20 Chores for Your Toddler

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I totally get why we might avoid teaching our toddler chores. One of the main reasons is it’s just quicker and easier to do it ourselves. There are also shifts in the culture, our kids are busy, they have many activities, and we want them to just be kids, so our Mom guilt keeps us from putting those kinds of demands on them. But we also want them to be independent one day, successful adults, and be a good partner to their future husband or wife if they choose marriage. Starting chores at a young age teaches responsibility, life skills, organization, and boosts confidence. Kids can view themselves as a valued member of their family, a contributor, and it gives them a way to give back to their parents. We’ve recently been prioritizing this more in our house, since we are in the process of adopting. With baby #2 coming hopefully sometime this year our 3.5 year old needs to be a bit more independent. This article includes;

  1. How to teach a new chore

  2. Tips for getting your toddler to participate in chores

  3. 20 Chores appropriate for your toddler

  4. Products we love

Tips for Teaching a New Chore

20 Chores for Your Toddler - By She Got Guts

You toddler is going to need to be taught, helped, and assisted with most of their chores. This is not going to be something they just do completely on their own. I hope I haven’t crushed any dreams here, but it’s not as if I am doing dishes and Adeline is dusting the furniture. It’s just not a realistic expectation at this age. Here are some ways to teach your child to contribute to their family & home!

  1. Explain Why

    “Because I said so,” is not an effective explanation regarding chores even though I know most parents think that phrase on a daily basis! It’s important that you start to share the “why” of chores and not expect immediate understanding. You’ve got do the dishes, so you have clean plates to eat off of, you need to clean up the yard, so you can play. Explain it to them in context, often, as you are participating, and eventually they’ll understand that chores are meant to keep everyone safe, keep the household running smooth, and it’s part of their job as a family member to contribute.

  2. Break it Down into Smaller Steps

    When you are teaching a new chore, start small. Break the bigger skill into smaller, more achievable steps. It’s not about the size of the job, it’s about the responsibility. When we first started teaching Adeline to clear the table, we started with just clearing her cup. The next step, she cleared her cup, and cleared her plate ( only placing it on the counter, next to the sink). Finally, we will teach her how to clear off any uneaten food, before placing her item in the sink or dishwasher.

  3. Model /Teach

    Show them how to complete the chore several times. If they want to jump in, great! But at this time you are just showing them how to complete the activity. With clearing the table, it’s important they are careful so things do not spill, and that she does not put the plate in the sink with food on it ( we do not have disposal). During this stage, you are teaching the rules around the chore.

  4. Reinforce

    At this age, it’s important you provide reinforcement and this can be done in a variety of ways. It can be verbal, “great job clearing the table!”, it can be physical with a high five, hug, kiss, or it can be tangible; sticker, stamp, money, etc. or it could even be an activity, an extra book at bedtime, choice of family movie, etc. At this age, I do not think giving money for chores is developmentally appropriate. You can vary the reinforcement, at first I may give a sticker when Adeline is doing something new, but eventually once she has mastered the chore a simple thank you or verbal praise will suffice.

  5. Help

    When learning a new skill, you are going to need to assist. When Adeline spills something and needs to clean it up, she does not quite have the motor planning or fine motor skills to manage this task on her own. I am right there with her, and we talk about what we need for the activity, I give her simple 1 step directions to clean up, and then we have to put the supplies away.

20 Chores for Your Toddler - By She Got Guts

6. Encourage Independence

I reward Adeline for doing things by herself, for trying if she’s unsure, for continuing the chore even when frustrated. I tell her she is a great helper in her family, etc. When she needs help, instead of just doing it for her, I try to give the least amount of help possible but still make sure she is successful. So if she is struggling with getting the bigger clothes into the dryer, I make her in charge of the socks.

7. Make sure they are successful at first

You do not want to introduce a chore and say, “go ahead, you’ve got this!” because then your toddler may have trouble, get frustrated, give up, and then not want to try that chore again. You want them to feel good about doing chores, so part of that is to make sure they are successful and you do this by scaffolding. Scaffolding is a fancy teacher term which means you offer support as needed which actually increases independence. You act as a facilitator, a mentor, helper, etc. until your child is successful and then you slowly fade that support.

