How to Get Your Toddler to do Chores

My 20-month-old does quite a few chores around the house. When he was an infant, if you’d told me that he’d be cleaning up blocks or helping in the kitchen before he was two, I would have said that you were crazy. Now, I ask him to help with all kinds of tasks around the house, and he does so happily. Here’s how I got my kid excited about helping around the house.

Related: The Most Important Parenting Lesson I’ve Learned So Far

There is a magical secret about toddlers that I’ve discovered: they love to help. They want to do what their parents are doing, because to them, we are the whole universe. There are a few keys to harnessing that innate helpfulness that have been working great for my 20-month-old.

How to Get Your Toddler to Do Chores

1. Make it fun.

A toddler doesn’t have a sense yet of “work.” For toddlers, everything is a game. Make chores fun, and your toddler will help.

When it’s time to clean up his blocks, for example, I don’t just order him to clean up the blocks and walk away. It’s a fun game. We sing a clean up time song. Something repetitious like this song works best. When we’re done, I tell him what a great helper he was or that it makes my life easy when he helps clean up.

Combining an element of playfulness, like a song, plus plenty of praise makes your kid want to help.

How to Get Your Toddler to do Chores

2. Be realistic.

One of my friends really described toddlers perfectly. She said, “My son wants to help with everything, but he’s just so bad at it!”  So, so true. Doing chores with toddlers often takes longer than just doing them yourself.

There are a lot of things that toddlers – especially young toddlers – can’t do yet. And that’s OK! Getting your toddler to do chores isn’t necessarily about actually getting the chore done. My son loves to vacuum, but he doesn’t quite get the larger goal behind vacuuming yet. If you have a two foot square area that needs vacuuming, though, he’s your man! Rather than try to force him to actually vacuum the floor, I let him vacuum that one spot until he’s had his fill, then thank him for his help. I can always really vacuum later, and one day he will be able to truly help with the vacuuming.

Letting your kid help with chores, even when he doesn’t fully “get it” yet, helps foster that desire to help.

Being realistic doesn’t have to mean that nothing gets done, though. My son loves to help me make green smoothies. At 20 months, he can’t hold a sharp knife yet, but he can help tear the greens into pieces and press the button to turn on the blender. He also likes to help me feed our dog, Jenna. His jobs are pouring the food into the bowl, walking with me to the room where she eats, and showing me where to put it down for her. He’s not super great yet at carrying a bowl of dog food across the house, so usually I do the carrying of the food. Focusing on what he’s good at sets him up to succeed, and the chores really do get done.

Also be realistic about how much you’re asking of your toddler and when you’re asking. Don’t ask him to help you unload the whole dishwasher. That’s too much for a toddler attention span. Ask him to just help with the spoons (I like spoons because they’re not sharp or breakable). If he’s in the middle of building a block tower, though, it’s not time to ask him for help unloading the spoons from the dishwasher yet. Wait until he’s between activities.

How to Get Your Toddler to do Chores

3. Stay positive.

When toddlers are helping with chores, there are going to be ups and downs. When something goes wrong, it’s natural to feel a little bit frustrated, but your toddler doesn’t need to know that you’re feeling that way. Chances are, he’s already frustrated with himself. Focus on what he did right, and if possible include him in fixing any mishaps. He might need a little hug, too, if he’s mad at himself for messing up.

I mentioned above that my son doesn’t usually carry the dog food into the den for us when we feed Jenna together. At first, we did let him carry the food, but he would get so mad at himself if he dropped it and it spilled! Now, we only let him carry the dog food if I know we’ll have time to clean up any spills together without feeling rushed. He’s not the fastest at picking up spilled kibble, but showing him how to fix the problem helps him feel good about the experience, even though there was a little slip-up.

How to Get Your Toddler to Do Chores

4. Choose the right chores.

I touched on this above under “Be realistic,” but choosing the right chores for your toddler is definitely key to success. Maria Montessori put together a classic chart of chores that children ages two and up can do. But I believe that even toddlers under age two can help with chores.

To choose the right chores for your toddler, look at what he’s good at and what he’s interested in. These are the chores my son has been helping with since he was around 16-18 months old:

  • feeding the dog
  • making his breakfast smoothie
  • wiping his mouth, hands, and highchair tray after he eats
  • unloading spoons from the dishwasher
  • cleaning up one toy type (blocks, books, etc)
  • putting his clean socks away
  • opening drawers, so that I can put away clean laundry
  • adding detergent and turning on the dishwasher (this one requires hawk-like supervision, especially the dish soap part)

That might seem like a cumbersome list, but he enjoys doing all of these things. When I ask if he wants to help with the dishes, he runs to the kitchen shouting “Yeah! Yeah yeah!”

When you’re going about your day, notice what your kid watches you do. I noticed that when I was unloading and loading the dishwasher, for example, that he’d stand in the kitchen and watch me carefully. He was overjoyed when I finally let him help. You can get toddlers doing other chores because they prefer doing them. He wipes his hands and face because he hates when I do it, and he knows that I won’t if he does it himself. He helps clean up blocks, because it means more playtime.

Once you start looking for chores you toddler can do, you’ll start seeing little ways that he can help around the house. Making chores into fun activities hopefully means that as they get bigger, they’ll be able to pitch in more and more. Here’s to raising good, happy helpers!

49 comments

william Miller
william Miller4 years ago

great ideas

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Sarah Hill
Sarah Hill4 years ago

My 3 year old grandson LOVES to "help"! Sometimes he's not a help but we always let him help.

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Edo R.
Edo R4 years ago

Thanks for sharing

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Elena Poensgen
Elena Poensgen4 years ago

Thank you :)

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sandra vito
Sandra Vito4 years ago

para comerselos!

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Jonathan Harper
Jonathan Harper4 years ago

pay them?

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ERIKA SOMLAI
ERIKA SOMLAI4 years ago

noted

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Robert O.
Robert O4 years ago

It's good for them to learn early on the importance of being clean, helpful and responsible, just as long as they have more time to play and be kids than anything else and are not viewed as permanent built in helpers. They are kids after all.

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Marie W.
Marie W4 years ago

Start now- too late when they are 16.

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Dave C.
David C4 years ago

all good advice.....

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