12 - 48 Months

Chores for Kids: Benefits & Tips for Starting Early

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“If we hand over some chores and some activities and responsibilities to our children, what we are showing them is that they are capable and that we view them as being capable. And they internalize that, and they then view themselves as being capable. They will also then see themselves as a valuable part of the household.”


Whether it is cleaning up the toys, setting the table, or sorting laundry, involving your toddler with chores around the house is almost always an exercise in patience. And it most certainly is not going to produce impeccable results, but results are not the goal here. Developing a habit  of helpfulness and a sense of autonomy is what we parents are after.

Jessica Rolph welcomes Behavioral Specialist and Parent Coach Jeanna Twomey to today’s episode to explain how to best get your toddler involved in the dirty work. Tune in to hear strategies that will leave your child feeling like an important contributor to the household. Jeanna provides personalized support to parents through text, phone and video. She can be found at jeannatwomeyparenting.com.

Key Takeaways:

[1:29] Why should we go to the trouble of getting our toddlers to help around the house?

[2:57] Why Jessica likes the terms “contribution” and “responsibility” more than “chores”.

[3:43] When is a good age to introduce the concept of contribution?

[4:27] Self-help skills are a great place to start.

[4:59] What can you do if your toddler refuses to help?

[7:08] Constructive ways to respond to your child’s efforts.

[9:01] Helpful ways to respond to mistakes.

[10:55] Jeanna gives specific examples of some good contributions to practice with your toddler.

[12:38] Jeanne shares her perspective on sticker charts.

[14:26] What are some motivating alternatives to rewards?

[16:03] Jeanna extends her advice to parents who feel like chores are just another box to check in an already overwhelming to-do list.

[18:18] Jessica sums up the conversation with her take aways.


Why Should Parents Let Children Help With Chores?

Jessica: So, Jeanna, why should we go to the trouble of getting our toddlers to help around the house? I mean, honestly, let’s face it. It often makes for twice the work.

Jeanna: I completely agree with that. I have three children, five and under, so I understand that. And I have some very good speed cleaning skills of my own, and my house would be way cleaner and our transitions would be way faster if I did everything on my own. But I need to always take a step back and realize that my actions and how I view my children communicate to them how they view themselves.

Responsibility Helps Kids Feel Capable & Valued

So if I do everything for them, what I am telling them and showing them is that I don’t view them as being capable, and I don’t view them as being independent. And that I view them as somebody who is only helped and not somebody who helps and somebody that helps other people. So if we hand over some chores and some activities and responsibilities to our children, what we are showing them is that they are capable and that we view them as being capable, and they internalize that, and they then view themselves as being capable. They will also then see themselves as a valuable part of the household.

Jessica: I’m sold.

Jeanna: You’re sold.

Jessica: I’m sold. I’m sold. I heard you used the word “chore,” which I often use. And then recently, I heard the word “contribution” is a better word to use than chores, and I started correcting myself when I would say, “It’s time for our family contributions.” So can you tell me about that?

Jeanna: Yeah, I really like that. Yeah, so I often use the word “responsibility” and that it is a team effort. That we as a family all have responsibilities, and we are a team and we work together. I think back to my childhood I was like, “I had these chores that I needed to check off.” And it was something that was just told to me to do, and it wasn’t something that was either explained or something that I understood, that it just didn’t feel as much like a team effort. And so the word “contribution” or the word “responsibility” definitely re-frames that everybody working together as a team.

What’s a Good Age for Introducing Children To Chores?

Jessica: And so, a lot of our listeners have one and two-year-olds at home. How do we make sense of this concept of chores? What’s a good age to introduce the concept of contributions, of responsibility? Are they too small, at one and two, to be helpful?

Jeanna: No, not at all. I mean, you’re using the term “helpful” loosely. At such a young age, what you’re doing is you’re laying the groundwork. So, when you first have your child, and you have a newborn, you are doing everything for them. You are changing the diaper, you are feeding them, you are moving them. And as your child slowly gets older, you are passing off things for them to do, you are handing over responsibilities to them. And one of the great places to start would be to hand over those self-help skills. And that, like when you think of the word “chore” or things like that, you might not think of self-help skills, but in terms of a contribution or a responsibility, self-help skills are definitely the first place to start, in contributing to family culture.

