Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Of Toddlers & Housework

Welcome to the January 2015 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Household Chores
This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants have shared stories, tips, and tricks on tackling household chores. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.
My Little Bug loves to help with everything. All toddlers do. I think it must be hardwired into their brains.
Sometimes it seems like I can't do anything without my son offering his assistance. Putting away clean dishes: "I can help!" Folding laundry: "I fold too!" Taking out garbage: "I can carry." Feeding the cat: "I want to do it all by myself!"

And it's great. Really, it is. Except when it's not. Because honestly, Bug's desire to help creates a serious conflict in my head sometimes.

On one side is the desire to let him help. To help him to learn life skills firsthand, so that he will be able to do things for himself as he gets older, and so that he is not functionally useless when he moves out on his own someday (taking the long view here, I guess). To make him happy (because helping makes him practically giddy sometimes). To encourage him to do his part around the house. And also because I know that in ten years, there's a good chance he'll resist helping every time I ask.

On the other side is the urge to tell him to just go play instead. To get him out from underfoot. Because everything takes two or three times as long with a toddler "helping," and sometimes I just want to get things done in a timely fashion.

While I freely admit that sometimes the "go play" side wins, most of the time I try to find ways to let Bug help. There's a lot of household things I do that I definitely don't want my son having any part in just yet (the cat box is kept in the second bathroom, which he doesn't even have access to), but there are also a lot of things that he can help with, if I let him.

Tidying Up.  When it comes to decluttering, I definitely try to get my toddler involved. For one thing, most of the clutter lying around is due to him: a pair of socks carelessly abandoned in the bathroom, a little shoe in the kitchen, an empty cup on the bookshelf, toys everywhere. One can't expect to just tell a toddler to "clean up" and have him actually do any productive cleaning (it's too overwhelming of a concept), but you can offer little tasks one at a time. Put this in the kitchen. Now take this to the laundry hamper. Put this shoe by the door. Throw this wrapper away. Put all of your books on the shelf. Do you remember where your jacket goes? Can you put all of your Lincoln logs back in the bin? Let's put all of your Hot Wheels into the big truck.

Done this way, tidying up definitely takes a lot longer, but it also breaks down a task that can seem insurmountable to a toddler into steps that are manageable. And I keep hoping that one day he'll start to internalize some of the steps and clean up occasionally on his own. I can dream, right?

Laundry.  My current apartment does not have in-unit washers & dryers, which kind of sucks. But we manage. Bug likes helping me gather any dirty clothes that did not make it quite into the laundry hamper. We walk to the laundry room together, and then he helps me put the clothes into the washer, and then push the button to start the machine. He also helps me to move the clothes into the dryer, and he pushes the start button there too.

He likes trying to help me fold, although this is, admittedly, a task I usually still do myself when he's distracted with something else. Eventually, though, I plan on working with him more in this area, walking him through the steps for folding clothes properly and showing him how to put his own clothes away. But that will probably wait for awhile longer; at not-quite-3, he still has a hard time actually, you know, folding the clothes (rather than just crumpling them into a ball).

Dishes.  I always let Bug help put away dishes when possible, even though he has to ask where every single thing goes because he can never seem to remember on his own. What's harder to let him help with is actual dish washing. I do most dish washing by hand, and he really wants to help, but so far I've resisted. That's going to change soon; I recently bought Bug his very own sponge (technically a set of sponges; he chose ones that are green and pink and purple), and I plan to let him help with dishes every once in awhile. I figure I will have to make the water not quite as hot as I use when I'm washing dishes by myself, and I will have to supervise him closely (and, of course, not give him sharp knives or easily breakable things like glasses) to make sure the things he washes actually get clean.

Taking Out Trash/Recyclables.  Since we live in an apartment, we have to walk our garbage and recyclables out to the big dumpsters scattered around the complex. This is a task that Bug loves to help with. Well, when the bag is light enough for him to carry, anyway. I let him help whenever possible!

Feeding the Cat.  As mentioned earlier, I keep the cat box in our second bathroom, which is not accessible to Bug. The cat's food and water dishes are kept back there too, so it's normally out of his reach. But sometimes I will bring him back there with me so that he can fill up the cat's food bowl. I keep the cat food in a closed container, with a scoop inside for easy serving. Bug knows how to open the container, fill the scoop, dump it in the cat's bowl, put the scoop back, and close the container again. Someday, when I can trust him not to eat cat food or to play in the water bowl if left unattended, I will move the cat's bowls back to the kitchen and put Bug in charge of keeping them full.

Vacuuming & Sweeping.  Bug has always loved to "help" me vacuum. Actually, I know several other toddlers  who think the vacuum cleaner is pretty neat. Some days, I do let my son help me vacuum the carpets, but only on days when I am feeling very patient; his arms aren't nearly as long as mine, so it takes a long time to cover an entire room. I would love to someday get him his own kid-sized vacuum cleaner, preferably one that actually works. (Because what's the point if it's just a toy?)

