Five Simple Ways to Put Your Toddler to Work Painlessly

Vacuuming-Audrey

My 2-year-old Audrey is surprisingly willing to help around the house despite being a generally destructive and uncontrollable Force of Nature.  Whether I’m doing something fun–like baking cookies–or dull–like the dishes–Audrey is always offering to help out.  This has been, as you might imagine, a wonderful turn of events.  It’s every parent’s dream to pass off the household chores on the offspring, after all.  But there remains one major stumbling block still standing in the way:

She’s two.

Willingness to help is one thing–and perhaps the most difficult to sustain over time–but actually getting good work out of her is another.  More frequently than not, her help gets in the way and lengthens the entire process.  She’s also unintentionally destructive.  All of this is to be expected, of course.  Once again, she’s two.  But I don’t want to stifle her desire to assist me around the house either.  This has led me to a compromise:

Find the right chores for her to help me with.

Over the past few weeks I have discovered five activities that not only allow my toddler to help around the house, but don’t increase the odds of untold death and destruction either.  They’re easy, instructional, and a great way of passing the time constructively with your little one.

Toddler Chore #1:  Vacuuming

I stumbled across this one accidentally last week when I started sucking up the various detritus that had settled over my house and floor.  As I was progressing through the kitchen I felt a slight tug on my pant leg.  “Me help vacuum, daddy?”  I thought about it for a moment I must admit, but figured why not.

It ended up being a good decision.  While she admittedly had difficulty handling the vacuum, and wasn’t exactly thorough in catching all the dirt and cat fur, she took to the job with relish and aplomb.  Sure, I pointed out some dirtstuffs she missed here and there, suggested new rooms to clean, and so on, but that’s where my part started and ended.  The rest was all Audrey.  And she had a great time.

If there are any negatives to this chore, they’re that the noise of the carpet attachment might be scary, the vacuum is fairly unwieldy for a small person to operate, and you might see a spike in your energy bill–she must have had the vacuum running for an hour, as opposed to the fifteen minutes it would have taken me.  But to me, those are small prices to pay for nurturing your child’s willingness to help.

Toddler Chore #2:  Weeding

Weeding-Audrey

Over the past few weeks my lawn has turned into Dandelion Town.  While I have learned to hate them with the burning hot passion of a thousand suns, Audrey loves them.  They’re bright yellow and fun to pick.  The other day I was doing my usual rounds in the backyard, cussing out these little invaders under my breath–it helps to develop a deep-seated hatred for them if you’re going to tackle the job–when Audrey asked, “What you doing, daddy?”  I explained that I was pulling out all the plants that weren’t grass, because that will make our yard pretty and more fun to play in.  Seeing a bit of confusion on her face, I decided to simplify the message:

Kill the dandelions.  Every last one of them.

Of course I didn’t put it to her like that, but I did sic her on those bright-colored trespassers like a junkyard dog on teenagers.  She started plucking out every yellow flower she could find and I felt a certain amount of pride and satisfaction at seeing her unleashed upon them.

The obvious downside–at least to anyone with any experience weeding–is that she was doing little to actually kill the weeds.  You have to get the root out, after all.  But I didn’t care.  She was invested in the job at hand.  And who knows, maybe this is a seed that will grow into a lifelong passion for smiting every last weed she can get her hands on.  Here’s hoping.

Toddler Chore #3:  Watering the Plants

This discovery also started with a “What you doing, daddy?”  I had the hose out, and was watering the plants in the backyard.  I explained that our plants need dirt, sun, and water to be happy and grow, and that I was giving them water because it hadn’t rained in a long time.  Remembering a toy traditionally used in our bathtub I asked, “Would you like me to get your watering can?”

“Yeah!”

Being a very small watering can, Audrey had little difficulty carrying it when I filled it with the hose.  I’d direct her to certain plants to water too–at first she was content drowning the poor daylilies–and she was more than happy to follow suit.  We also got to the point where she would use the hose, especially on the endlessly fascinating MIST settling.  It was a lot of fun on a hot afternoon.

If you’re looking for some words of caution however, I do have them.  The biggest one is that your child will get wet.  Especially the pants and shoes, so be prepared for that.  She’ll also likely get muddy too, which becomes a small issue when the chore is done and you head back inside.  But all in all, this is a very easy way to kill a lot of time productively and enjoyably on a nice sunny day.

Toddler Chore #4:  Washing the Car

Continuing the wet and wild theme, washing the car is another easy way to occupy your young child constructively.  I must give credit where credit is due here however.  This was my wife’s idea.  But it worked like gangbusters.  Just wait for a nice day, load up a bucket with sudsy water, put some clothes on your kid that you know will get soaked, give him a sponge, and direct him to clean the tires.  And really any other part of the car he can reach.

The tires did seem to work really well though.  A tire is a term a child can understand easily, it has lots of interesting nooks and crannies, and it will allow you to focus on everything else.

Our experience washing the cars was a lot of fun, but if there is any reason for not trying it out yourself–other than the fact you’ll all get fairly soaked–it’s that the job’s over far too soon.  You’re not going to eat up hours of time here.  But you could always combine this with watering the garden if you want to keep the fun flowing.

Toddler Chore #5:  Picking Up Around the House

Kids make terrible messes.  It’s just the way it is.  I can barely make it through our living room without hopscotching over all the toys.  I’ve learned in the past to only pick up Audrey’s toys at the end of the day, because otherwise I’m doing it dozens of times throughout the course of the day, and that gets tiresome.  Now that Audrey has demonstrated this newfound willingness to assist, however, I’m exploring new ways of picking up her toys during the day, as opposed to after it.  And those new ways all boil down to one simple plan:

Make her do the work.

Now, I realize she isn’t going to clean up if I just ask her to and stand on the sidelines.  No, she will only do it under one of the following two conditions:

  1. I start cleaning up her toys and ask her to help, or…
  2. She wants to do something else and I tell her she can only do that if she cleans up first.

These two options have thus far been surprisingly effective.  At least to a point.  The problem with having Audrey pick up her own toys is that she starts to play with them!  And once she starts playtime, it’s hard to get her back on track.  Another problem is that she doesn’t care about where the toys go.  She doesn’t care that the books go here and the stuffed animals go there.  So, in a lot of ways, this is a chore that can lead to more work for you, not less.  But I’m not ready to give up the ghost here.  Like with most things, I just have to keep plugging away at it and hope improvements are made.

These are just five instances where I have managed to wrangle some help out of my 2-year-old, but I need to keep exploring new ways to engage her in a productive way.  After all, the work at home never ends and I can use all the help I can get.

Speaking of, have you had any better luck than me?  Or some suggestions for other toddler-friendly chores?  If so, leave a comment below!  I’d love to hear them.

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