Jessica: I love that. I remember reading that too, that really being able to brush their hair or wipe their face with the little washcloth, that’s the beginning of how we can think about creating these little responsible beings, so I love that perspective. 

How To Get Kids To Do Chores When They Refuse or Throw a Fit

Okay, so what if you have a two or a three-year-old, or even a one-year-old, but that’s refusing to help? You know, has some kind of fit or just ignores you when you’re asking them to clean up their toys. How can we motivate them?

Jeanna: One of the best pieces of advice that I think I ever got as a parent, coming into parenting, was that you set the thermostat for your family and for your children.

Make Chores Fun

Number one, what we wanna do is when we are presenting a responsibility, like a one, a two, a three, a four-year-old, that you are presenting it in a way that makes it fun, in a way that isn’t walking into a room where they’re playing and saying like, “You have to stop playing and clean up.” That you are really presenting it in a way that is engaging, that you are first connecting with that child. That you are spending some time understanding if they’re in the middle of playing, that you maybe spend a couple of minutes playing with them, and then transition into like, “Okay, it’s time for dinner. We need to clean up these toys.”

So, one way to do that is to make a game out of it, so if a two or a three-year-old, it is like, “Oh, let’s put the bin of toys in the middle, and we can toss them in,” or it is, “Oh, I see all these blocks out, I see blue blocks and red blocks. How about I get the blue blocks? What color do you wanna get?” And then, providing some choice within it. I think, especially toddlers have this really strong,  wonderful thing, where they want to be super independent. And so, giving them some choice, providing like, “Oh, there’s all these things out, what do you wanna help with?” 

Create a Routine

And then, really focusing on some routines. So, maybe every single time you go outside, you do a check of like, “Okay, it’s time to go outside. Oops, first we need to check. There’s lots of things on the floor, I wouldn’t want anybody to trip. Let’s clean those up, before we go out.” And that becomes your routine and your culture in your family, and it becomes more expected, and then there’s less pushback from children.

I love your suggestion of these transitions, of every time we go outside, or we’re going to do something else, that is clearly something else entirely, that that’s the time to clean up, ‘cause otherwise, you’re sort of like, “Do I tell them to clean up now?” Or, “They have two toys out, is that okay?”

How To Reinforce Your Kids’ Efforts 

Jessica: So, how important is the way that we respond to their efforts? So, let’s say that they’re helping, and how can we reinforce that this is a good thing?

Jeanna: I think that sometimes we can get caught up in wanting to say the exact right thing all of the time. And I really wanna put parents at ease that there isn’t one exact thing that you should be saying, and even if there was, you can’t say it every single time. So, in general, it is super important what we say to our children, because I think what we say to them, and how we view them, becomes their inner voice, and it’s how they end up viewing themselves, but there’s not one right exact thing.

Focus on the Positives

So, in general, we want to be really positive about their contributions. We really want to praise the effort, especially at this young age, praise the effort over their final contribution. If every time your child picks up a broom and tries to sweep the floor in the kitchen, you’re saying, “Oh, you didn’t get that spot,” or “Get over here”, what that communicates to them is like, “This isn’t that much fun, and I’m not very valuable.”

Give Praise That is Genuine & Specific

So, really praising the effort over the final product, because especially that young age, they’re not going to be able to do things perfectly as you are as an adult. Another way to respond to them is to provide specific praise over general praise. So saying something like, “Thank you for throwing your dirty clothes in the hamper,” instead of just like, “Great job.” That way they really know exactly what you were looking for, and then being authentic can go a really long way. Kids can pick up on when praise is authentic and when it’s not, and so really being authentic in your praise and also following it up with why that’s important that you did that. “Hey, thanks for throwing all of your clothes into the wash. Hey, thanks for getting the broom out and sweeping up all that dirty floor or sweeping up that kitchen so that the dog doesn’t come along and get in.” And really pairing it with why it’s important to contribute to the family.

How To Offer Constructive Criticism When Your Child Makes a Mistake

Jessica: And now I’m pivoting a little bit, but what happens if there’s a mistake, like a spill happens or something, something breaks while they’re in this contribution mode? How should you react in general to that happening?

Remember That You Are a Teacher

Jeanna: One of your main goals is to be in teaching mode. You are teaching how to do these skills. They don’t know how to do them yet. You are guiding them. So if something were to break then it is a teachable moment, in that you’re not getting upset with them because they’re learning and those things are expected. One of my favorite things to say when a child breaks something, that it is like, “I love you more than that broken bowl. That happened and that was in an accident. We can clean it up. That is a problem that we can solve together. And now we know. We learn from that. Now we know that we have to hold that bowl with two hands. Isn’t that great that we learned that, and I can help you with that next time.”

