When Do You Begin Toddler Chores?

Fia loves tasks. Especially fun ones. Anything from helping me water plants to putting her stuffed animals to sleep. We had a little parent-teacher conference (yes, she’s 3. In preschool), and they suggested that over the break, give her a job to do. Phil and I thought feeding Wayne each night his dry food would be doable. She already does it with us a lot, so why not hand it over to her entirely?

We explained this was going to be her “job” everyday–that at the end of each week she would get 25-cents to put in her piggy bank. She seemed really enthused at first. She wanted to start right away. So we decided to feed the insatiable cat early. She carefully went over to the Tupperware bin and measured out his food. Of course Wayne is a beast and always knocks his giant head against the cup, so you have to dump it in his bowl fast or else it ends up on the floor. What I’m saying is there is technique involved. My child may or may not prove her genius in this task.

She managed to get most of it in the bowl.  Then I explained how important it is to snap the Tupperware lid back in place. Wayne could happily eat himself to death. He probably has Prader-Willi syndrome. I helped her latch it, then we gave her her first quarter. She was so excited and proud of herself, she insisted we run right up to her room and put it in the bank.

The next day we reminded her to feed Wayne. She did, but I forgot to check the lid until I heard loud chomping. He had devoured half the bin. Whatever. He may not be my Biggest Loser anymore.

By day three when I reminded her she started to protest.

“Fia, it’s your job. Come on, it’s fun!” I said, trying to make it a positive thing.

I led her over to his food. She saw some crumbs on the floor and refused to move closer. I swept them up. She’s lucky her mom is OCD on the cleaning front. Then she saw the speckles in the wood floor. The same speckles that have been there since 1928. “I can’t walk on those,” she whined. What???? She wouldn’t budge. Started to tantrum in fact.

I pulled the bowl and the bin over to her and made her do it with me. I was clearly frustrated. She kept whining as if I were cutting off her hand.

The next day it was the same push and pull. Forget it, I said. This is stupid.

But it got me wondering when is it time to teach them chores? I always had chores and a modest allowance growing up. I think it’s a good thing. I often carry the laundry up to Fia’s room and while we’re playing, I turn it into a sorting game where she picks out all her clothes (To my friend Holly who did this with all 4 of her kids–I remember your wisdom from years back). Then we practice folding. She carries her folded pants like a fragile egg to her drawer. It’s really cute actually.

I also always try and do some sort of “clean up” during the day. I guess that in itself is a “chore.” Though sometimes I just do it myself because it’s easier.

My father was a stickler for rules. To an absolute extreme. As in “sign in and sign out” charts, a book of 86 rules and weekly “family council” meetings. Believe me, I’ll blog about it someday. I am uber aware of not wanting to be like him in that regard.  I know, I know, she’s only 3 1/2 years old. But I’m just curious when you begin planting the seeds? Fill me in.


Pic of girl doing chore via shutterstock

Add a Comment
Back To Fearless Feisty Mama
  1. [...] When do you start giving your children chores? (Parents.com) [...]

  2. by Dona

    On April 1, 2013 at 3:06 pm

    I have my 2-year-old help me feed our cats but it is presented as “helping mama” and only if she’s into it, though she usually is. Maybe the jump to “your job” was too severe? Maybe her job just needs to be the scooping part of the task, moving to helping remind when the habit is built.

  3. by Kirsten

    On April 1, 2013 at 6:27 pm

    We have a chore chart for our 2.5 year old. It has “set the table”, “get the mail”, “brush your teeth”, “Pick up toys” and “special task”. Whenever she does one of them she gets a star. Sunday morning she gets to put a nickel on every star she got during the week. Sometimes it’s a lot, sometimes it’s not. But we’re hoping that she can correlate between how much work she does and how much money she gets. Besides the “Brush your teeth”, we don’t *make* her do anything. I’m sure we’ll start enforcing chores more when she’s older. But this was a way to ease into it.

  4. by NoAdditives

    On April 1, 2013 at 6:31 pm

    My kids help with chores, but they don’t have any assigned jobs yet. My youngest, who is 15 months old, is the biggest helper. She hands me silverware while I empty the dishwasher, she helps hands me clothes to load into the washing machine, etc. She even does a better job picking up toys than my older kids. My big kids, almost 3 and 4 1/2, pick up their toys, put their dirty clothes in their hampers, and things like that. Right now, they get stickers every night if they have been good and a special prize on Saturdays. Once they are old enough to remember better we’ll have real chores for them to do and they’ll get an allowance. For now, they’re content with their stickers and they enjoy helping out. They like to help vacuum, sweep, and mop the floors. They think chores are fun so we aren’t in any rush to make them into jobs.