Bug also loves to help me sweep, and I have been known to sweep the kitchen, use the dustbin to collect everything, and then hand the broom over to him so that he can "finish" the job for me. Thankfully this usually satisfies him... for now. Someday he'll figure it out, and then I'll have to change tactics. I want to find a kid-sized broom, too, since the full-sized broom is just a bit unwieldy for an almost-3-year-old to handle.

Cleaning Surfaces.  To be clear, I don't let my son handle any kind of store-bought cleaning sprays. (I'm planning to transition away from those eventually anyway.) For now, I stick to cleaning the bathrooms and I certainly would never let Bug near the oven. But, when using a homemade cleaner that consists of safe ingredients, I have no problem with letting my son wield a microfiber cloth to actually wipe a surface down (I still do the spraying). The main surface I let him help me clean (for now) is the table, but we will eventually be branching out; maybe I'll eventually let him help clean the cabinets, or the outside of appliances, or the glass doors on our bookcase.

What am I missing? How do you let your little ones help around the house? I'm always open to suggestions!
Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting! Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:
  • Seven Tips for Decluttering with Your Clutterbug — Do you have a child with hoarder tendencies? Help them declutter before the Legos and stuffed animals take over your home. Charlie of Three Blind Wives, guest posting at Natural Parents Network, offers some expert advice.
  • Chores, Chores, ChoresLife Breath Present talks about how her family divides chores, and how Baby Boy joins in to keep their home clean and running smoothly.
  • Of Toddlers & Housework — Holly at Leaves of Lavender talks about some of the ways she lets her not-quite-3-year-old son help out around the house.
  • Whistling While We Work: On Kids and Chores — Dionna at Code Name: Mama realized recently that she often feel resentful when she carries more than her share of the household load. And so several weeks ago, she brought a laundry basket upstairs and had the kids start folding. Thus began a regular series of household responsibilities for her kids.
  • The 4-Day Laundry Plan — Becca at The Earthling's Handbook line-dries all of her laundry, including cloth diapers, and stays sane while also working full-time outside the home. She's sharing her tips!
  • Chores Don't Have To Be Drudgery — Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama discusses how she gets the whole family motivated in the daily care and maintenance of maintaining a home. After all, chores do not have to be drudgery.
  • Morning Chores and Weekly Chores — Kellie at Our Mindful Life can get anything done, so long as she gets her morning chores - and her weekly chores - done!
  • A place for everything and everything in its place — Make it easy to tidy up by having just enough stuff for the space you have. Lauren at Hobo Mama talks about this goal in her own home and gives tips on how to achieve it in yours.
  • Cleaning With Essential Oils — What essential oils could add a boost to your cleaning routine? That Mama Gretchen has a round up of what you might like to consider!
  • Montessori-Inspired Sweeping Activities — Deb Chitwood at Living Montessori Now tells how her children helped keep their house clean and shares ideas for Montessori-inspired sweeping activities.
  • 9 Natural Cleaning Recipes for New Mamas — Dionna of Code Name: Mama, guest posting at Mama & Baby Love, shares recipes for safer, natural homemade cleaners that parents can make with ingredients they trust. Leave a comment on the post for a chance to win a copy of Homemade Cleaners - a book packed with tons of natural cleaner recipes!


  1. It's a good thing Baby Boy enjoys being involved in *everything*. He does much of what you've outlined, though his involvement is likely a bit less since he's not even 2 yet. He loves to hold the dustpan, help mop, unplug lights, put away the pots, and "push" when I need to move the kitchen chairs or something.

    I often don't want his help, but then again I do and I know it's good for him, so I too have an internal struggle, but we get through it! :)

  2. What a great list of ways toddlers can help! And as a mom who tended to scoot her children out instead of letting them help more, I'd encourage you to keep on inviting him to take part in chores :)

    1. I really do struggle with that sometimes! There are definitely times when I just want to get something done, and everything takes so much longer with a toddler "helping." But I will keep trying to find ways to include him when possible.

  3. I think you're doing a great job so far! My son is 10, and when he was little he was helping in many of the ways you describe. He got somewhat less useful and more resistant for a while when he was about 5-8, which I think had to do with various changes in our schedule and family dynamics...but last fall we succeeded at setting up a weekly schedule of chores he can do independently, and he's sticking to it pretty well.

    Does Bug have a history of breaking glasses or cutting himself every time he gets near a sharp object? If not, I encourage you NOT to give him only "safe" dishes to help wash, but instead talk about how we handle things safely. My son did very well with breakable dishes, both eating from them and washing them, when he was just 15 months old. I showed him how to wash a paring knife when he was 2 and how to use it about six months later, but we did keep him away from the bigger knives because they are harder to handle.

    Cleaning the bathtub is a fun job that is naturally contained, and if you do it before a bath then messing up his clothes is not an issue! A paste of baking soda and dish detergent is a safe and effective cleanser. My mom taught me to scrub grout with an old toothbrush at an early age, and that then became my special job--but my son's not into it. He does enjoy using a larger scrub brush.

