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Little Helper

When children are toddlers, I think there’s little debate about whether it’s easier to complete certain tasks or chores with the aid of little helpers. Of course, an adult can deftly clean the kitchen after meal prep or fold loads of laundry, or pass a vacuum faster and more efficiently without an almost two year old’s assistance. Even so, I choose not to do these tasks when my daughter is napping or snuggling with her daddy.

Whether it takes double the time and effort, I prefer to include Hazel’s assistance in daily chores. Having her “help,” even if her help isn’t quite right, gives her an opportunity to learn basic household responsibilities. For example, we load and unload the dishwasher once or twice a day. I’ll open the dishwasher, remove anything potential dangerous like sharp knives, then she’ll help by pulling out plates and silverware. She hands me clean plates with an enthusiastic “THANK YOU!” (We’re working on “inside voices,” but that’s a post for another day.) She’ll pass me a wooden spoon. “THANK YOU!” A plastic kid plate. “THANK YOU!” A sippy cup. “THANK YOU!” Sometimes, she’ll speed up and try to hand me items faster than I’ve put them away, so she’ll get particularly insistent, waving the item in her hand chanting “THANK YOU! THANK YOU! THANK YOU!” Like a incantation, her voice rising with every subsequent “THANK YOU!” until my hands are free once again to accept her offering. “You’re welcome,” I reply, modeling an inside voice.

Loading the dishwasher is a little more challenging. She’s learned that items like forks and spoons go in the basket. She’ll haphazardly place plates in ways that use space inefficiently, or place cups right side up instead of upside down in the top rack. Sometimes, I’ll correct her and show her how to do it the proper way (or at least my opinion on the proper way to load a dishwasher). Sometimes, I let her load it her way and shower her with praise when she’s done. I do this because I want her to associate cleaning up and completing tasks with pride. I want her to feel good about helping, not disappointed because she didn’t do it right. There’s a time and place for correction, but at this age and stage, giving her opportunities to practice helping will give her the confidence and desire to continue helping, and as she grows, I’ll model and help her fine tune her efforts.

Sometimes, trying to clean with a little helper doesn’t necessarily involve their participation, but they’ll still require supervision. Yesterday, I cleaned my Chrysler Pacifica with Hazel. She had a great time running through the inside of a car wash. She was fascinated by these sudsy wipes and flaps banging the outside of the car. We drove home and I pulled out the vacuum with its attachments. I freed her from the car seat and allowed her to explore the inside of the car while I cleaned it. I used a Swiffer duster to clean the dashboard, and she played with it after I cleaned, cleaning the air conditioning vents. She helped pick up miscellaneous trash in the car. Mostly, what she did and absolutely loved while I vacuumed the car floor, she sat behind the driver’s seat and pretended the drive. (For the record, the car was off and she couldn’t possibly turn it on so this was safe). She tried to turn the wheel, she pressed on random buttons, and she giggled in joy while I vacuumed beneath her feet. Later on, she curled into a seated position in the floor of the backseat after discovering post-its and a pencil, having a great time scribbling notes to herself. She pulled out sheets of post-its, all with markings. When I finished my part of cleaning up, she collected her notes and stored them away in her room. She didn’t participate nearly as much in cleaning, but she got to watch me clean.

I recognize that as her mother and especially since she and I stay home together all day, she will look to me for how to conduct herself at home and in the world. I have her help to clean up and watch me clean up because I want her to learn that she will be expected to contribute to our household. It goes beyond our household. Modeling basic housecleaning skills at an early age instills a sense of responsibility that transcends the home, that will hopefully make her aware of cleaning up in a societal sense. I want her to clean up after herself in all of her environments because that should be the expectation. In the weekends, we as a family deep clean the house and yard, and both she and Maggie see that home maintenance is a family affair and all members are expected to contribute to the best of their abilities.


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