Toddler With a Mop
By Diane Selkirk
When my daughter Maia was born, I included her in everything. Tucked snuggly into a sling, Maia and I were a team; we shopped, washed dishes, attended lectures and pulled weeds.
Recently, I realized our team had grown out of sync. My toddler was tugging on my arm yelling “Book! Book!” while I pleaded for one more minute to get the dishes done. In desperation, I did what many parents do every day: I turned on the TV. My heart sank as I looked into those vacant eyes staring out of her normally vibrant face. It isn’t that I am completely anti-TV — I simply had a different idea of how parenting my toddler would be.
Just like Mommy
My daughter wants to do what I do, when I am doing it. This is what much of my parenting philosophy is about. I want to be beside my child as she learns to interact with and make sense of the world. Yet here I was, my baby not yet 18 months old, and I was in the kitchen cleaning while she was in another room watching TV.
The next time Maia came into the kitchen, I tried something new. Standing her up on the seat of a chair, I set her in front of the rinse water. Suddenly my whining toddler was happily helping with “dwisses.” I washed them, then she rinsed and put the dishes on the rack. The task sped by with happy chatter.
Parents know that a busy toddler is a happy toddler. While it may take a little more time to incorporate your child into the household routine, there are many pay offs. Learning new skills increases confidence and boosts self-esteem. Doing things together strengthens your bond and increases respect. Parenting expert Dr. William Sears notes that temper tantrums decrease as a child masters skills and channels her energy into useful behavior.
Tasks for a team
It is never too early to start including your child. Begin with tasks that your child has shown an interest in. Maia likes anything that requires water, so she helps to water plants, rinse dishes and wash floors and tables. Many parents suggest routines that include playful songs.
Take a break if your child gets frustrated and don’t worry about how well things are done. Mistakes are part of learning. A toddler’s likes and dislikes are always evolving, and an activity that was enjoyed yesterday may be shunned today, or your toddler may suddenly develop the skills needed to do something she previously couldn’t.
Favorite jobs to do together
Several household activities can be modified to include your child if you pay attention to safety, use common sense and make note of your child’s temperament. Here are some favorite tasks with both parents and toddlers:
• Laundry Toddlers can load and unload front-loading machines. The buttons are always fun to push. Putting laundry away can be a great way to run off some energy. Maia loves to deliver the dishcloths and towels to the kitchen — one at a time. She also knows which drawers her clothes go in and proudly puts them away.
• Dusting Grab a cloth and head off. This is a great way to practice new words as you dust different items.
• Table setting Toddlers seem to have a great sense of order. One parent told me how her son will very carefully set out all the knives, forks, cups and napkins in the correct location, then carefully carry them to the kitchen and load the dishwasher after the meal.
• Vacuuming, sweeping and mopping There are many child-sized mops and brooms available, so your toddler can help out with this, too. Some kids love to vacuum and will happily vacuum a large area while you work nearby.
• Cooking This is another great task to use child-sized toys for. In our house, we have a variety of food fridge magnets and several cupboards of dishes that Maia can use. She “prepares and cooks” her magnets while we make dinner. Some toddlers like to stand on a chair at the counter and use pretend knives to cut food; others stir pots on pretend stoves.
• Gardening Kids are great at pulling weeds, digging holes and watering plants. Prepare for this to get muddy, but it is always a favorite.
• Pet care This is a popular one in my house, and I need to be careful that our cat is not overfed. Start with filling water dishes and serving dry food, and move on from there.
• Tidying up The key with this is making sure that everything has a place and using it consistently. Your toddler will quickly learn where her shoes, coat, toys and books go. When things need putting away, simply put on some favorite music and make a game of getting things put away.
• Shopping Children are good at recognizing things, so make a game of finding items you use regularly. If your child is outside of the cart, he can get non-breakable things off of low shelves and hand them to you.
Become aware of the moments when your toddler is eager to help you out. If you find that you are trying to get something done and that little hand repeatedly tugs at you while she persistently yells for attention, maybe there is a way to include her.
© Diane Selkirk
Diane Selkirk has stories and photos in a variety of magazines including Shared Vision, What’s Up Kids, and Mothering.