    1. 'Becca, so glad you mentioned 5-8 as a resistant phase, because now I can have hope my 7-year-old will grow out of it! :)

    2. He does not have any history of cutting himself, and he ends up washing breakable things too, but so far it's mostly because he grabs them when I'm not looking! But he hasn't broken anything yet, and I agree that I probably should let him working with them. The only thing I actively keep completely out of his reach during dish washing are the sharp knives, although perhaps I should teach him how to wash the little ones with my assistance! That's a good idea.

      He currently loves using butter knives to help me chop veggies, which is fun; I really want to get him a set of kid-friendly knives (I think they're made of silicone, maybe? They cut fruits/veggies but not skin.), and eventually graduate him to using my real knives.

      Love the bathtub cleaning idea! We'll have to try that out next bathroom cleaning day!

  4. I so agree with this post. I find telling little ones to go play when you're trying to get things done is futile, because they consider what you're doing play, too!

    Getting a little broom was a big help for us for our hard floors (the kitchen & bathrooms). The rest is carpeted, and my older kids (the 3- and 7-year-olds) are afraid of our vacuum, but what's worked well is getting a mechanical carpet sweeper (as in, a non-electrical one that has a rotating brush that pulls the crud up into the sweeper that then gets emptied into the trash). They can both push it and like to use it, so the only conflict is who gets to use it first!

    They also love spray bottles. I'd recommend filling a small spray bottle of water or water with vinegar and letting your little guy go to town on an area that can safely get wet. For us, that's windows (if they'll wipe them after — I hand them cloths), the table (again, they must wipe down), bathroom surfaces, and the kitchen floor, which they follow up by mopping (and then I finish by doing a better job). Yes, they'll spray too much, but water and vinegar are cheap. I monitor and make sure they're not spraying where they shouldn't (e.g., electronics, the carpet, or the cats). I figure it's a good excuse for me to mop!

    1. I will have to look into getting a carpet sweeper! My son loves the vacuum cleaner, but ours is obviously too big for him to move (and it's really actually a pain when he tries to help), and I can't find any kid vacuums that actually work. (Because what's the point otherwise?!? ;) ) But a carpet sweeper sounds like a great idea!

      We're going to start playing around with spray bottles too. I always have a giant jug of distilled white vinegar for other housecleaning stuff (that's what I use to clean my floors, mixed with water), so we could just as easily make a mixture for Bug to use for cleaning windows and tables and such. Thanks for the ideas!

    2. Another option is a Dustbuster, Handivac, or similar small vacuum cleaner. We had one when my son was 5-6, and he loved using it. The downside is that they're cordless and have to be charged; if the charge is not recent, it runs down very quickly; leaving the charger plugged in all the time uses a lot of power. We found that we weren't using it often enough, so it was always underpowered when we did use it. But if you have carpet in most of your home and/or a higher standard of cleanliness than we do, it could be great!

      For hard surfaces, Rubbermaid makes a dustpan+brush set with handles that clip together reliably, yet a preschooler can pull them apart for use. It's very handy. Most kids don't mind crawling around or bending all the way over while sweeping, so the short handle is okay. It's also ideal for adults to use to pick up the sweepings from a big broom--much easier than holding the dustpan with your foot while you sweep into it with a big broom.

  5. Always the conundrum of raising a toddler. Sure you want to hang out with them but sometimes you just have other things to do. I used to feel guily but now I just tell them I have to divide my time. Not that I want to but you got to do what you got to do.

    Delbert Powers @ Minuteman International

    1. Conundrum is a great word for it! I love spending time with my son, and I definitely want to encourage him to help out (because goodness knows that in ten years or so, he won't want to help at all!), but sometimes I just want things to get done within a reasonable amount of time.

  6. Thanks for putting this up. Our little girl is just now reaching the age where she can really do things herself and not have to be followed and cleaned up after. We are struggling to decided which chore to give her first. She wants the dishes, but I think we will go with feeding the dog or cleaning the counter.

    Alison Norman @ Power Boss

    1. Feeding the dog sounds great, so long as she's not going to try to eat the dog food! (We have a cat, and I was always super paranoid about that. But he loves to fill the pet bowl.)

      You might also consider letting her help put dishes away, even if you don't want to let her get into the actual washing part yet. My son loves putting away the silverware and other small things he can easily carry (without the risk of breaking them).

  7. Great tips to implement in our household, you have some very cute children and must be so blessed to have them be apart of your life. My wife and I have 4 children and have spent most of our life around children, they are the hope for our future and so we instil in them as much as we can.

    Rudy Swanson @ Haaker Equipment Company

    1. Thank you! My son is very cute, if I do say so myself, and I would very much love to have at least one more someday. :)

  8. Amazing blog. This post is looking interesting. Thanks for sharing this with us blogglobalreview