25 Chores Your 2-4 Year-Old Should Be Doing (And How To Get Him/Her To Work)
Curious what chores your toddler or preschooler can do? Here are some tips!
I have two boys, ages four and two. They’re wonderful, and I love them immensely. But a few weeks ago, I had a phone conversation with my mom that went like this:
Me: Mom, I seriously need help. I do not know what to do with these kids. They’re being so naughty.
Mom: What are they doing exactly?
Me: Oh, they’re being awful! They don’t listen! They fight with each other! They take forever to do anything I ask!
Mom: Hmm. Do they have any chores? I think they need some jobs.
I didn’t say it, but here’s what I was thinking: Jobs? How are chores going to help? They already don’t listen; how am I going to wrangle them into doing work, which they’re not going to like?
Though the two seemed unrelated (chores and behavior), slowly I began to see her point.
What my kids were really missing was structure, self-discipline and (not to be minimized) purposeful work.
After all, kids aren’t any different from us! They don’t need the life we think they need . No, they need something meaningful to do, they need to be busy and they need to feel proud of the work they’ve done.
I know some of you veteran moms are shaking your heads, thinking, of course! How could anyone not realize how important chores are?! What mom doesn’t have her kids doing chores?!
Well, not that I need one, but here’s my defense.
- I’m 12 weeks pregnant. Praise the Lord, but remember that? Remember those days? Chores aren’t the only thing that’s been ignored for a while. Sigh.
- Sometimes you just don’t realize how old your kids have gotten! Those first days home from the hospital are a blur; we have to do everything for them! And then they grow up, but we often don’t realize how big they are and how much they can do!
Well, I tentatively gave my mom’s chore system a try, and wouldn’t you know it? The kids started behaving better! They were more pleasant, more obedient and, somehow, there was less overall chaos in our home.
Less, I said. Still some chaos.
So, what do I have them doing? What chores can little ones do? First, here are some guidelines as we implement chores for our kids.
Guidelines for Chores:
Exaggerate what a “good job” you’re doing. If you’re showing them how to wipe the table, scrub every little piece of food off. Be energetic, upbeat and show them exactly what’s expected.
- Always be very positive. Cheer them on (and on and on). Reward their behavior. Tell Dad when he comes home all the jobs they did. It’s so cute to see their little faces swell with pride over their work!
- Don’t use chores and work as punishment. If my children are being rambunctious and rowdy, will I give them a job? Yes. But I’ll try to act upbeat and excited about the work they get to do, not act like it’s a punishment.
- You can “make up” jobs. Maybe the cabinets don’t really need wiping. That’s okay. Maybe you even spread a pile of sticks in the yard for them to pick up for an outside job. That’s fine, too. The work is the end goal here.
- Know that in the beginning, kids working creates more work for you. But it’s so worth it!
Now, what chores should young children be expected to do? Here are some suggestions. Note: This is a basic outline. Some young children might need a little help, and some older children can do more.
Personal Care Chores
- Brush teeth – the right way! All over! Then put toothbrush away.
- Put shoes, hat, or jacket in appropriate place. (Hint to mom: Do these things have appropriate places? Make it easy for everyone to keep everything clean!)
- Clean up whatever mess they’ve made. This is very important, and I tend to overlook it because we’re often in a hurry to get to the next project/errand/meal. If they’ve done a puzzle, they need to put it away. If they’ve been reading, put the books back, etc.
- Put pajamas with dirty clothes.
- Make bed – This may require some tutorials! Be positive and excited. What a grown-up job they can do!
- Bring out water glass/water bottle.
- Get dressed – For a younger child, perhaps they can simply retrieve items of clothing. Also, you can lay out the clothes the night before if that’s helpful.
- Before: Set the table (minus the knives and water glasses).
- Before: Fill up water bottles or glasses.
- After: Carry their bowls to the counter (my kids know that plastic/metal can be set gently in the sink, but glass goes on the counter.)
- After: Wipe down the table (for taller kids) or the chairs (for smaller kids) with wet washcloths.
- After: Use a small dustpan and broom to sweep under the table. (I found a few sets at the Dollar Store.)
Note: Kids can work outside even on cold days (not extremely cold, obviously). If it’s very cold, we bundle out for very brief chores. Rainy, we wear rain gear. They actually love it!
- Sweep the porch.
- Collect small sticks from the yard.
- Rake or pick up leaves.
- Wipe windows or doors from the outside.
- Collect pieces of trash or toys from yard.
- Weed flowerbeds or gardens.
- Wash cars or outdoor toys.
- Care for pets.
- Dust furniture.
- Clean windows.
- Wipe down kitchen cabinets and refrigerator.
- Wipe down blinds.
- Fold laundry. Most kids can with a little practice fold washcloths, napkins, and small shirts, and mate socks.
So, what’s the best way to begin (or improve) a chore system for little ones? Two things helped us make this a positive experience (and not a drain!).
- Enlist Dad’s help. As you present the jobs (especially if you have little boys) have Dad explain how proud he is that they are growing up so big, and that he has some big work for them to do while he’s gone. This makes it seem more important!
