I was looking to streamline my cleaning process, I searched Pinterest faithfully, read every infographic studiously, and blog hopped religiously for a few weeks before I realized that none of the ideas were even close to practical for me.
Everything I read not only had a very long list of daily duties but also required deep cleaning a different area of the house every day in addition to decluttering for 15 minutes a day. I just don’t have time to clean all day every day with two young kiddos.
And, maybe I’m crazy, but I don’t really want to.
I actually read one schedule that claimed you needed to clean every window in your house. Every. Single. Week. Am I the only one who doesn’t have time for that?
Next, I tried to do all my cleaning one day each week. I started doing this on Friday, but the cleaning in addition to making our special Friday night meal usually left me feeling edgy. I tried moving the cleaning day to Thursday (leftover night at our house,) but I was usually frustrated when the house didn’t *feel* clean for the weekend.
Then came my *ah-ha moment* when I was working on creating my weekly schedule: The house will be clean if each area that needs attention is cleaned once each week… even if it isn’t all on the same day.
Let’s get into how I built a cleaning schedule that I not only love but is so easy to stick to because it saves you time and energy.
And if you prefer to watch instead of read, here is the video that goes with this post:
How to Create a Weekly Cleaning Schedule
1) Make a List
Grab a pen and a notebook, or my Printable Workbook and make a list of everything you feel needs to be done each week. This list will be different for everyone. Only write the things you really think need to be done every week (no matter what anyone else says!)
When I did this, I listed each item out individually. For example, instead of writing “bathrooms,” I listed each bathroom separately.
Then I could decide later it if made more sense to do my bathrooms on the same day or if it worked better to split it up.
If your upcoming week is more (or less!) busy than normal, don’t use that to create your cleaning routine.
You want to base your cleaning routine off of a typical week for your family.
We had a week not long ago in which one of my daughters celebrated a birthday, we went to the museum with friends, I had to stake-up and transplant a ridiculous amount of tomato plants (it’s a long story,) my sister came to visit, and my parents came to visit. I didn’t have a single free day.
Was I able to get my daily cleaning done? Nope. Did it stress me out? Not even a little bit.
Why? Because I know my house gets cleaned consistently. No one is going to know if the floors were vacuumed that morning or six days earlier (I have the type of carpet that gets messed up as soon as someone walks across it.) As long as the toys are picked up, which the girls do before every nap and bedtime, the house will be clean enough.
Your schedule works for you, not the other way around. If you make your schedule something you can stick with the majority of the time, it isn’t going to matter if you miss a day here or there.
There is freedom in consistency, my friend!
3) Pick Your Cleaning Days
Next you will want to decide which days you want to clean on. I prefer to do a little every day and take Saturday off.
If cleaning on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday works best with your weekly schedule, then do that. Don’t try to cram cleaning into an already stressful or overbooked day. It will only make you want to give up on your new schedule.
Set yourself up for success and be realistic.
4) Divide and Conquer
Divide your list of everything that needs cleaned in a week among the days that you are cleaning. Be strategic here and work with your weekly schedule instead of against it.
For example: if you only have a small amount of time on one of your cleaning days, decide to clean one bathroom and nothing more. Don’t over-commit yourself.
If you try to cram too much into a small amount of time, you will only become frustrated when you realize that you can’t clean three bathrooms in 10 minutes.
Sunday’s are always a bit of a wildcard at our house. Sometimes we are home all day hanging out, but other times we are barely at the house between all of our adventures. This means I have very little predictable time to get anything accomplished.
Often once we get to Sunday night there are remnants of our weekend happenings all over the place. So my only job on Sunday, according to my cleaning schedule, is to tidy the house.
It’s a little like hitting the reset button before Monday and it gives me a good outlook for the week ahead.
5) Gut Check
Evaluate your schedule. How do you feel about it? Does it seem doable? Will your house be clean when it needs to be?
We like to have friends over on Friday evenings for supper or for after church lunches on Saturday; so I like to ensure that my downstairs *feels* clean on Friday. I vacuum the floors and clean the small downstairs bathroom.
Easy, right? But my company doesn’t have to know how easy it was🤫. If you like to have people over on Wednesday evening, maybe clean your guest bathroom on Tuesday or Wednesday.
If something doesn’t feel right or seem doable, now is the time to change it. Go with your gut!
Move things around until you are happy with it. Sometimes it takes trying it out for a week before you realize you need to switch a day. As soon as you realize it, make the change!
If you feel overwhelmed when you look at it, see if you can drop anything. Do you really need to clean your oven every single week?
Could you rotate a couple of items bi-weekly? Maybe you could alternate cleaning your bathrooms so each bathroom gets cleaned every other week.
You can keep testing and keep working your routine until you have a cleaning schedule that you can rock every week, while still enjoying some downtime.