If there is one thing to know about doing chores with your toddler, it’s this: You need to plan for it to take twice as long while looking half as good. Even if that makes the Type A side of you bristle, there are benefits to involving your little ones in household chores.
According to findings from the Grant Study of Adult Development, conducted since 1938 by Harvard researchers, there is a strong connection between performing chores in childhood and feeling happy, healthy and independent in adulthood. The reason? Doing tasks around the home as a kid creates the foundation for a solid work ethic down the road.
"The earlier you started, the better," said former Dean of Freshmen at Stanford Julie Lythcott-Haims in her 2015 TED Talk about the Harvard research. "[A] roll-up-your-sleeves- and-pitch-in mindset, a mindset that says, there's some unpleasant work, someone's got to do it, it might as well be me... that that's what gets you ahead in the workplace."
Helping your kid become the CEO of a company one day not a top priority for you right now? Research also backs up the short-term benefits to the parent-child relationship when you team up for chores.
"When kids are really young, they want to help you rake leaves or prepare dinner," Richard Bromfield, Harvard Medical School psychologist and author of the book "How to Unspoil Your Child Fast," told the Boston Globe in 2015. "Take those opportunities to let kids help. Those moments are infused with love and connection. By the time they're older and really able to do [those tasks] competently, they've lost interest."
Of course, enlisting your 2- or 3-year-old’s help with chores can be easier said than done. If you’re looking for a starting point that can be built upon later—imagine the day your kid is in charge of vacuuming the house!—consider these toddler-friendly chores...
Just like matching games, young kids can already be quite skilled at finding the socks that go together. You can also prompt them to sort family members’ clothes into separate piles or work on folding clothes. Afterward, get them used to putting clean laundry away in their room.
Especially if dinner is a family event, get everyone involved before taking a seat at the table by asking your littlest helper to put plates, silverware and napkins on the table. After the meal, enlist them to bring plates to the kitchen.
A good toddler chore option because the water bottles aren’t likely to break, task your child with filling up their reusable drinking bottle with water. (Another thing to consider: Encourage your child to take responsibility for keeping track of their own bottle instead of fetching them a new one every time it’s misplaced. Have them make a habit of returning it to the refrigerator or counter between uses.)
Easy to do without the use of additional cleaning sprays or chemicals, dusting the shelves with a dry cloth is a great introductory chore. Maybe just consider steering them clear of surfaces with breakable items on top!
With cleaning up toys, there tends to be two levels: The first, when your child will simply “put things away” anywhere that isn’t on the middle of the floor. And the second, better level when items are actually sorted in the right places. Boost your kiddo’s chances of correctly organizing by having open bins or shelves, so they can remember where toys belong.
We all know this small, two-minute task can be a real mood-enhancer during the day—so get your toddler involved by incorporating making the bed into the morning routine along with getting dressed and brushing their teeth. Military-style perfection isn’t required, but it’s a wonderful habit to start young.
Whether with houseplants or tending to the garden, there isn’t too much that can go wrong when you task a toddler with carrying a watering can. (Ok, ok, keep a towel handy for spills!) By giving them this sense of ownership and pride over a living, hopefully thriving thing, they will likely be more inspired to continue helping out.