Ah, a tidy house. For so many of us, the dream is putting our feet up and relaxing when we reach that goal… but with a family that’s always on the go, sometimes the light at the end of the tunnel is just another train. Laundry, dishes, messy bathrooms, toys strewn across every room, it’s the kind of list that could use a team to tackle. So, when it comes to housework, how young is too young to get your kids on board? You might be surprised at my answer.
I wrote previously about my daughter, Petra “helping” me match socks when she was a newborn: I’d hold up one striped and one white sock, asking her if they matched and then I’d buzzzz because they didn’t, and then I’d find two striped, ask again, and exclaim ding! Well it didn’t take long before Petra was matching socks with me and when she could walk, she took on bigger laundry duties, traipsing towels from the basket to the washing machine or hanging diapers on the rack. Was it more time-consuming to make her part of the process? Definitely! I could have taken ten minutes during naptime to accomplish what we got done in an hour, but it was a way to impart her importance in helping the household tick and now, at three, she dives into my fresh laundry piles to sort without being asked.
And though of course you’ll wait until your kiddo is older to have them cleaning with bleach or using sharp knives, most household duties can accommodate little helping hands if you’re creative. For the very young, setting the table can be modified into “putting a napkin beside every plate”, washing a mirror can be “spraying the vinegar-water onto the glass”, and sweeping can always use an extra broom. Heap on the praise when they accomplish the task and incrementally give them more responsibility as they earn it, making chores a source of pride rather than a burden.
Not surprisingly (because it is the origin of all deliciousness), a favourite place for a child to help is in the kitchen, but counters and stoves are quite rightly out of reach of wee hands. Enter a learning tower or stepping stool that, with your supervision, provides the perfect precipice from which your child can jump into the role of chef, dish dryer, and even barista—no kidding! My daughter now insists on scooping the beans from their tin to the grinder, using a toothpick to even the basket before it gets tamped, and pouring milk into the pitcher. During meal prep, chopping veggies might err on the side of grade school but measuring, adding, pouring, whisking, and seasoning are all toddler faves and after dinner, helping to load the dishwasher or drying a few unbreakables is an easy get.
Outdoors, there’s a world of help to be had in weeding, watering, sweeping, and planting—it’s a never-ending list when you’ve got a yard to take care of. And even if it’s just a few herb pots on your balcony, letting children grow food is vital because it so perfectly illustrates responsibility: they literally reap the rewards of their hard work and care. Plus, basil is good on pretty much everything.
Because we started involving Petra so early, she is generally helpful before I ask but let’s be real, she’s three and wants to flex her independence. When it’s her idea to organize her art supplies, I’m proud. When I ask for Lego to be picked up and she’d “rather do it later”, I feel frustrated. Tactics that work for me are not moving on to something else before the previous toy is cleaned up, making a race out it, singing our special clean-up song, and emphasizing the fun to come. I also explain why we keep things tidy (I’m not a dictator, I’m a human being who hates stepping on Lego!), telling her it’s going to be easier to find later, that we don’t want to lose pieces, and that we’ll have more space to play.
So the next time you’re tailing a path of destruction or whooshing around the house checking chores off your list once the kids are asleep, think about what you could delegate instead. Getting your children to help even before they understand the concept of a “chore” will instill pride in their home and in themselves all while keeping you and your kiddos on the same team. Well, most of the time.