Real Talk with Real Moms || Chores and Toddler Responsibility


I feel like I should preface this post by saying that chores and toddler responsibility is still a topic that I am very much figuring out as I go, although I could say that about nearly all aspects of parenting.  As Parker nears the corner to three and a half, it’s something that I find myself thinking about more and more.  Not so much chores specifically.  We don’t expect her to mop the floors… yet ;),  but what should we expect of her at this age? How do I motivate her to be responsible and take ownership of small tasks without turning our entire day into a series of toddler negotiations? I love the sense of pride that she has when she knows that she has done something right all by herself and I definitely want to encourage that.  More than anything, I’m really interested to hear from the other mamas in this series and from you on what you’re doing and hopefully glean some new insight.  I would love if you would share your own experience in the comments and be sure to check out the posts from: Hey Mama || Ave Styles ||  Design for Mankind || The Life Styled || Design Addict Mom.  In the meantime, here is where we are at with our almost three and a half year old…

We expect her to brush her teeth. She always goes first and then I take a turn and tell her I’m going to look to see if there are any sugar bears that she missed.  She’s definitely getting better at it, but we are probably still a ways away from me trusting her to do it all by herself.  What age did your kids begin to brush their teeth all by themselves?

We expect her to take her shoes off when she comes inside and put them in the shoe basket by the door.  This one is so simple and easy for her.  She beams with pride when she does it without my having to ask her.  “Look, mommy!” she will usually exclaim pointing to the basket with her shoes perched on top.

We expect her to put on her shoes in the morning before school. Of course it takes twice as long than if we were to do it ourselves and it’s a test in our own patience on those days when we are running behind, but she’s so capable so it would be silly for us to do it for her.  It’s also a lesson in self-control when it comes to me buying shoes for her.  If she can’t put them on herself, then it doesn’t make sense to buy them, no matter how cute!

We expect her to throw her own trash away at home and whenever possible when we are out. Our kitchen trash is located under the sink so this is another one that’s really easy for her to do herself.

We expect her to pick up a box of toys before moving on to a new one. Does this actually happen? Maybe 50% of the time? Maybe.  It depends how involved I am in playtime at the moment.  If I’m up there and we are playing together I try to manage it and make sure that she is helping in the clean up process, but if she’s playing independently I try not to get involved and usually come up to her room later to find a great big mess.  (But somehow the mess seems worth it to hear her up there talking to herself and her toys and playing well!)  I would love to implement a clean up time into our nightly routine.  Currently while she is playing in the bath, Aaron usually picks up her room because it’s quick and easy, but this is something we definitely need to get better about making her a part of.

We expect her to sit at the table or kitchen bar when she eats and not get up until she is done.  This is another one that is touch and go.  This is definitely the expectation, but enforcing it has been another story.  In a Janet Lansbury podcast she suggests saying that once a child gets up from the table then you tell them, “You’re telling me by getting up that you are all done.”  At that point you take the food away from the table and there is no more eating or snack until the next meal time. In theory I totally agree with this, but in reality I have a hard time enforcing it. We definitely don’t let her eat in her room or outside of the kitchen or dining room, but the sitting and not getting up thing is a struggle and so is enforcing a no-grazing policy.  Also, what do you do when your child doesn’t want to eat what you made for dinner? I would love to be one of those moms who says, “It’s this or nothing at all!”, but I just worry too much about her little hungry belly!

We expect her to put her clothes from the day in the dirty clothes hamper.  Phew! Unlike mealtime expectations, this one is super easy and something that she loves doing.  It’s not like it makes my life so much easier or would be so hard for me to do, but we are trying to instill in her a sense of everything has a place and goes into that place when you’re done with it.

I let her help me with a meal or a special baking project at least once a week.  It’s always messier and always more time consuming, but I really want her to grow up knowing how to cook and make things for herself.  We are still years away from that, but you have to start somewhere, right?  Right now her skill set includes knowing how to crack an egg (we say, “soft, soft, hard!” as she taps it on a glass bowl or countertop) and how to stir ingredients and keep them in the bowl, which, thank goodness, she has gotten a lot better at.  Meanwhile I’m working on not vocalizing any kind of distress over the mess and not micromanaging the situation too much.  I want her to think cooking is fun, after all, and actually want to do it.

A huge, huge part of this whole toddler responsibility topic is just me being patient and not being in such a hurry that I end up doing things for her because it’s faster and easier.  Which also means allowing more time in the morning, more time to get out the door in general, and more time transitioning from one thing to the next.  I’m not sure how helpful this topic was for you, but it’s actually been super helpful for me to just type it out a re-commit to some of these things.

How old are your kids and what are your expectations of them?  How do you motivate them? Are there incentives like allowance or consequences when they’re not done?

(You can see past topics from our Real Talk Series here.)

