I have a confession to make. We put our daughter to work when she was about eighteen months old. Worse yet, I think you should put your child to work, too. Now before you start researching child labor laws, hang with me for a moment.
We don’t talk about it in churches much these days, but God actually has quite a bit to say about work. From the Garden of Eden, when God immediately put Adam to work (Genesis 2:15) to the letters written by Paul, it is obvious God expects us to work. In fact, the most impactful verse may just be in Colossians 3:23, where Paul tells us to work as if we are working for the Lord and not for men.
Clearly, if we are going to dedicate our children to God, we need to teach them how to be good workers. The toddler years are the perfect time to start teaching your children about work. At that age, there are really only three main areas of training on which you are focused:
- Teaching your child to work hard. Start with little one step chores like having your child hand you something. Gradually add a little more to your child’s load. She shouldn’t be so tired she is visibly upset, but gradually working up from about one minute of work at about 12-18 months to 20-30 minutes of sustained work by 3 years old is probably a good benchmark. Some children will gladly do more and others will struggle with only 5-10 minutes of sustained labor. You know your child and when the whining is just that or is a sign you are pushing too hard.
- Teaching your child to work with endurance. Endurance in a job is almost more about patience and quality than it is about how hard you are working. When you paint a room in your house or have a complex school or work project, it is important to be patient enough to produce the same quality of work at the end of the project as you did at the beginning. If not, your room will be a mess or your project rejected. When your toddler shows the first sign of producing low quality work, you are probably at his threshold for work. It is important when that poor quality work is produced (dropping the piece of trash on the floor near, but not in the trash can for example.) You require the child to do that one thing correctly, then praise him and stop the work project. Take breaks for older children and then let them finish the job. Teach her strategies to use so she will get enough rest to continue producing her best work throughout any work project she is doing.
- Teaching you child to work with a great attitude. This is where you and your child can have a lot of fun. Sing while you work. Make a game out of it. I have even seen basketball hoops for clothes hampers! Teach your child how to enjoy work. Help him find the joy in every job. Show her how to take satisfaction in a job well done. Our attitudes are a big part of how we can point others to God.
Struggling for ideas of appropriate toddler chores? Remember for a young toddler doing one item at first may be enough. Older toddlers should be able to help you complete the entire task. Keep your instructions simple and one step. “Please pick up that shirt.” and once that is done “Please put the shirt in the basket.” will get better results than “Please pick up the shirt and put it in the basket.”. Also, remember “clean your room” and other similar phrases have no meaning to a young child. You will need to work side-by-side with your child throughout this entire period of training. The time is coming when you can tell your child to clean the kitchen and they can do it better than you can. The toddler years are not that time!
Here are some chores and tasks we gave out daughter when she was a toddler (please take safety precautions when dealing with doors, lids of containers, etc.):
- placing a piece(s) of clothing in the clothes dryer
- pushing the button to start the dishwasher
- putting a toy(s) in its container
- putting a piece(s) of trash in a trash can
- “sweeping” the sidewalk with a child sized broom catching anything mom misses in front of her
- placing a piece(s) of clothing a dirty clothes basket
- putting on gardening gloves and picking up pinecones to recycle
- pouring dry ingredients you have measured into the mixing bowl
- handing you grocery items out of the grocery bag so you can put them away
- watering outdoor plants with a child-sized watering can
Whether your child eventually has set chores or does work as you need it done around the house, is up to your family. To me, the ultimate framework for how the work is assigned is not as important as having your children do consistent work that helps them gradually increase their abilities to work hard, work with endurance and work with a great attitude.
Have you found other chores that worked well for toddlers? I would love to have you share your suggestions with us in a comment below!