Don’t Give Feedback When You Are in a Hurry

So if you are in a rush, it’s the wrong time to try to help your child learn how to clean the window. You really want to come at it at a time maybe on the weekend when you’re not worried about your next meeting or you’re not trying to rush out the door to get the kids to school or something like that, that you’re doing it at a time, and you are connecting with them.

I think another part of all of these responsibilities and contributions is really that it is a time to connect. And so viewing that as a time to connect with your child, that you are getting down on their level. And then also really releasing some of the control and letting them try, and then praising that effort.

Jessica: Yeah, there’s so much more. It’s the being not the doing. You have to give them that mindset.

Jeanna: Yeah, exactly, and coming into it with that mindset ahead of time, which I think we often know as parents when we are in that mindset and when we aren’t.

Examples of Chores for Kids

Jessica: Yes, so you’ve given some great examples of things like self-care and putting clothes in the laundry and sweeping, do you have any other things that come to mind that you’ve done with your girls that have been good family contributions, you can give specific examples of?

Jeanna: So I have a really young toddler, one-year-old, and some of those self-help skills look like I can ask her to go get a diaper. She can go grab a diaper. She can grab the diaper cream. When we are all done, we wrap up the diaper and there is a trash can nearby that she can throw it in. Then we have a hamper near the bathroom, that when we are going into the bath, that when clothes come off, she’s throwing it into a hamper. We have a low drawer, so that if we need a cup, if we need some utensils, that is easily accessible so that she can get that on her own. And then dressing and undressing as well as self-feeding. So really handing over some of that responsibility and making her feel independent and valued, and she’s part of what’s happening in her life.

And then I also involve her, I’ve looked through my day of what are sub-tasks, so I have these bigger tasks of doing laundry and cleaning the kitchen and what else do I do? All the other things? Vacuuming, things like that, picking up rooms, picking up toys, and what are the smaller parts of those bigger tasks that she can help with.

Should Parents Use Sticker Charts for Chores?

Jessica: So we’ve talked about sticker charts in some of the work that you’ve helped me with with behavior with my kids, and frankly, I don’t quite know how I feel about them. I’ve tried them a little bit. It seems like they don’t work very long. Can you talk to me more about your perspective on sticker charts?

Jeanna: I am neither pro-sticker chart or anti-sticker chart. I think it depends on the family, and it depends on the situation. It depends on the behavior. So often what I see is sticker charts being utilized and they are utilized for a week or two, and then they sort of crumble and go away. So I think it’s really difficult. One thing that with sticker charts, to be useful, it needs to be really consistent and the behavior that you’re looking for needs to be very specific. I think also with sticker charts, something that can happen, not always, but that it can create a culture of bargaining, so, “What do I get… “ A child can start resorting to, “What do I get because I do this?” “I’m gonna clean up, but what toy do I get?”

It can also be what is motivating is a moving target. So when you set up this beautiful sticker chart that is colorful and you’ve spent all this time, you’ve gotten these markers, this beautiful board, you sit down and decide on what the child is going to earn from it. And in the moment, they may be really motivated by it, but in a couple of days, especially with young toddlers, they lose interest. And I think it’s really hard to be consistent with them in homes.

I think ultimately, as a parent, you want to be showing that we do these things because they make us feel good, and it is a contribution, as you said, to our family, and that’s why we’re doing it, not necessarily because we’re going to get something else, but that we all work together as a family, and these are things that need to happen within our home to keep it functioning. And so we are gonna all work together as a team to do that.

Jessica: Yes, we so want to promote that intrinsic motivation versus extrinsic.

Jeanna: Yeah. Absolutely.

How To Motivate & Reward Children for Doing Chores

Jessica: So can you give us some more examples of strategies that we can use instead of rewards?

Jeanna: When we are presenting these tasks that we are doing it together and with them, and that you’re connected with them. So really using your own power, or not even your own power, but you’re using your relationship with them to connect with them and build on that.

