Ways to Complete Housework with a Toddler and Teach them how to Help:
I’m a neat freak, but I don’t want to sacrifice time with my daughter for a tidy house. At two, she is at the age where she wants to imitate mommy and do everything I do, so it is easy to involve her in household tasks. In the mornings, we talk about the plan for the day: where we will go, what jobs I need to accomplish, what things she might want to help with, what fun things she wants to do together that day. I find that having a plan helps her know what to anticipate. I want to teach my daughter to be helpful and involved with the work of the family. We also have an overall routine for the week with some days more focused on play and some more task-oriented days (for example, we have what we call Working Wednesdays!). We make things fun by listening to music, singing songs together, and she is free to participate for the length of time she is interested (which can be surprisingly long!). By using creative strategies, I find I am able to spend time alongside my daughter while we work, freeing me up for time to play together. She also learns about household duties and chores in a developmentally appropriate way. With adequate time-ins for play mixed in, we can often have a productive day together. Here are some of the ways we clean together:
-Setting the table: Toddlers can take some items to the table and learn to place them properly. Forks, napkins, any plastic or unbreakable dishware are all items they can help with. They can bring tubs of butter, loaves of bread, condiments. This is a good way to get some extra hands carrying to the table and they feel like big kids for being allowed to help, rather than brushed aside in the pre-dinner preparations.
-Washing the kitchen table: after dinnertime, have your child bring his/her plate to the sink/dishwasher for clean up. Give them a soapy rag and towel and let them wipe off the table while you load the dishes. Reward with a bedtime story with the extra time you have.
-Washing dishes: While I do dishes, I fill a little dishpan with gentle Palmolive Dish Soap and give my daughter a dish cloth. She fills the pan with her play dishes and they get a cleaning while I get my work done. Make sure to put down towels and do this in a tiled area only. Teach your child to crawl rather than walk on wet floors so they don’t take a spill.
-Unloading the dishwasher: I give my daughter a towel and let her dry any plastic items or pots/pans. She knows the appropriate cupboards for many items, and proudly puts away pans and colanders and her little toddler spoons.
-Dusting: I give my daughter a damp cloth and let her help alongside me when we dust. I give her simple areas to dust (rocking chairs, sides of dressers) that do not require she moves lamps or knickknacks.
-Sweeping and vacuuming: My daughter LOVES to do both. We take turns and I multitask during her turns by folding laundry or wiping counters.
-Washing the floor: Use a gentle cleaner like Palmolive Dish Soap and warm (not hot) water. Get some old rags and towels and let your toddler scrub with you. A tip for safety: have them walk not crawl, so they don’t slip and fall. Also, you can have them wear swim diapers and t-shirts for easy clean up. I usually have my daughter help me, then give her a warm bath afterwards!
-Folding laundry: V loves to help by shaking out the laundry and bunching it into a semi-fold. I refold when she can’t see because I don’t want to discourage her effortsJ In the meantime though, I’m able to fold several stacks while she works on an item or two. She also likes to help carry laundry to the washer and dryer, load the dryer with clothes that I hand her, and push the start button.
-Taking trash: My daughter loves to take little trash bags from the bathrooms to the back door for me to run to our trash can in the garage. The other day, without asking, she took the little plastic grocery bags from the kitchen after we unloaded groceries and put them in the bathroom for us to use in the bathroom trash cans. I was so proud of my little helper’s initiative, I made sure to heap a bunch of praise on her for her thoughtfulness.
-Tidying the playroom: This is probably my biggest area of struggle. I don’t mind kid litter, as long as it’s in the playroom and we can walk through it. When we start tripping through the room, or stuff migrates to other areas of the house (we have an open floor plan where the playroom connects to the dining and living rooms), it can sometimes bug me. My husband encourages V to pick up her toys before she moves onto the next project, and I’m trying to be consistent with his initiative. Minimally, we have a couple of sweeps of the playroom per day and we work together to return toys to their homes. Then, we usually follow up with a time-in of some sort (like reading or playing puzzles or games together).
-Feeding and caring for pets: We have a lop-eared bunny rabbit, Carmen. V helps with Carmen by feeding her hay, greens, carrots, and timothy hay pellets. I take care of litter and cage changes while she sweeps the extra hay around the cage with a little dustpan. She also helps brush Carmen’s fur. Recently, she has become so excited to give Carmen a little peanut treat from her hand!
-Seasonally, we also enjoy gardening and raking leaves together. V enjoys sweeping the garage and sidewalk and makes quite a cute impression pushing the giant push broom around with her little self.
Finding ways to make work fun and sharing it together teaches your child how to balance work with play from a young age. It teaches the time and effort required to complete housework and hopefully builds a sense of responsibility and appreciation. As she matures, we will talk with V about what household duties she would like to share, what roles we hope she will assume, and work out ways to involve her in household decisions and rewards that best befits her age and maturity. We share work and we share play in our home. One tradition I hope to always share, is completing tasks together; even the most mundane tasks, when accomplished with someone you love, can become rituals to look forward to as conversation, music, and time are shared.