8. Teach appropriate ways to handle frustration

Learning a new skill is bound to be frustrating as mistakes are usually made. Teach your toddler to use their words, ask for help, and remember to acknowledge and recognize their feelings. “I’m sorry you are frustrated, putting away big toys is hard. You can ask Mommy to help you and we can do it together.”

9. Make Sure it’s Developmentally Appropriate

When I was researching some of the chores other parents do, some of the chores listed for toddler just seemed way too mature. It’s important that you give a chore that’s developmentally appropriate, basically something they can do given their age AND abilities. If your child has developmental delays, you need to keep that in mind as well. Adeline has ADHD, as well as fine motor delays, motor planning difficulties, so at this time it’s inappropriate to expect her to fold clothes, or move items on a dresser to dust.

10. Have Patience

Patience parents, patience. If they make a mistake, keep your cool. Do not angrily take over the chore and do it yourself. Yes, toddlers are going to unroll the entire roll of paper towels, spray too much cleaner, drop their plate on the way to the sink, etc. Make sure they know, mistakes are ok. Help them fix the mistake and make sure they feel successful. “Whoops, you dropped your plate! Mommy will help you clean it up. You are in charge of spraying the cleaner 3 times, and mommy will wipe it up. Let me take the plate and you put the paper towels in the trash. Awesome job cleaning up mess!”

11. Have a good attitude

Do not have a negative attitude about chores in general. You do not have to act like a stepford wife, but it does feel good to have a clean house, so focus on that when you are trying to get your kids to buy into this chore business.

12. Choose Chores from 3 Different Categories

When you are giving your toddler chores, make sure you have chores from a variety of these 3 categories. You do not want them to have 3 chores that they are learning, it’ll be too much.

  1. Chores they’ve Mastered

  2. Chores they’re Learning

  3. Chores you’re Teaching

Marty Rossman studied 25 years of data on 84 children and concluded that young adults who began chores at ages 3 and 4 were more likely to have good relationships with family and friends, to achieve academic and early career success, and to be self-sufficient.

tips for getting your toddler to participate

20 Chores for Your Toddler - By She Got Guts
  1. Make it Fun!

    Turn on their favorite music, be happy, make a game out of it, be silly, and make it something kids want to join in.

  2. Teamwork

    Work together as a family!! Adeline does best when we do things together. Mama pulls the weeds and Adeline puts it in the bag, Mama puts away the toys in the bath and Adeline is in charge of all the cups.

  3. Let them choose!

    Toddlers love to have control so give them a choice whenever possible. Do you want to help Mama with laundry or pick up your toys? Do you want to put away your cup or your plate?

  4. Reward

    Reward chores with a variety of reinforcement, verbal praise, physical reinforcement, tangible (sticker chart, small treats or prizes) or even quality time. Let’s work together weeding, and once done we can watch a family movie and have popcorn.

  5. Make it Part of Routine

    The easiest way to learn a new skill, and make this an easier part of life is to make it part of the routine. Each day when they come into house, they take their shoes off and put them away.

  6. Start Small

    Start with one small step of a chore at a time, and build on that.

Research indicates that those children who do have a set of chores have higher self-esteem, are more responsible, and are better able to deal with frustration and delay gratification, all of which contribute to greater success in school.
— Marty Rossman, University of Minnesota

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  1. Clean Up Toys

    Start small, and give them specific 1 step simple directions. Do not say, clean up all your toys as they might not know where to begin, where to put things, and this is a lot to organize. Instead you can try, put your blocks in the red bucket.

  2. Laundry in Hamper

    When she gets undressed, she throws her clothes in the hamper. She also helps with collecting clothes that her Daddy sometimes leaves on the floor!

  3. Brush Teeth

    This sort of thing is a chore in our household, as Adeline will often avoid this task. But this is something she needs to do to keep her teeth healthy.

