Apparently there are some people on the interwebz who think it’s a bad idea to get your kids to help take care of their siblings. These sanctimommies think that since you’re the one who gave birth, you have to do all the things for the baby till age 18. Maybe age 21.

If you are one of those people, leave now.

Because if I could sum up the philosophy of Supermom in one sentence, it would be this: Teach your kids to do more so you can do less. They will be better people for it. So will you.

And a mom who tries to do everything is not Supermom. She is crazy. Also tired. And possibly very fond of wine.

However, I have also noticed that many people seem to think it’s extraordinary to let kids do things that every kid was doing a few generations ago. So just to clear up any confusion about what your toddler is actually capable of, I made a list. This is not comprehensive. But it’s a starting point.

Age: 1
Key characteristics: loves to imitate everything adults do; loves to learn new skills; interested in self-care; is developing fine and gross motor skills; falls a lot; chews on things; drools.

Chores:

Pick up toys. He may need help locating the toys that are on the floor. However, he will love putting them in the box.

“Folding” laundry. By this I mean taking laundry out of the basket, throwing it in a pile on the floor, taking the folded laundry out of your pile, and tossing it back in the basket. By the age of 18 months, many toddlers will be able to actually fold washcloths.

“Helping” load and unload dishwasher. By taking a dish out and then putting it back in. And taking it out. And putting it in. And taking it out. And running away with it. And dropping it on the floor and breaking it. Results may vary. Consider switching to all plastic dishes.

Sorting silverware (except sharp knives). This he can actually do. Hand your toddler a spoon. Point to the spot where spoons go. Say, “Put the spoon here!” He will put it there. Then hand him a fork and repeat.

Begin to dress and undress self if clothes are very loose and easy to pull on and off. You may want to give him clothes that are a size too big. He can learn to pull a shirt over his head and then put the arms through the holes. For pants, try letting him pull up the front while you pull up the back. However, then you will have to roll up the cuffs since the clothes are too big. I’m not sure where I’m going with this. Maybe you should just give him dress-up clothes.

Fetch everything. If you want something that’s low enough for your toddler to get it, send him for it. One year olds love fetching things. Consider keeping things like his sippy cup, his clothes, and rags to clean up messes on a low shelf where he can reach them. He will love to bring them to you.

(Or, if you’re tired, you can get a ball and play “Go get it.” Also known as fetch. Toddlers love this game even more than dogs do. You will love this game because you can play it while sitting on the couch and surfing the internet on your phone.)

Age: 2
Key characteristics: Says “no” loudly and frequently; throws tantrums; climbs on things; jumps on things; insists on doing everything “mysewf.”

Chores:

Sweep. Two year olds love to sweep. As long as they have a broom in their size. You can buy a toy broom that functions just fine at many toy stores. Or you can buy an extremely expensive toddler “tool” broom that also functions just fine from a Montessori supply store. Brooms are not high tech. You could probably make one that was the right size if you really wanted to. The key is that your toddler needs to feel it is his broom.

Clean up messes. Keep a stack of rags on a low shelf so your two year old can access them frequently. There will be lots of messes. He can clean some of them up.

Serve self snacks. Yes, two year olds can do this. It’s a good idea to have a shelf in the pantry that has child-friendly, child-safe snacks. If you really want to have fun with this, get a mini-fridge and keep it stocked with fresh fruit and cheese. Just imagine how good it will feel when your toddler whines, “I’m hungry!” to reply, “Get yourself a snack from your very own fridge, honey.”

Cut snacks with toddler knife. Bananas and cheese are great for this. Also eggs. A small cutting board of his very own will make your toddler very, very happy.

Pour drinks. You can keep a pitcher of water in his fridge too. And some cups. Some toddlers will be entertained by this for hours. He will, of course, spill water on the floor. Which is not a problem because he can access the pile of cleaning rags, right?

Feed pets. Scoop, pour, get out of the way, watch dog devour food. This could very well become your toddler’s favorite job. Keep in mind that the dog is the only person in the house who the toddler outranks. And both the dog and the toddler know it. (If you have a cat, that doesn’t apply. Cats outrank everyone. Duh.)

Age: 3
Key characteristics: Alternates between “You are the best Mommy in the world” and “I hate you! You’re not my friend anymore!”, often several times in a single day; screams at length for no discernable reason; is capable of holding an actual conversation with a peer; is developing imaginative play; can entertain self for significant periods of time.

Chores:

Help cook. Scrambling eggs and baking cookies are good places to start. I’m not sure what else they can help cook because I don’t cook much else. But I know that helping with cooking also helps with Picky Eater Syndrome. So you should get your toddler cooking healthy food. He’ll be more likely to eat it.

Wash windows, tables, and floors with spray bottle and rag. I only put this here because younger children may not have the hand strength to use a spray bottle. Your three year old might have too much fun with a spray bottle, by which I mean he might spray it in your face. Use either plan water or water mixed with vinegar, and keep your face away from the spray region.

Help change younger sibling’s diapers. Yes, a three year old can do this. And if he has a younger sibling, he will want to. Pee only. You gotta do poop yourself until big brother is a little older. Also, if you use cloth diapers with snaps, then your three year old may not be strong enough to close them. Ask me how I know. Sigh. I tried.

Also, obviously, the three year old does not need to use the changing table. Keep baby on the floor.

Help feed younger sibling. A friend let my daughter feed her baby a jar of peas when my daughter was three and the baby was seven months. I think it was the highlight of my daughter’s entire year. She did have a rough year though. Supervision is of course recommended. And high chairs are of course not.

Use a real knife. With supervision. Yes, really.

So now you know. Your kids can do stuff. Start handing off these chores early, and your whole family will be happier. Wait too long, and you just may find yourself with a twenty seven year old living in your basement.

You’ve been warned.

Image: Montessori Motherload

8 Comments

MelMarch 8, 2013 9:13 pm

Why haven’t I subscribed to this blog yet? Doing so now! This is absolutely how we raise our kids. My almost-6 year old is now taking care of all the bins himself (garbage) with a little reminding, and goes to the fridge for his own snacks.

lcbaker March 08 2013 22:22 pm

Thank you! Sounds like you're doing better at this than I am. :)

AnitaMarch 9, 2013 1:56 am

Setting the table is another chore they can help with. My two-year-old loves to put the plates, spoons and forks in place. He gets them from me (in the kitchen) one at a time.
I agree that chores are important and wrote about it recently too: http://1stteacher.wordpress.com/2013/02/25/why-are-so-few-parents-talking-about-chores/

lcbaker March 09 2013 12:27 pm

Oh, I forgot about setting the table! I meant to include that one. Thanks!

Anita @ Losing AustinApril 20, 2013 12:46 pm

Just found your site and loving it! I live by the belief that my job as a parent are to raise my kids into loving independent adults- which means teaching them to do things like this starting at a young age. Great tips! They really can do it. And hey, it’s a big bonus that it makes my life easier too 😉

lcbakerApril 20, 2013 4:33 pm

Amen! There’s a reason why kids are graduating high school not knowing how to do their own laundry. Not that I have room to talk since I still am not sure I know how to do laundry.

Aisha QuineceApril 28, 2013 4:55 pm

Love the chores for the 2 year olds. My little one loves picking out and putting on her own socks. They never match and I’m sure the teachers at school get a kick out of seeing the mismatched socks everyday.

RobbieJune 25, 2013 2:41 pm

Love this post! There’s so much your little tikes can help out with.

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