To succeed in life, says Doreen Virtue, PhD, a psychotherapist in Los Angeles and author of Your Emotions, Yourself (Lowell House), you need to know how to make commitments and follow through. It's something that even a baby can begin to tackle. In fact, when your 1-year-old gleefully starts dropping her bottle on the floor, waiting for you to pick it up, only to repeat this exercise again and again, she's ready to start learning about responsibility. That's because she has developed a rudimentary understanding of cause and effect and the realization that there are consequences to her actions.
Specifically, that means you can start thinking about baby-size responsibilities, like handing her a spoon and asking her to give it to Dad. As she grows older, you can make chores more advanced, perhaps asking her to throw her socks in the hamper or stack her videotapes. You'll make it all that much more palatable if you also explain the value of each task. But make sure to keep your explanations brief to avoid confusion; for example, the hamper is "where dirty clothes go to get clean," and stacking videos "makes it easy to find what you want to watch next time." She may not understand your explanations at first, but eventually the ideas will sink in.
Helping to clean is, of course, a useful chore. But don't expect too much. For a toddler, picking up more than three or four toys can be overwhelming. Try making it a game or singing a special clean-up song while you put the toys away.
Of course, we're often so rushed that we discourage our children from doing chores because it takes them too long. If you're pressed for time, choose one or two key responsibilities -- but make sure you enforce them.