Within the last year, my son has started to exert his independence by saying, “Mommy, I do it!” or, “Mommy, I do it myself!” as he helps himself to more challenging tasks than what I’m giving him. More recently, he says, “Mommy, I help!” I’ve never been great at asking for or receiving help. I’m ultra-independent. Like, to a fault probably. Yet when I hear my little boy’s voice asserting that he’s ready to offer assistance, I am more than happy to oblige by giving him some toddler chores – jobs he will be capable of completing.
In giving him toddler chores that are appropriate for his tiny hands, I feel I am encouraging and nurturing his newly defined sense of independence and also building up his confidence.
My theory is that by learning he is capable and acting independently (even as young as three), he will eventually become an independent young person. That independent young person will later transform into an independent adult. This may be too high an expectation (those of you following me on this mom journey know I’m full of high expectations), but I like the principle behind this idea nonetheless. If allowing him the opportunity to perform jobs that are appropriate for toddlers translates into high self-esteem and initiative later then I feel like this is a serious win for both of us.
I suppose it should be said that giving my almost three year-old son toddler-appropriate tasks to assist me around the house does not always result in efficiency or accuracy. Sometimes the assistance he provides is not actually helpful. Occasionally, his toddler chores even produce more work later on. (We’ve all been there, right?) It’s worth having him involved anyway as he beams with pride in having “helped” and in having done something “by himself.”
A lot of that pride comes from setting him up for the win by providing him toddler chores he can manage somewhat independently and successfully.
Too often I think we (as parents) think BIG picture. We can’t wait for our kids to be old enough to help with something useful, like changing the sheets on the beds or starting a load of laundry. If they knew how to do either of these themselves and could also initiate the task without prompting, wouldn’t that be glorious?
Instead of waiting for this “old enough” age to strike, I am seizing opportunities for him to flex his independence and helping muscles by way of toddler chores. Household chores are easier and faster when I just do them myself. The dishes, the laundry, the clean up… all can happen in record time and can be checked off the list if I forfeit the clumsy toddler assist from my son. However…
I fear if I am to wait for that hypothetical, undefined age of old enough then when he IS old enough, he won’t have a clue, a desire, or the basic ability.
I want to create some space and opportunity for my son to learn new things, explore his capability and build his confidence and independence through helping around the house. It may mean the task takes twice (or ten times) as long. It may mean that something doesn’t get as clean as I would like, or the toys don’t get put back exactly where I wanted them. I give him some toddler chores anyway.
When I do, I attempt to coach him in the right way of doing something as he goes, gently and with affirmation and encouragement. You know, so that he doesn’t start the dishwasher without the soap which would be a useless outcome. I try not to correct the misplacement of his books on his shelf after he’s out of sight. I don’t want him to see that shelf the next time and have him remember that isn’t how he did it or where he put his favorite reads. That may result in him feeling I found fault with how he did it and therefore failed.
I like to set my son up for a win when I offer him toddler chores. Here are a few real-life examples of toddler chores from my own household:
- Putting the safe (as in not can tops with razor edges) recyclables in the bin after I’ve rinsed them already
- Throwing his own diaper in the trash after a change
- Placing the cat’s food bowl down on the floor after I’ve filled it
- Tossing his dirty clothes into the hamper
- Squirting the dishwasher liquid into the dishwasher, closing the door, and pushing the ‘on’ button (with my supervision)
- Returning his cleaned and dried dishes to the place where I keep his dishware (which is a place he can reach)
- Picking up his toys
- Setting the table with placemats
- Carrying small bags of trash (think bathroom trash can size) to the garbage bin
- Helping to strip the beds by pulling the sheets off
So much can be gained in delegating toddler chores to our little ones: independence, confidence, assertiveness, responsibility, and accountability to name just a few.
Most importantly, I find that my son’s helping muscles become flexed and strengthened and I hope that when he is old enough to really handle his share of responsibilities around the house, he will already be halfway there. And won’t that be so very helpful (in the most real sense of the word) to me when the time comes? I could use a little help. Can’t we all?
Name other toddler chores you allocate in your house.