I'm a lover of neatness and order. I like things to be put in their place, and I hate clutter. When I had kids, I knew I'd have to let up on some of that rigid control, but it wasn't going to be easy. I also wanted them to develop the ability to enjoy the feeling of satisfaction that stems from keeping a clean environment, so I knew I needed to get them started on chores pretty young. However, being raised not to do many chores myself, I didn't know what the first chores to give your toddler were, or when to begin. I just knew that I needed to start somewhere.
Learning to do chores is an incredibly important developmental milestone, according to Brown University. It's not just the doing of them, but the enforcement of them and the mechanics to how they all play out. When it comes to the first chores to give your toddler, it's the ones that come naturally in the act of helping. The article noted that it's best if it's not a system of expectations and rewards, but designed as a tool to help the family unit. This could be helping clean up a board game or wiping up a spill. They found that assigning chores in anticipation of a reward beyond one's own self-fulfillment or because your child wants to be a good helper is a sure-fire way for them to rebel in the act and never fully realize the benefits of doing the chores.
As per the journal Social Development, the best first chores to give to toddlers are the ones they can easily mimic and the ones that make the most sense in the moment. If you accidentally drop something, or if there's a toy in the way of the corridor, you could say, "Hey sweetie, could you be a good helper for Mommy and pick that up for me?" They could also sit beside you as you fold laundry and help you "fold" the washcloths or the socks. They not only get to do what you're doing with you, but they're learning that it's something that's helpful to the family and a part of their everyday lives, noted Brown University.
I spoke with Montessori Preschool teacher Michelle Reitman of New York, and she tells Romper, "We've got to understand what our toddlers want to do, what they can do, and what they will do when giving them chores." She notes that while they may want to do everything with you, they likely cannot, and most times they'll get bored somewhere in the middle of it and give up. "Chores are a great way to teach your toddler that there is a social cost to existing in a family, and it's always best to start on the micro level," she suggests. "Your baby can help pick up toys, go with you when you walk your dog, scoop your pet's food, wipe their table — anything that doesn't require a lot of minor motor manipulation and that has immediate results."
When I first started giving my children chores, it was the absolute basics. "Put your clothes away, pick up the toys, help me make the bed." It seemed best to keep it small, and something I wouldn't fret over too much. I'm type A. I like things done a certain way, but I don't mind if their underwear drawer looks a mess or if their quilt is askew. I can close the door. It's gotten harder as they've gotten older and they're more reticent to abandon their play to help around the house.. I'll admit, it's come to punishment and bribes every so often, but it's mostly been OK. I'm sure I'll be questioning this all again once they're teenagers though — if my own tornadic teenaged bedroom is anything to go by.