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  1. Anonymous


    I agree with having young children doing chores, even toddlers because it teaches them to get used to doing chores. TEACHING toddlers and PRESCHOOLERS HOW TO DO CHORES IS A LOT MORE WORK IN THE SHORT TERM, BUT IN THE LONG RUN, THE BENEFITS ARE ABSOLUTELY AMAZING! Yes, it might mean having to wait an extra 10 to 15 minutes, maybe even a half an hour to watch your little one put on their shoes or fold up their clothes, but this time is absolutely worth it!

    I don’t have any children, but I was a child myself. I remember trying to help my mother fold clothes and she would say that “You don’t know how to do that” in a condescending tone and then she would take over doing it herself. Well of course I didn’t know how to do it- you never taught me, mom! when i started washing the dishes at 11 years old (6th grade), she would say that i was taking too long and take over. Even dad didn’t do the chores right (and now that I am old enough, I do agree with her; he’s a complete slob and him cleaning may actually make things dirtier; he only does outdoor chores.

    because of my mother’s attitude, my younger brother and I grew up never having to do chores. i currently do chores around the house, but my younger brother doesn’t do them- he knows how and his apartment is absolutely immaculate, but when he comes home on break, he says that he doesn’t want to do them here because people make unnecessary messes. for example, he says that when he cooks by himself, the stove is clean and not oily and our dishes are dirtier than they need to be: he says he eats all the food in the bowl including sauce and this makes the dish half-clean and the bottom of the bowl isn’t slimy. i do feel resentful that he doesn’t pitch in and choose one chore- laundry, bathroom, vacuum, sweeping, mopping, trash, etc. it’s always just me and mom, currently only me since mom is sick and has been for over two weeks. I do the dishes twice a day by hand; it usually takes me 20-30 minutes per time, so 40-60 minutes worth of washing dishes because we have a lot of dishes. this includes pots, pans, cleaning the sink, and wiping the counters. Am I slow? (I hate dishwashers as they do not do a good job- always leaves the dishes with soapy residue on them or crusty food which i have to wash half of them again anyways).

    I babysat two kids since they were babies and one thing that greatly irritated me was that the kids are picky eaters mainly because their mom feeds them absolute trash food because mom hates healthy food herself- mac & cheese, chicken nuggets, chips, cookies, sweets. They refuse to eat vegetables. they don’t want to eat what is served and will whine when a little parsley flake is on their rice or one little kernel of corn is on their noodles. That’s something that i know that i am not going to put up with. This problem started in infancy. this is not about being controlling and forcing a child to eat the food that they HATE the most. when a kid can only eat a couple items (nuggets, mac & cheese, sweets, junk food), this becomes an issue of neglect- they are going to have weight issues later in life.

    ha! I took away the candy in our house, so now when the kids come over there is no candy. celery sticks, carrots, and fresh bell peppers are the go-to snacks here as well as fruit, but they always refuse vegetables. I wish they would stay in my house for a month to teach them that healthy food does taste good, especially when you aren’t eating junk all the time. They think DORITOS chips are too plain if it isn’t covered in greasy cheese. 🙂

    Also, sometimes they will say that they are hungry, eat one bite, and say they are done and full. If I make a bag of popcorn, they will eat 5 kernels and say they are full. in order to prevent food waste, I try to give them really small portion sizes, but this means that I am the waitress during meal times- microwaving one more bite of food, refilling their milk cup with 1/8th to 1/4th cup of milk etc.

    these are actually great kids, but the food issue is so, so annoying, so annoying that I know this problem will be nipped in the bud when I have kids own. I will not tolerate picky eaters! The rule will be that outside of meal times the only food available will be easy snacks that are healthy so only truly hungry kids will ask for a snack! (carrots, bell peppers, fruit).

    Does anyone have a way to solve this food issue especially since they ain’t my kids? Even their mom comes over and sees our refrigerator and says that “it’s too healthy.”

    • Anonymous


      sorry for the caps- i didn’t know the text was in caps because the font in the comment textbox is all in caps. not sure how that happened.

  2. Candice


    i enjoyed reading this post – it’s always easier to reflect on someone else’s experience! while our baby is just 7 months old, we’re always surprised at how much he understands. i don’t read traditional mom blogs, but i did read ‘bringing up bebe’ and loved how she teaches her daughter to make cake from such a young age. it really is all about expectations. and i think your insight on living life slower is the key.

  3. Kate m


    We do pretty much the same as you listed above with our 2 and 4 yr olds. With dinner, we make them ask to be excused and bring their plate and silverware to the counter. Our 4yr old also helps with vacuuming. They are also responsible for picking up their playroom once a day, either my husband or I will supervise/enforce and it takes FOREVER….Hence once a day.

    • Anonymous


      I’m not sure how long “FOREVER” is to you, but one idea to hasten clean up is to require that toys be picked up within a time frame. For example, you could require that toys be picked up in 30 minutes and that if they are not put away, any toys left not picked up get taken away for the next day. Your 4 year old is definitely old enough to understand, but your 2 year old may be a little young to understand. I would still take them away regardless. If you disagree with it, you don’t have to do it; this is just an idea. 🙂

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