  4. Wipe up Spills

    If your little one makes a mess, by accident, on purpose, they can help clean it up. Give them a simple task such as spraying the cleaner, or using the Dustbuster. This is also a great tool to decrease the likelihood of purposeful messes. Win win!

  5. Set & Clear Table

    As mentioned above, we started really small with this. At first we just required our daughter put her cup in the sink following each meal. The same goes for setting, and you can build on this skill. Break this big task down step by step. First, give everyone a place mat, now give everyone a napkin.

  6. Sort Recycling

    This chore teaches kids to sort by category, so they need the cognitive ability to do that before you expect them to complete this chore.

  7. Match Socks

    At this age, I think folding clothes is too difficult but one task your toddler can learn to do is match socks.

  8. Water Plants

    Toddlers typically love any activity involving water, and this is great skill for them to learn how to care for a living thing. Planting a garden, caring for plants, etc. provides so many lessons, its one of my favorite things to do with my daughter. Here are 8 Reasons to Garden with Your Kids.

  9. Feed Pets

    You can have them give your pet water, dry food, empty their bowl, wash the bowl out in the sink, assist with any cleaning up or general pet care (brushing, walking, etc).

  10. Errand Runner

    This may be my personal favorite chore of all. Basically, you ask your little one to run a small errand for you. Just yesterday, Adeline brought a snack to her Dad in his office, she picked something off the floor for me since my back was hurting, etc.

  11. Carry Groceries/Bags from Car

    Moms have so much stuff to carry to and from the car. I was making 1-2 trips before leaving the house just making sure I had all the things I needed. Now, my toddler can help me carry a light bag into the house, or be responsible for her own drink, snack, small toy, etc.

  12. Take items to Recycle/Trash

    Teach your toddler to start taking care of their own trash. When they finish a small water bottle, put the empty bottle into the recycle.

  13. Wipe the Counter

    This is a personal favorite in our house, since my daughter loves a spray bottle. Make sure you are using safe cleaner, and teach them to spray and wipe different surfaces.

  14. Put Books Away

    After we read before bed, my husband was always carrying all the books and putting them away and now we are teaching our girl to do it. She can only carry 1-2 books, but she is getting there.

  15. Load Washer & Dryer

    Kids love to load the washer, put the soap in, press the button, etc. Toddlers can also assist with loading clothes from the washer into the dryer, and from the dryer into the clothes basket.

  16. Vacuum

    We purchased a very light weight Dustbuster (linked below) and this has been awesome for small spills after various snacks, meal times, etc. It’s fun for them to use and there are endless things to vacuum when you live with a toddler.

  17. Personal Hygiene

    There are so many tasks you can teach them in this area that increase independence. Brushing teeth, washing their hands, washing their body in the bath, brushing hair, etc.

  18. Self Help

    Here is an area that can help your toddler become more independent; self-feeding, using spoon, fork, and knife, independent dressing and grooming; taking off shoes, then socks, pulling down and pulling up pants, assisting with shirt, etc. toileting; using bathroom independently, wiping, washing hands, etc.

  19. Take Shoes Off & Put Away

    We are a somewhat shoe free home, so a chore would be taking care of those items. There is specific place for muddy boots, and then just her regular play sneakers.

  20. Assist with School/Daycare Items

    This such a lifesaver for Mom’s. There is so much stuff that goes back and forth for my 3.5 year old. When we get home, she puts her lunch box in the sink, puts her bag in the closet ( we hung a hook lower so she can reach), etc.

Products we love

20 Chores for Your Toddler - By She Got Guts

I’ve included our favorite lightweight dustbuster, kid’s cleaning kit, safe cleaning products, as well as some kid sized brooms, dust pan, and brush. The Melissa and Doug stuff is just toys, but we use some of it for cleaning. I also included a really simple chore chart we use for reinforcement. We focus on 1 -2 chores at a time, and she places a magnet on the day if she completes chore. If she has a magnet each day, she can choose a small prize. These are affiliate links so I earn a small commission if you purchase at no cost to you. Thank you for your support.