As Joe has grown, I’ve come to notice and realize something: he really, really loves to help. In fact, he gets so much enjoyment from helping me and being useful that if I don’t let him work alongside me, it hurts his feelings. It’s made me think about the importance of work in our lives. Without work – whether enjoyable tasks or not – life isn’t as much fun or as fulfilling.
It’s crazy, but right now (at the grand old age of 2 1/2) Joe gets a lot of enjoyment from helping me with household chores. So much so that it’s not uncommon for him to break out laughing or begin to skip around in the midst of it. True, he’s not like this with all work, and I’m not deluding myself into thinking he’ll always have this same level of excitement when it comes to chores.
For example, “tidy up time”. “Tidy up time” is that magical moment before bed when Joe’s required to assist in picking up his toys. More often than not, he’s displeased about having to interrupt his play and think about getting ready for bed. He tends to be easily distracted (and quite tired) at that point, which means that either Chris or I have to help him a lot to get things put away. Nonetheless, once it’s done and I thank him for helping me, he’s so pleased.
And true, there are times when he really isn’t all that interested in putting the crumbs in the rubbish and I have to firmly remind him that he can’t carry them around the house in his hands unceasingly, but again, once it’s done and I thank him for doing it, he can’t help but smile… usually
Perhaps you might say that what he really enjoys is the praise and thanks from a parent. I don’t deny that – I’m certain he loves it when we tell him that we’re proud of him and that we appreciate what he does. I think it’s also fair to say that he plain old likes being around me, whether I’m doing work or not, and so it’s natural for him to want to do what I’m doing. But I’m also certain that he loves knowing that he has a place in our family and that he, too, can be useful.
So, what sorts of jobs do you give a 2 year old? Surprisingly, there are quite a few that they can do!
- “Tidy Up Time” – I’ve made a habit of always putting away the toys when Joe and Jack go to bed. This partly stems from living in small apartments where you’re liable to trip over things that are left out, and it partly stems from a desire to maintain a sense of order in the home. It’s not all that big of a stretch to realize that when Joe was old enough to walk, he became curious about what I was doing and wanted to help. This has turned into tidy-up time. Some nights it’s truly a chore, but other night’s it’s practically a game with us rushing to see who can pick up the most toys or who can do the best job of tossing them in the basket. And on top of all of that, I think Joe likes getting up in the morning and re-exploring the toy bins, getting things out, and “discovering” what’s there to play with all over again.
- Folding/Putting Away Laundry – Joe can do quite a few things to help with laundry. I’ll give him cloth diaper wipes to put in the changing table bag and he’ll race from our room to the nursery as quick as he can. If the weather’s nice and I can hang things outdoors, then Joe is more than happy to hand me wet items from the basket to pin on the line. When I’m carrying clothes to his room, I’ll give him some socks or underwear or a few pairs of pants. Yes, stuff may come unfolded or might not end up in the right place, but that’s OK. Just recently, we’ve started to work on hanging shirts on hangers. So what if it took 10 minutes of diligent attempts that eventually ended with him asking me for help? He enjoyed it and he’s figuring things out for himself (and hey, any mom will tell you that having your toddler fully occupied for 10 minutes is a very nice thing!).
- Getting Dressed/Undressed – Joe is at that stage where he loves to do everything by himself. I sometimes have to remind him that, hey, I’m the momma and if I say you need help, then you need to obey. But, generally speaking, I’m happy to let him attempt things on his own. With dressing/undressing, this often results in pants being put on backwards or underwear being forgotten or socks on inside out, but this is fun for him. If we’re in a rush or it’s just not a good time, then it’s OK for me to dress him myself, but if we’ve got the time, then why not let him try? If he does things wrong or forgets his underpants, I still praise him and thank him for trying, then point out what he’s forgotten or mention that he’s shirt’s inside out. Usually I’ll follow this up with, “Would you like me to help you?” and lots of times he’s happy for me to do it then. If not, then I’ll let him try again. If time is running short, then I don’t ask if he wants help – I just help him. I’ve learned that you don’t ask a child a question if you’re not planning to give them a choice.
