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Teaching Toddlers to Do Chores

As parents we can grow accustomed to doing everything for our young children and lose the opportunity to teach them responsibility.
By Dan Sheaffer


The handoff was complete. My 2-year-old son had taken the glass butter dish from the table and made a beeline for the kitchen counter. I proudly stood by watching him as he disappeared around the corner of the dining room. My little boy was growing up and taking responsibility.

CRASH! The butter dish shattered and pieces scattered across the floor. For a moment I was frozen, not knowing what do. The proverbial fall had come just moments after my pride had gone sky high. From the kitchen came the innocent voice of a toddler exclaiming, “Oh, man!” Maybe he wasn't quite ready for something so fragile. He was still just a 2-year-old kid.

In the previous months we had been teaching our son to clear the table after dinner. Originally we started by handing him the hot pads to return to the kitchen drawer. He thrived in the new role. I began to give him more and more responsibility, until that fated evening with the shattered butter dish. Even that gave us the opportunity to teach him the difference between accidents and careless actions.

Sometimes, as parents (especially first-time parents), we miss opportunities to have our toddlers participate in family chores. From birth we are their providers. We wash them, feed them, dress them, and change them. We grow so accustomed to doing everything for them that it's hard to take the next step—teaching them responsibility as a valuable family member.

But as they approach the age of 2, it is time to start teaching a few simple chores to most toddlers (this could differ by a few months depending on the child).

Why teach your toddlers how to do chores?

  • Chores teach your children at an early age that they are a valuable member of the family.
  • Children love to copy what their parents are doing. Why not teach them age-appropriate tasks? Dads, this is a place to step up. We can't let moms do the training alone. We will see things in our kids that moms will never notice. And vice versa.
  • Your toddlers' world may only be as big as your house, but they want to make a difference. They want to be important. They want to contribute.
  • Ephesians 6:1-2 commands children to obey their parents. Did you ever realize that children don't automatically know how to obey their parents? This is something that must be learned. Teaching your toddler to do a few chores is an excellent opportunity to teach obedience.
  • Chores teach self-worth.
  • Chores show toddlers that everyone in the family has a role to play.

What types of chores are appropriate?

1. Clear off the table after meals. Just make sure you don't hand your children something that is more fragile than they are able to handle (learn from my example).

2. Begin teaching your toddlers to undress themselves and put their clothes in the laundry basket. Toddlers are old enough to start the process of dressing and undressing themselves.

3. Have them throw their own trash away. This one doesn't usually take too much encouragement. Kids love throwing things in the trash can.

4. Pick up toys. It's amazing how often I pick up toys instead of having my toddler do it. He spent all day throwing them around the house; he is more than capable of throwing them back in the toy box (playing a cleanup song on YouTube during cleanup worked wonders in our house).

5. Sweeping and vacuuming. Some friends told me that they have their son use the toy vacuum every time they use the real one. This is fun for their son, but also teaches important lessons.

6. Helping with laundry. It's never too early to start teaching your child the joys of laundry (or that it is a necessary task that must be done). Have them carry clothes to the washing machine, match socks, fold washcloths, and take clean, folded clothes back to their bedroom.

7. Yard work. Yard work is a great way to get them out of the house and put their endless energy to good use. Have them pick up sticks and large nuts from the yard. Teach them to pull weeds from the flower beds.

8. Empty the trash. Your toddler can go around with you learning to empty the trash from all the rooms in your house and what you do with it when you take the bag outside.


Tips for training your toddler

1. Be patient. Proverbs 22:6 teaches parents to train up a child in the way he should go. It is our responsibility to raise our kids to have a proper understanding of responsibility. As the verse says, it takes training. And training takes time.

2. Be attentive. Often we do tasks without realizing that they could provide a good teaching moment for our toddler. Keep your eyes open for opportunities to teach.

3. Be intentional. Getting a task done quickly on your own may not be as important as taking the opportunity to train your toddler in that task.

4. Be practical. Never underestimate what a child is able to do, but some chores are still too difficult for their age. There is no way they are going to tackle dusting the ceiling fan.

5. Be encouraging. Nothing shows children they are valuable like good encouragement in the midst of their task. Criticism will quickly break their hearts.

6. Be fun. Let them know that even with responsibility we can have fun with our work. Sing songs about cleaning up or create your own family games.

7. Be present. You must be willing to participate with them. No giving orders and disappearing.

8. Be servants. Teaching your toddler is not about forcing labor on them; it is about instilling a good work ethic and teaching them to serve others. Your toddler learns from your example.

Teaching your kids to do chores around the house is a lot of work. Often it will mean taking more time than normal to complete a task. It will take continual encouragement by you, the parent, to keep the kids headed in the right direction.

Remember my butter dish? It was not fun to pick up the broken pieces (not to mention replacing it with a new one), but I would do it again in a heartbeat for the sake of teaching my son what it looks like to have responsibilities. Even when the kids don't do it perfectly, take heart—you are training them for life. You are training them to look at others as more important than themselves. It is worth it.

Copyright © 2015 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.

Next Steps

1. Toddlers make mothers feel like they have lost control of the family. You’ll be encouraged as you read “The Toddler Years” and other parenting articles from FamilyLife.

2. Join with a group of friends for six weeks and go through the small group Bible study Improving Your Parenting. You will learn what your children need in a parent, the basics of discipline, dealing with busyness, and how to bring God into your family.

3. The toddler years are often considered some of the most difficult. Listen as Dennis and Barbara Rainey talk to parents about the best ways to discipline children who are just beginning to walk and talk.



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