Use Natural Consequences

You can also use the routines and repetition and using the natural consequences. So instead of some other extrinsic motivation of like a toy that they’re getting if they’ve cleaned up their room five times, that you’re using those natural consequences that happen throughout the day of, we’re going to clean up before we go outside, we’re going to clean up before we go have a snack. And so really using your own routine to your advantage.

Use Visual Reminders

Oh, another thing, instead of using rewards to help motivate is using visual reminders. So there’s a difference between a sticker chart and a task to-do list or something like that, or a little visual in your bathroom that shows clothes going into a hamper, that those are gentle reminders, both for your child and yourself of what to do and that can be motivating and help you remember to have your child be involved in those tasks.

Jessica: I love thinking about this family contribution as ways of connecting, which is what they care about and what they want so much, so I love your perspective on that.

How Should Parents Introduce Chores To Kids?

So what is your advice to parents who feel like introducing chores is just one more box to tick on an already overwhelming to-do list?

Introduce One Chore at a Time

Jeanna: I completely understand this, and I wouldn’t listen to this podcast or read an article or a blog post and take every single thing that’s on the list, every single self-help skill, and every way that they can contribute and try to do it tonight before bedtime. It will quickly fizzle, your child will get frustrated, you will get frustrated, so pick one thing. Pick I’m gonna have my child when after they take a bath or before they take a bath, take their dirty clothes and toss them in a hamper (that I’m going to move closer so that it’s more convenient and easier for them to do).

And start there and do that for a week, do that for a month until that is a habit for both you and your child, and then add on to it. It doesn’t need to be something where you go into your daily life and completely overhaul everything that you’re doing.

Find Times To Fit It Into Your Schedule

I think it’s also really helpful to think about where you can fit it into your life and be kind to yourself as well. So if you are busy during the week and this just feels way too overwhelming, then you’ll get to it on the weekend and set some time aside on the weekend. If it’s just too much to give your kid 10 minutes to put their shoes on when you’re trying to get them out the door in the morning, that’s okay. And give them that time on the weekend before they go to the park.

Set Them up for Success

And another thing I wanna add is just simply looking at your own environment can go a really long way. So thinking about how we can set up my child for success. Can they be more independent with washing their hands, if I give them a stool, or if I provide them with soap that they can reach on their own? Is my trash can accessible? Do I need a smaller trash can for them? So that I’m really setting them up for success and making your own home environment conducive to your child helping.

Jessica: I love that, and it feels like our kids are becoming more and more capable every day and part of our role as parents is to keep up with them, so thank you so much for all these valuable reminders, Jeanna, it’s been wonderful talking to you.

Jeanna: It’s been wonderful to talk to you too, and I hope that our paths keep crossing.

4 Episode Takeaways for Parents

I’m so appreciative of the parenting coaching Jeanna has given Decker and me. Let’s review some of her pointers:

1. Instead of “Chores” Consider Them as “Responsibilities”

If we do everything for our child, it communicates that they are someone who is helped, rather than someone who helps. Hand over some responsibilities, and your toddler will be more likely to view themselves as capable, and a helper. Explain to your toddler that keeping the house clean is a team effort. “Contributions” or “responsibilities” are good alternatives to the word “chores”.

2. Provide Genuine & Specific Feedback

If you are in a rush, it is the wrong time to request help from your child. Choose a time when you can coach them. Your goal is to give them a positive feeling for having contributed; release control and praise the effort. Keep in mind, kids pick up on authentic praise. Follow a genuine thanks with some specifics, something like this “Thanks for picking up the LEGOs so your baby brother doesn’t come along and get into them.”

3. Make Helping Around the House Fun

You set the thermostat for your family. When asking for help with responsibilities, present the job in a way that is fun and engaging. First, connect with your child. For example, take a moment to sit down and play with them, and then explain that it is time to clean up the toys. Connection is what they’re really after — it often is more powerful than a sticker or other reward.

4. Start Small

Set them up for success by starting small. What little adjustments can you make to the household to make things easier to access? And rather than implementing a long list of responsibilities, choose just one to tackle. For example, begin with putting clothes in the hamper, and then add on to it. Overhauling everything you are doing in one weekend will just lead to overwhelm. 

You can find lots of age-appropriate household activities on the Lovevery blog at lovevery.com. Jeanna provides personalized support to parents through text, phone and video. She can be found at jeannatwomeyparenting.com


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Posted in: 12 - 48 Months, 18 - 48 Months+, Child Development, Behavior, Parenting

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