- Cleaning – Joe loves to be the big boy and wash his own hands and his own face. Sometimes, it turns into a battle, like if we’re in a hurry and I need to get him quickly washed up so we can head out. I’ve learned that in those moments I can either find some other way to get things ready and allow him wash his hands or face, or I can say, “Not this time” and do it for him. Either option can be the right one, but generally, I let him do it. I’ll then praise him and tell him that I’m going to clean up a few missed crumbs and usually he’s happy to let me. If not, I use the “shrug philosophy” and shrug while saying, “That’s too bad – I need to wipe your face now, buddy.” I’ll also let him wipe the table and often he’ll hop to the floor and pick up crumbs from the rug (if I remind him).
- Making the Bed – This is another one that may result in stuff being a little messy. It’s hard to make your own bed when there are sleeping rails on the sides and your chin barely reaches the top of the mattress, but I let him help, anyway. Who cares if there are wrinkles? I smooth them out later.
- Carrying Things – Joe loves to carry stuff. He’ll carry the diaper bag, carry his backpack, carry my keys, carry whatever he can get his hands on. He loves it. So if we’ve been running errands, I’ll ask him to help me by carrying something. Or I’ll ask him to carry his plate to the sink. Yes, sometimes he needs help or sometimes stuff falls on the ground, but usually it’s not a big deal (I just don’t let him carry stuff that I’d worry about breaking). Sometimes, this is as simple as asking him to carry a box of noodles out to the car when we’re done grocery shopping. Simple, but it makes him so happy
- Helping Jack – Joe can do all sorts of things to help Jack. He can bring Jack a toy or give him a pacifier. He can help me by opening the door to the nursery when I’m waking Jack up from his nap or he can turn off the white noise machine that we have on while Jack sleeps. He’ll help me push Jack’s stroller. Sometimes, I have to gently remind Joe to be careful with Jack, such as giving him the pacifier rather than attempting to shove it in his mouth, but he’s usually pretty great with him.
- Cooking/Baking – Joe can’t whip up a cake by himself, but he can help me count the cups of flour or the number of eggs that I use. He can help me pour a cup of rice into the casserole dish or help me stir something in a bowl (always with me saying, “One hand on the bowl, one hand on the spoon, slowly and gently”). Does stuff get spilled? Of course. Is it a big deal? No, not really. I don’t let Joe help when company is coming over or if the food is meant for others. I usually don’t have him pour or mix if I’m in a time crunch or just feeling plain stressed, but a bit of flour ending up on the floor or some batter sloshing over the edge is not a huge loss in our house, and Joe learns from it.
- Strapping Himself In – Joe has all kinds of straps to face during the day: car seat straps, booster seat straps, stroller straps… straps and straps! If we’re in a hurry then I do it for him, but usually he can at least part-way strap himself in. So what if the straps on his booster are twisted (or “all twisty” as Joe calls it)? If I know that Joe loves to strap himself into the car seat but it takes him 5 minutes to do it, then I open his door first and then start to put Jack in his car seat. By the time I’m done wrangling Jack and getting the diaper bags put away, Joe is usually three-fourths of the way through. I can either wait for him to finish or, if we’re in a time crunch, praise him and thank him while telling him that I’ll do the last few steps. I never let him strap himself into the car seat or stroller without checking and tightening things!
- Yard Work – Our new house has needed… and still does need… a fair amount of work done to the yard. Joe loves to help out there as much as possible and it has the added benefit of getting us all out of doors into the fresh air. I’ll have Joe help by pulling weeds (we have no flowers in our yard, no garden, and the only bushes are so firmly rooted that a pick-up will be required to get them out, so no worries about him yanking the wrong thing), carrying sticks to the back, or raking leaves. Yes, I bought him a child-size rake (actually a shrub rake that cost just over $15 with free Amazon Prime shipping) so that he can rake alongside me.
Chris likes to joke and tease about Joe and Jack “earning their keep” or “pulling their weight”. I certainly don’t think of Joe’s helping in those terms – I think of it as a (usually, but not always) fun way to teach Joe something about life. There are lots of ways that I can have Joe help. Every child is different, but it’s worth asking yourself if there’s some small way that your toddler can start to help around the house, too