Chores for Enthusiastic Toddlers

by | Jan 18, 2013 | Babies, Parenting, Parenting Advice, You Ask, Kendra Answers | 9 comments

Two-year-old Jack (and his black eye) doing a little mopping.

I have had two different readers request that I address the subject of chores and chore charts. For us anyway, this is an area that has seen a lot of flux over the years. Since the answer to this question is so different depending on the ages of the kids involved, and has created a crazy web of tangents in my mind, I’m going to break it into a series of posts.  

Today is chores for toddlers: what we let them do, what we make them do, and when we just turn on the TV.

My toddlers have always been very enthusiastic helpers. Whether I want their help or not. Especially when I don’t want it. I learned pretty quickly that my lovely little plan of toddler Jack playing quietly while baby Betty sleeps and I don my frilly apron and tidy up each morning was not realistic. Specifically, the Jack playing quietly part.  He wanted to HELP.  

Of course, help from an almost two-year-old makes everything take at least twice as long.  But I came to realize that under normal circumstances, it was worth it to let him tag along.  I got him a little spray bottle filled with water, and a rag.  He would come along with me while I cleaned, happily spaying and wiping.

It kept him engaged and occupied so I could get the real chores done.

My little guys have also really enjoyed sweeping with their own 
little broom (the push-type broom seems to be easiest for them to control) and dusting with a feather duster.

Quick side note: why isn’t this real?

Watch the video here!

But then somewhere between two and three the kids around here have to start earning their keep.  Hey, we’re not running a charity ward.  You don’t work, you don’t eat.  

Are there any chores a two-year-old can actually be helpful with?  Yes and no.  Yes, there’s stuff they can (and should) do, but they still require my attention while they’re doing it.  I try to just think of it as homeschool preschool, and — hey, two birds with one stone!

The place we usually start is laundry.  They can put dirty clothes in hampers.  They can sort the clothes into lights and darks.  They can help switch loads from the washer to the dryer. At folding time, they LOVE the sock matching game.

By the time my kids are four, they are already WAY more competent with laundry than I was when I went away to college.  It’s a good starting chore, because I figure if I’m going to have to be sitting on the ground anyway, I might as well pay attention to the two-year-old.  Could I do it faster alone?  Yes.  But is my child a huge obstacle to the accomplishment of the task?  No.  So it’s a keeper.

My least favorite place to have help is with dinner.  I’m all for quality time, but I rarely feel like today’s the day I want entire eggs dropped into the corn muffin batter.  I used to very regularly let my little kids watch a DVD while I was trying to get dinner ready.  That said, it’s an area in which I have made progress.  The kids so love to be involved with the cooking. 

Anita was banging away on chicken breasts with a “meat hammer” (that’s what my kids call it, I think it’s actually called a tenderizer) this evening.  Good times.

This topic deserves its own post, but . . . I used to let my kids watch TV daily because I needed them to.  Now, the TV is rarely on in our house, because the little kids have the big kids to entertain them, and we are really busy with other stuff. 

Anyway, the first independent chore we usually assign is around three-years-old.  And it looks like this:


When you have as many feet in your family as we do, you end up with shoes ALL OVER THE HOUSE.  And no one can ever find their shoes when it’s time to go somewhere.  My three-year-olds have been pretty successful in independently finding, identifying, and returning shoes.  

During all of this we really emphasize the idea of: “What are you doing to help our family?”  It’s a question that gets asked loudly of our kids during chore time.  Even two and three-year-olds can develop a real sense of pride in the fact that they are performing an essential service for this family.  Everyone likes to feel important, even better to actually be important.  Even if you’re a little guy.

But what about the chores you want them to do, but perhaps they are not quite so excited about, like picking up their own toys?

Picking up our own toys?

Well, if you’d like to read my further takes on realistic expectations, appropriate chores for other age groups, chore charts, bribes, rewards, and punishments, and how to set your kids up for success by organizing your toys . . . you’ll just have to come on back.

So, Diana, did that answer your question?  And for the rest of you . . . what chores can your toddlers do?  How do you find the balance between helping and interfering?


  1. Kara Warme

    I completely agree that toddlers want so badly to help. In our house, there is an added desire to clean because Cinderella and Snow White do it. Just this morning Emma (just 3) said to me "Mom, the dwarfs are gone to work, let's go clean up the house!" I have to be honest and say I do very little real cleaning with her, so she has gathered this desire more from reading books about those princesses.

    Anyway, to answer your question, we absolutely agree with giving jobs and responsibility. We started Emma in late 2's with clearing her plate. At first she very often turned it vertically and dumped all the crumbs, now she does so less often. Her other "job" is to feed the fish, and while she can't do that one alone at all, she seems to relish the fact those are her pets and she is supposed to take care of them. I've never seen anyone else as excited to help me with a water change!

    • Kendra Tierney


      That is hilarious! I was just about to advise you to avoid watching Brave, but her dad would probably love for Emma to pick up a love for archery in addition to her love for cleaning.

  2. Rosie

    This is super-helpful – I started giving my 3-year-old chores right after he turned 3 and he was SO excited. He doesn't perform them all reliably of course, but he and his 2-year-old sister usually help me put away dishes (and put away the utensils by themselves), keep the shoes neat by the door, and fold washcloths & stack our cloth wipes after we do diaper laundry. Somehow cleaning up toys is NOT an exciting chore to them, unfortunately 😛 I definitely need to get them some "real" cleaning supplies so they can help with that.

    And I'm glad to know that eventually the big kids help keep the little ones out of the kitchen! I just wrote a post about that whole issue, and TV is my number one go-to right now. Hopefully in a few years the big kids will be able to entertain the littles!

  3. Nanacamille

    Little kids do like sweeping with brooms. I even had a little 2 yr old boy on the airplane taking his broom with him to Grandma's house so he could sweep there too….that's devotion to chores.
    The reason Kendra was so laundry challenged was because I had a live-in housekeeper since her dad and I were both gone overnight who did all of the laundry. However, she did have to makeup her own bed and kick up her own clothes to put in the dirty clothes and that was always a big challenge for her. The unhappy face on Anita was shared by her mom quite often.

    • Kendra Tierney

      I know. The very idea that I am advising anyone on chores is pretty laughable. I still WANT to be very messy. But I'm mostly better than I used to be.

  4. Kris

    Sorting silverware from the dishwasher is another good one. Mine always picked up their own toys, rooms, etc. with guidance and some supervision. I like to sock sorting idea – I never did that one when they were little.

  5. Diana Anderson

    Yes, you definitely answered my question! I love the idea of the spray bottle and helping sort laundry, so they can feel like they are helping out. I like the idea of the focus on "what you are doing to help our family?". I think it brings a sense of communion that I believe we should be teaching our children. Thank you for your thoughts on this topic.

    PS. I am glad I am not the only one who has relied on the daily 20 mins. of TV to get anything done around here. Maybe one day we will have enough older children to entertain the little ones. 🙂

  6. Kathryn Ward

    My two year old takes dirty laundry to the wash, puts shoes at the back door, sets the table(when we use plastic plates), and hands me the dishes from the bottom drawer of the dishwasher. This takes a super long time but it is better than getting her upset that she can't help.

    She really Evans to help clean the bathroom. The spray bottle is a great idea.


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Hi! I’m Kendra.

For twenty years now, I’ve been using food, prayer, and conversation based around the liturgical calendar to share the lives of the saints and the beautiful truths and traditions of our Catholic faith. My own ten children, our friends and neighbors, and people just like you have been on this journey with me.

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