Can there be “chores for toddlers”? It sounds like an oxymoron, because cleaning with toddlers in the home is like trying to drain the Pacific Ocean. You can work and work and work and never see a dent!
Have you ever spent twenty minutes vacuuming, only to turn around and find that a two-year-old has been following behind, munching on crackers all the while? Housework is a never ending chore. When my children were small, cleaning was almost impossible because:
1. The kids would roll around on the bed as soon as I started to make it.
2. They would pile the clean laundry in the living room up like a pile of leaves and jump in it.
3. They would write on the walls.
4. When I told them to clean off the walls they would also use the soapy water on all the books in the bookshelves.
5. When I took the markers away they would paint on each other with sunscreen.
6. They dropped popsicles on the couches.
7. They hid apple cores behind furniture.
What’s the point of cleaning when that’s going on around you?
And toddlers also have a sixth sense whenever water is involved. If you pull out a mop, they will come running and want to help. And what do we do? We send them away so we can just get it done.
The emphasis on keeping a clean home is misplaced. When kids are small, perfect will be difficult to achieve. But what we can do is make it more likely that the house will stay clean as they grow. And make it more likely that our children will be able to clean when they are older!
Life is chaotic when the kids are little, but let’s harness their frankly unnecessary energy supply, and the instinct to explore and learn new skills, and teach them to clean now. Here’s how:
Let Toddlers Do a Portion of Your Chores
If you’re mopping, hand them a wet cloth and ask them to clean a part of the floor, or the bottom of the fridge door. If you’re folding laundry, have them do the facecloths and the dishcloths. And teach them to do it in halves!
If you’re using a chemical cleaner, fill a spray bottle with water and let them “clean” the bottom of some kitchen cabinets. Train them to start doing these jobs, and by the time they’re 3 or 4 they’ll actually be proficient at it!
Give Toddlers Their Own Specific Chores
Even a 3-year-old can dust a coffee table! A toddler at that age can also learn to put toys in a toybox, or clothes in a hamper. Instead of doing all the cleaning for them, have them do a specific job that is at their level, easy, and fast. Here’s my list of age appropriate chores to get you started.
Keep Track of Their Chores
On a prominent place in your home, such as the fridge, keep a list of their little jobs, and add stickers each time they are completed. Give positive feedback for when the children complete their chores. Amazingly, the more they do, the more they will want to do. I’ve found that the best, and most fun, system for chores is Easy Peasy Chore charts, which gives you “chore cards” that you give them to assign the chore, which they can then place in a new folder for you to check. It’s great for little kids, and even includes things like brushing their teeth!
Make Chores Routine
If chores become routine for a child, similar to brushing their teeth before they go to bed, they are more likely to do them without complaint. So have a clean-up time at the same time everyday, such as right before dinner or right before naptime. If you’ve assigned chores like folding the facecloths, matching the socks, or dusting the baseboards, give one to them each day. Children are far more likely to participate readily at three or four if it is something done on a daily basis, rather than on a weekly basis.
Your home will not be perfect when the children are little, but perfect is not the aim in parenting. Raising independent, capable children is. So start them cleaning when they’re young, and they’ll be more likely to help you later. And more likely to grow into responsible adults!
Instead of bemoaning the fact you don’t have time to clean, take the time to train your kids. You just may find that cleaning is not such a chore after all.