Most parents realize early on that children need a structured, safe, and loving environment to grow to be confident, well-rounded adults. However, what constitutes such an environment varies vastly from parent to parent. Probably one of the most controversial issues of parenting is chores. When should parents begin assigning chores? What types of choresshould parents expect their children to complete? And how many and how often should these chores be assigned?
All of these questions can be quite difficult for parents since what we do today with our children can carry life-long consequences. Habits, perceptions of oneself, and expectations of others are merely a handful of things that children begin developing from birth, which they carry with them into adulthood. Consequently, parents should always keep this in mind when making any parenting decisions, even with a minor issue such as chores.
Overall, chores can be a rewarding, confidence-building experience for toddlers if parents approach this matter with an open mind and flexibility. At this stage, children are eager to please their parents and copy the behavior of those individuals they look up to the most. Toddlers often find whatever Mommy or Daddy is doing to be interesting, exciting, and fun and are willing to join in to help. Every parent should encourage this eagerness and allow their children to help out whenever possible, even if their task is as simple as holding the grocery list while shopping or “delivering” the paper to Daddy every morning. Even the smallest of tasks, followed by fitting praise and reward, give toddlers a sense of purpose and accomplishment, while teaching them the early stages of responsibility and hard work.
On the other hand, though, parents must recognize that their toddlers have limitations since they are so young and still growing physically, mentally, and emotionally. Therefore, parents should constantly reassess their expectations of their children and remind themselves that at this stage, the quality of their children’s efforts to complete a chore is not important. Rather, it is their children’s effort itself that should be focused on and reinforced. Also, parents must realize that toddlers can grow discouraged and frustrated when attempting new or challenging tasks. As a result, parents should choose chores that are simple and familiar as tasks for their toddlers to attempt largely on their own (i.e., putting their dirty laundry in the hamper or placing all the bath toys up to dry after bath time).
More difficult or new chores should be assigned to toddlers only as tasks to perform with an adult (in a helper capacity) until they grow comfortable and skilled enough to take the lead with a particular chore. For example, it is a great idea to teach toddlers to put away their toys so they will gain the good habit of cleaning after themselves as they get older. Yet, such a chore can be very daunting and confusing to a young child. Hence, parents must begin by teaching what is expected of their toddlers. An excellent place for a parent to start is by being a good example and putting his or her own things back in their place by the end of the day. This will allow toddlers to see that cleaning up after oneself is a normal part of life and that everyone does it, even Mommy and Daddy.
Furthermore, it helps to break a complicated and/or new task down into easy steps and then to show the child how each step is completed. For instance, with toy cleanup, it is useful to utilize small bins or baskets placed on a bookcase or shelving rather than large toy boxes. These bins or baskets are much easier for toddlers to maneuver and allow them to take the container with them as they are cleaning up. (Once their skills increase, parents can begin using these bins or baskets to help their children organize their toys for easier cleanup and play. This is best accomplished by labeling the baskets or bins with photos or pictures of what is supposed to go in each one or by assigning a different color basket or bin for each child.)
Small bins or baskets also give parents and toddlers a clear measurement of the child’s accomplishments. When children first begin learning to put away their toys, they often cannot handle the entire task. But if toddlers see that they were able to fill half or even all of a single bin and receive praise for their efforts, this will let them feel as though they have accomplished something and subsequently motivate them to want to help again in the future. And as their skills grow, the bins and baskets will show them that they accomplishing even more, building their self-esteem.
Nevertheless, the most important part of using chores to teach and build up your children is to never criticize or redo your toddler’s work. We, as adults, are creatures of habit and often automatically expect others to do things exactly the same way we do. If we truly think about it, though, there is not merely one way to fold a towel or make a bed. Each individual has his or her own unique perspective of the world and thus, approaches tasks a little differently. Toddlers are individuals too, so as they grow they may develop their own way of completing their chores. As such, parents must remember that just because their children are not following their example step by step, it does not mean they have to correct their toddlers. If their efforts do not violate any set rules or are not used to defy the parent, toddlers should be praised and rewarded exactly as if they had followed their parents’ example to the letter.
If, however, you are very particular about a certain chore or your child is bound to make a huge mess rather than help constructively in the process, do not assign that particular task to your toddler. Regularly receiving criticism or having an adult redo their work undermines toddlers’ self-esteem, leaving them reluctant or even afraid to try again or to undertake another task. You may consider, however, choosing to involve your child in a lesser degree. For example, if you want your laundry folded perfectly and staked neatly as you fold, you might decide to ask your toddler to help by handing you each piece of clothing so you can fold it. This will allow your child to feel like he or she is contributing while avoiding any unnecessary conflict with your toddler.
In the end, if parents approach chores with patience and understanding and learn to recognize their children’s limitations, chores can be an excellent tool for teaching toddlers the benefits of discipline and hard work, as well as a great way to build up their sense of accomplishment and self-worth. Each member of a household is a part of the family unit. As such, he or she has his or her own roles and responsibilities that must be met in order for the family to continue functioning properly. Children understand this from an early age at a very fundamental level. For that reason, as children mature, they begin wondering what is expected of them and how they fit into all that is going on around them. Ultimately, helping toddlers to learn to become active members of the household, even through the tiniest of chores each day, shows them that they are an important part of the family and that each individual has something unique and significant that he or she can contribute on a daily basis.