How to Teach Toddlers Responsibility through Chores

There are basic chores every toddler can do – picking up toys, keeping a room tidy, putting coats and shoes away. Cleaning up after themselves is the beginning of learning to take on responsibilities – you make a mess, you clean it up. Basic chores also teach children to share the responsibility of keeping a household functioning.

To ensure that toddlers have a positive learning experience, keep a few things in mind:

Realistic Expectations
Chores should match a child’s ability. Don’t expect too much, but make sure there is a bit of a challenge. Don’t go out of your way to make the activity overly fun – children need to learn there are many things in life that must be done regardless of the fun-factor – but don’t go out of your way to make tasks unpleasant either.

Establish a Routine
Chores should be a regular, automatic occurrence, not just when mommy remembers. For example, all toys should be put away before bedtime, dirty clothes should be put in the hamper before they hit the floor, and dirty dishes should go straight to the sink after a meal.

Adults don’t (or at least shouldn’t) require constant rewards and praise for completing routine household tasks – laundry gets done and trash taken to the curb with a minimum of discussion. Toddlers will need more frequent rewards and encouragement, but don’t make the praise too excessive. The goal is to begin introducing the child to the real world, and adults don’t get a pat on the back for every task they complete.

Encouragement should come before discipline, but don’t hesitate to withhold rewards or issue a ‘time out’. Discipline allows us to ‘enjoy’ the consequences of our actions. When we forget to take the trash out, our punishment is the smell of garbage for a week, a toddler will quite happily live with a messy room, so you need to help them see the error of their ways.

Remember the Goal
The main point of the exercise at this stage of a child’s life is teaching responsibility, not getting a spotless room. The child’s willingness to try is as important as their ability.

Monitoring and Guidance
Toddlers aren’t short adults, they are still children and require monitoring and guidance in completing their work. Don’t leave a toddler with a messy room and instructions to ‘pick it up’ – unless your child is exceptional, you will return an hour later to find an even messier room. There are many distractions for a toddler and few ‘internal guidance’ mechanisms – adults need to provide that guidance.

More than ever, children need to develop a sense of responsibility and with the proper expectations and guidance, chores are a great way to start.