I’ve always planned to give my children an allowance with the expectation that they will do chores around the house to earn that allowance. Now that I have two kids, I’m faced with a dilemma I need to solve. I don’t want my kids to learn to complete chores only because there’s money involved—I want them to learn that sometimes they need to do things that are boring or difficult in order to have responsibility for themselves and their space. I want my kids to value a clean home and to respect their space, so hopefully when they have grown into adulthood, they won’t live like slobs, driving their roommates or spouse crazy. I hope what they learn with household chores will drift into other aspects of their lives. For example, cleaning up a spill in the work break room, even if they weren’t the one who created it, just because it would be the nice, sensible thing to do to make the world just a little better.
So I want my kids to learn to complete chores even if there is no monetary reward. But as much as I hope they will clean their toilets without being asked just because it would make mom happy, I also am not unrealistic. Kids need incentives and rewards, as well as consequences, to develop good habits so the lessons will stick. This is where paying them an allowance comes in.
So when do they start helping with chores? I say, as soon as possible.
I wish my two year old could fold laundry and put it away all by herself. I wish she could scrub showers and take out the trash every week. But since she physically can’t yet, I’ll give her age appropriate chores and be patient for the day when she’ll actually be independently helpful. Here are 7 chores my little toddler helps me with right now:
- Cleaning/picking up her room/the living room: At the end of each day, she’s told to pick up her toys from her room and the living room. She knows now that everything has its place and that mommy likes having a clean floor!
- Dusting: We bought a little glove duster my toddler wears on her hand and I taught her how to gently sweep along our banister and shelves, moving anything that could potentially fall over.
- Sweeping with her little broom: My toddler loves to sweep but our normal sized broom is too long for her. After dealing with many counter height things getting knocked off as she “helped,” we found a small hand broom for her to use. This broom is usually used to sweep up the finished pile of dirt into a tray to throw away, but it’s the perfect size for her.
- Watering the plants: A toddler can hold a hose and point it at the grass, flowers, and plants. Just be prepared to do a little water play as well!
- Unloading the dishwasher: She can’t reach the cupboards to put away most things, and of course I wouldn’t trust her with the glass items or anything sharp. But she loves to take things out of the dishwasher and hand them to me. She also uses her stool to reach the silverware drawer and knows where each thing goes in there. Someday, she will be able to do it all herself and when that time comes, she’ll be ready.
- Switching the laundry: It may take me double the amount of time to switch the wet clothes to the dryer when she helps, but she is learning the steps of doing laundry from an early stage. So far, she loves it! The little weirdo…
- Help with the baby: My toddler brings me diapers and throws away the dirty ones, she knows where the baby’s blankets, burp rags, and pacifiers are so she can go get me one when needed, and she distracts him when he’s fussy. This is a way she has been incredibly helpful and it doesn’t even feel like a chore! She’s just learning to be a good big sister.
Since my daughter is only a toddler, it’s easy to trick her into thinking these annoying, daily tasks are actually fun. Playing and being silly during each chore has helped her be excited when I ask, “Want to help me unload the dishwasher?” Hopefully, starting her young with chores will make it easier for her to develop the habit when she’s older and teach her responsibility. I guess we will see! And for now, I’ll enjoy the fact that I can pay her allowance in extra kisses, bubbles, and M&Ms.