My toddler is constantly asking to help me. Whether it’s cooking, cleaning, or organizing, she wants to do what her mommy does as much as she possibly can. It’s true that some things are much easier and quicker when I do them myself but there is such pride and joyfulness in her heart when I say “yes” and let her help me, that it is difficult to say no, because I don’t have a good excuse other than mommy is older and can do it better. But do I? Isn’t one of my jobs as a mom to be a positive role model and teach her how to do things in life? If I don’t teach her, who will? So unless I am on an extremely tight time schedule, I take a step back from my own agenda, and take the long way so she can have the opportunity to help and get excited about her newfound role as a “big girl.”
Although she is a toddler, she is fully capable of doing some chores by herself and or assisting me with mine. Toddlers are capable of so much if given the opportunity and proper environment. By allowing her to help, she learns character, responsibility, teamwork, following directions, comprehension, verbal skills, listening skills, and more. She is also able to recognize step-by-step processes and cognitively learn new skills by actively being a participant and not learning passively from a book or a television program. Toddlers are active participants in their home and vital contributors to their families. Not only do I have the opportunity to teach her on a regular basis on her role in the household, but I also am able to encourage her throughout the process and also praise her for a job well done when she is finished. I tell her how proud I am of her and give her tons of kisses and hugs for being my helper. Again, as a parent, I stress to be part of the process with your child. Instead of forcing them or ordering them to complete a task and or even giving them a consequence if they do not get something done, invite them to help and make it fun so they want to continue helping in the future. At this age, remember it is about teaching, encouraging, learning and praising. Starting this learning process with a toddler at such a young age will set the foundation for you and the future.
Here are a few ways a toddler can help around the house:
Helping with the pets. We have two dogs and my toddler can easily pick up the empty bowl of dog food and refill it from the large bin we store in the pantry. She will also help take the dogs on a walk by holding the leash of our smallest dog – that actually weighs less than her (if you have a large dog I wouldn’t necessarily suggest this unless you are in a contained area and or have a very trained pet). Mom and Dad take care of picking up poop and refilling the water but she often is near us watching and pretending to help us by “supervising” the tasks. She is always close by and is supervised, often with me solely watching her as she completes her task but every once in a while, I am in the kitchen cooking dinner while she refills the food and even though she is nearby, I am not watching every move she makes, which makes her feel a little more autonomous. Depending on what kind of pet you have, find a way to engage your child in helping to take care of them. Helping to teach toddlers compassion for animals and living creatures is key to their development.
Picking up her toys. I don’t know of a toddler that doesn’t make a mess. And the longer I have been pregnant with her little brother, I either don’t have the energy to pick up after her or lately my problem is that I can’t bend down to pick anything up. Instead of me doing it for her or her doing it herself, I sit in the middle of her room (or wherever the mess is) and I hand her items and remind her where to put them back to their designated spot. For example, she has a box of blocks and a bag of puppets in her room. If I see a puppet, I ask her to put the puppet back in the bag as I point to the general area so she remembers where the puppet bag is at in her room. I do the same with the blocks. I am with her the entire time and helping her, even though she is doing most of the work. This way she stays focused on the task and doesn’t feel like she’s alone in the process. We learn to pick up our belongings together. And sometimes if I’m lucky, she gets in the zone and then asks to help me clean up some of my bedroom, too!
Throwing trash away. Sometimes it is a dirty training pant she wore to bed or maybe it is the wrapper from an applesauce she just ate, but when she is done with something, I ask her to throw it in the trashcan. And not only do I teach her to throw out items that solely belong to her, but also her mom and dad. We have open trashcans in almost every room in our house, and she knows where they are all located, so she knows exactly where to deposit the trash when needed. In our kitchen we have a closed trashcan with an automatic step and she can easily step on the foot pedal to open it and throw trash away. This not only helps keep the house clean, but it teaches her to pick up after herself and how to help others. She also learns responsibility in keeping the house clean for the whole family.
Cooking/Baking. Since I stay home full time now, we make a lot of meals together, in addition to baking a few times a month. One of her favorite items to help me make is a pizza. We buy individual sized frozen pizza dough and once I get all of the ingredients on the counter, she proudly puts her toddler sized apron on, and adds her ingredients one by one all by herself (with a little help, of course). She first spreads the pizza sauce with a spatula, then sprinkles cheese over the sauce, and then finally adds a smiley face made out of pepperoni. I take it from there and place the pizza in the oven. The same type of process takes place when we bake and or make something in the slow cooker. I gather all the ingredients and place them on the counter and then once I measure the correct amount, she is the one that physically puts the ingredients inside the bowl and then mixes them all together.
There are a few other tasks that arise every once in a while that she will also help with, but on the average day or week, these are the tasks she helps the most with. If there is a day she is struggling and doesn’t want to help as much as the day before, I try not to force it. Toddlers are at a pivotal time of learning and will easily get discouraged and resentful if they are forced to do something they don’t want to do. Instead, I invite her to help when she is ready, and usually if not in that moment, she will be wanting to please me as well as herself and will be giving me the opportunity for another teaching moment in no time! When children get older and are given even more responsibility (school-aged children through adolescents) then we can talk more about sticker charts, allowance, schedules, and assigning tasks instead of a simple invitation to help. Remember, starting this learning process with a toddler at such a young age will set the foundation for you and the future.