  5. by Ruth

    On April 1, 2013 at 7:07 pm

    I started my boys on chores as soon as they could walk and hold a rag. They would sit in the kitchen “Scrubbing” the walls. Then we moved up. When they learned colors they helped sort laundry, now at 3 and 5 they are putting away dishes, cleaning their room and all sorts of chores. Early on it’s not about getting the job done well, it’s about teaching them to work. As they get older they learn to do what job well and to do the same job every week. I suggest changing it up. IT sounds like you are doing great with the laundry and having some form of clean up. I also have a chore jar with a bunch of different chores written on sticks, the kids pick a chore and do when they pull out. It gets old fast when you have to do the same thing though, even for us.

  6. by Erin

    On April 1, 2013 at 10:26 pm

    Our daughter actually asked for chores to do when she was 3 almost 4. I don’t remember what we started her off with but we did eventually get her one of those Melissa & Doug Responsibility Charts. She recently turned 5. She has several chores such as make bed, feed animals (2 cats), set the table, put away toys (from all over the house), get dress for bed and brush teeth. After reading other posts I think we are paying way too much! We give her $1 a day if she completes ALL of her tasks on her own with no prodding from mom and dad. She gets no money if she can’t do this. Some weeks she will work at it and others she could care less. We don’t push her or anything. She is very good about saving her money. We do family chores all the time where she does not get any money.

  7. by Sabrina

    On April 28, 2013 at 10:35 am

    My daughter just turned 3. She puts her toys up, and her dirty clothes in the hamper. She’ll get the diapers and wipes for her baby brother. I think that is enough. She gets a thank you for helping but no prize or money. Then every time she does something she’ll ask for compensation. And that’s not how life works. It took me forever to wean her from gummies for using the potty.

  8. by Tawanna

    On April 29, 2013 at 1:31 am

    Oh my word another mom with a baby named Fia! At first I thought it was a parent.com personalized article but no! Very neat and thank you for this article. We are working on our little ones pitching in with household clean up!

  9. by Melinda

    On April 29, 2013 at 9:32 am

    I have a 3 year-old and a 5 year-old, and I decided that right now I am going to let them explore, to try new chores. Work is fun for them if they aren’t ‘required to do it. I don’t pressure them, I ask “Who wants to help me with (fill in the blank)” If one reponds the other certainly will also. They help me feed the cats, load and unload the dishwasher, vaccuum the rug, sweep the floor, put the laundry in the dryer, clear and wipe the table, and a number of other things that are simple and easy to supervise. The only reward I give them at this point is praise for a job well done. They eat it up! Then I make sure to get down on their level and play with them. At this age life is about playing, exploring, trying new things. The actual required chores will come later as they mature. Allowance will be given as we teach them the value of money, how to save and spend.

  10. by Rhonda

    On April 29, 2013 at 9:42 pm

    My daughter just turned two and I taught her how to put clothes in her hamper around a year and a half. She also has been putting change into our big change jar for a long time, and since we get the newspaper delivered to our apt. door, my daughter picks up the paper and brings it in. She’ll throw garbage out as well. There are no rewards except for clapping, hugs and a thank you.

  11. by Tina

    On April 29, 2013 at 9:58 pm

    Chores can be a hassle, but at such a young age I believe it is important to invite them to help out with any chores. My son just turned four today, and he likes any kind of action. I heard something about not relating house chores with an allowance; it is better to explain to them that doing chores is being part of a family. This alleviates any discrepancies if they do not do the chores the “right way.” Allowance is for teaching them about how to spend and save money. My child loves to get money, and pay for stuff at the store. He will even ask me if he can have a couple dollars after cleaning up his toys. WHAT? I don’t get paid to clean up those toys!!! I try to encourage him to do extra things around the yard like watering the flowers or pulling weeds to get extra money.

  12. by Wendy

    On May 2, 2013 at 10:08 pm

    We are about to purchase a home much, much bigger than current. With 4 bathrooms, finished basement, 4 bedrooms, and an acre to mow… I immediately realized we will need more structure to cleaning, yard work and chores. My girls are 20 months and 3 1/2 years. They are in for a BIG surprise!

  13. by Jill Cordes

    On May 4, 2013 at 1:33 pm

    That is crazy! Your daughter is named Fia? A friend of mine just said she heard a Freakonomics podcast about naming your kid and Fia is a new up and coming one. I had no idea!