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Mommy’s Little Helper

It’s never too early to get your kids to pitch in around the house.

Mommy's Little HelperIt may be hard to believe as you watch your toddler careen around the house, but children between the ages of 18 months and three years are actually at a perfect age to learn about household chores.

“There are actually lots of ‘jobs’ your toddler can help with,” says Barbara Kaiser, a consultant and co-author of Challenging Behaviour in Young Children from Grand Pré, N.S. “The important thing with children is that they feel you believe they can do things. If they are always watching mom and dad put things away and clean up, they won’t have the confidence that they can help.”
The key is to give them small, easily-mastered tasks that will make them feel successful. Picking up their own things is a great way to start. Children even as young as 18 months can put their toys into a basket at the end of the day, or put their dirty clothes into a laundry hamper, says Barbara. “It’s all about making it fun – I don’t even like to use the word ‘chore’.”

Introducing junior jobs
Barbara says it’s all about putting the right spin on the task. If parents complain about doing housework, kids pick up on that and see helping out as a negative thing.
• Make tasks seem like play. Try tossing soft toys into a bucket from the other side of the room, or see who can put 10 blocks away first. Start off by doing it with them, and showing that you enjoy doing it as well.
• Provide a reason. We put our toys away so no one trips on them and they don’t get broken; we unload the dishwasher so we have clean dishes to use at dinnertime.
• Lower your standards. Don’t expect toys to be perfectly sorted, and be prepared to clean up spilled cat food. “If they put something away and it’s not where it’s supposed to go, just leave it there,” says Barbara. “The child needs to feel a sense of achievement. Give them jobs you know they can do. If not, helping out becomes something they learn to try to get out of, not something they want to do.”
• Praise their efforts. “Kids need recognition, even for things they do on a daily basis. We are very good at recognizing what they don’t do, but we need to make them feel good about the things they do, even if they are not done perfectly.”
• Don’t force the issue. If your child is not interested in helping out at this point, lay off. • Reward, rather than punish. “I think it’s much nicer to say, ‘If you help me clean up your toys, we’ll have time to go to the park together, but if I have to do it myself, we won’t’, than to threaten to take something away if he doesn’t help. The point is to make him feel good about doing these things. Kids just need to know how good it feels to feel good.”

How can your toddler help?

“At this age, they are not going to be doing a whole lot of actual work – it’s just important that they feel part of the family, and that they are contributing,” says Barbara. For safety, never let children use any potentially harmful cleaning liquids, or put away glasses or dishware that can break and shatter.

  • Laundry: If you have front loading machines that your child can reach, let him help you put clothes into the washing machine, or put washed clothes into the dryer. They can also put the dried clothes into a basket to be folded by you.
  • Tidying: Encourage children to pick up their own toys and books and put them away in baskets or bins. They can also put their own dirty clothes into the laundry hamper each night.
  • Caring for pets: Toddlers can scoop kibble or pour water into the bowl.
  • Dusting: An old, clean sock over a hand is a great duster for easy-to-reach places.
  • Sweeping: A kid-size broom turns this into a fun task.

a man carrying two children

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