Why Your Toddler Should Help With Chores
Most parents want their children to start chores at some point. Chores help teach children responsibility and also allow children to help around the house. Chores can also start to sound a lot like nagging. Make your bed, clean your room, take out the garbage – most parents have uttered these statements more times than they care to remember. Chores definitely get a bad rap, but thinking about them in a slightly different way can start your child on a path to being helpful (maybe without even asking).
Helen Hadani, Ph.D., educational advisory board member for The Goddard School shares her advice about when and how to get children started on chores.
While the word “helpful” doesn’t often come to mind when thinking about toddlers, research (and everyday experience) shows that young children are naturally inclined to help. This is evident from the caring behaviors they start to exhibit early in life, for instance, when they comfort someone by patting them on the back. Oftentimes, young children are eager to help their parents with tasks and chores around the house. But let’s be honest—toddlers and preschoolers are often clumsy and messy, so their offer to help may slow things down. As a result, parents may tell children at a young age to stop helping, a message they may internalize that can cause reluctance to help when children are older.
This raises the following question: When is it appropriate to ask your child to help with chores? While your first inclination may be to just do tasks yourself, it is important to remember that giving your child the opportunity to assist will likely lead to a more helpful partner later on. So, while you may have to re-wash the dishes your child just “washed,” that experience can ultimately go a long way in promoting a sense of purpose and confidence.
In fact, a study into why 6-8-year-old children in some cultures were so helpful around the house, even without being asked, revealed that the secret was how the children were taught as toddlers. Toddlers around the world are universally inclined to be helpful. In fact, children as young as 20 months will often stop playing with a new toy in order to help a parent with a task. No one is sure why toddlers have this drive to be helpful, but they do. However, because toddlers often get in the way when trying to help, parents in many cultures rebuke their help, preferring to complete tasks more quickly themselves.
But, in other cultures toddlers are welcome to help, even if it means that chores take longer. In these cultures, toddlers grow up believing their help is valuable. They also pay attention to daily routines around cleaning up, laundry, and other household tasks. As time goes on, these toddlers turn into 6- and 7-year-olds who are not just eager to help, but also have a good understanding of what needs to be done and how to do it.
Along the same lines, giving children a choice of what tasks they can help with may motivate them to help. Should we put away the clothes or set the table first? Importantly, think small. Start with tasks your child is naturally interested in doing that are easy and fun—matching socks, cracking an egg, or sorting the silverware. Watch for opportunities where your child is curious about what you’re doing and wants to help—they may happen more than you expect!
Does your child do chores? Let us know!