- Use a reward system. Do I mean giving a treat for every chore? No. What I started rewarding was good attitudes and first-time obedience. (Not just with chores, but all during the day.) If the boys were cooperative and respectful, and obeyed when I asked them to do something, they got a sticker. When we made a “tower of stickers” we had a family movie night with popcorn and cookies in Mom and Dad’s bed.
This was a great way to encourage their obedience with chores and more!
Need some encouragement?
If you haven’t been making your kids work much, it can seem overwhelming to change. I’ll be honest with you. When I started thinking about making a chore chart, and a good behavior program, and teaching them over and over to do these jobs…I got really tired. (Maybe that’s pregnant me talking again.)
It’s true – it’s a lot of work to teach little ones to work.
But the thing I kept coming back to was, yes, this is a lot of work, but isn’t this what being a parent is about? Isn’t this more important than rushing to this or that errand, than me getting “my work done”? What’s more important than building character, one tiny plastic dinosaur at a time?
If you had a Facebook “Share” button (vs. the “like” button) it would be easier to share this on my friends’ walls directly from your page. I always prefer the “share” button because I belong to a lot of groups and I can easily share the article with them with the share button… (just a tip to maybe get more exposure). Thanks for the article!
Great article and I wholly agree! Our 2 1/2 year old does most of this stuff (sans filling water cups!) and actually gets mad if we don’t let him do it. I would add that helping with laundry is not only productive, but it keeps him busy while I do something else. Our laundry is in the kitchen and he puts his step stool up against the washer and puts all the laundry in the washer… one item at a time, making sure each one gets wet. This gives me time to put some dishes away or sweep the floor or something else. He also helps load and unload the dryer (and of course he pushes the start button. That is the best part). Another thing he “helps” with is the dishes. Same step stool. It falls under the heading of “more work for you at first” but its good time together and he knows all about what is sharp, and how to set things gentle in the sink, and he even just graduated to his own sponge to wash with. We are now working on only squeezing it out over the sink.
Last suggestion, his only official “chore” is feeding the cat. One scoop and he gets to decide if he is going to do it or not. He gets a nickle in his piggy bank on days that he does it. His piggy bank money will start being his spending money for yard sales and such this summer. Its never to early to start teaching your kids about money management!
So from my limited experience, I completely endorse giving your kids work!
I have one (daughter, no boys), and she is almost 8 now. Sometimes I think that it’s harder with just one, because, in addition to all the mommy stuff, you have to be a playmate too! But that’s beside the point. It has always helped her attitude (and mine) when she helps with chores (and now it gives us more play time!). As soon as she was tall enough to see into the drawer, she began putting the silverware away out of the dishwasher. At first I would have to rearrange them (after she had gone on her way), but now she unloads everything that she can safely reach their places. She has many more chores now, but starting very young and adding them a little at a time is very good advice!
Some other good chores are
a) wiping dishes – great way to have one-on-one time with the parent that’s washing
b) helping make meals – a 4 yr. old can peel carrots with a peeler, mix batter with a spoon, spread peanut butter on bread, roll cookie dough into balls, etc.
c) sort laundry onto piles – colors, whites, towels – of course, Parent will need to double check
d) retrieving the mail or newspaper
e) picking up litter from the yard (we live in an urban area so there’s always trash around)
f) help take care of pets by scooping out the food into the dish or brushing the dog’s hair
g) And my mom’s claim to fame was having us pick up our toys as part of our bedtime routine.
Yes! I am also pregnant… and about a month ago, I said to myself “why am I putting away the kids’ clean laundry by myself? I barely have the energy to put away my own!” Well, that decided it. My 3-year-old and 5-year-old now sort through the clean laundry and put it away. I’ve told them I am willing to help but will not do it for them. Obviously, the 3-year-old needs more help, but it’s made this job much easier!
I’ve practiced the “clean up your messes” since each kid was old enough to enjoy putting things in bins or boxes (usually around 10-12 months). Now it’s second nature – if mom says “you need to clean up that toy”, it goes right back into its box or bin and back where it belongs (well, most of the time). We also have a stash of rags that they can grab for cleaning up liquid spills.
My little guy (2 years) loves spraying the cabinets with water and wiping them down, and I’ve just started having him put silverware around the table for supper. It’s a great way to keep him distracted when he’s so grumpy and ready to eat but I’m not ready for him to eat for 5 more minutes 🙂 I like how you pointed out that when they have meaningful, purposeful work to do it helps out in other areas of their behavior. I’ll try to keep it up! 🙂
Great list! My 2 1/2 year old loves to help with chores. It’s never to early to instill a good work ethic and heart of servanthood in our children. 🙂
This was so great! Thanks for sharing- and from a real life, non-judgemental position! It’s so true that as your kids grow, you sometimes just don’t know what they are capable of and forget that you need to keep pushing them to develop their skills as character. And, oddly enough, I never associated my 2.5 year olds craziness with not doing enough chores, but that is so true!!! Whenever he is with me doing some sort of chore or helping me around the house, he is always so much more obedient and less crazy lol! Thanks again, this came just at the right time for me 🙂
I am printing this list! I feel like you.. My boys are 3 and 5 and it’s the same here. My mom brought my attention to your post and I totally have to get on it. I have been thinking about chores, but feel like it’s SO much work.. But then its true, it’s worth it. The little bit of chores the boys DO do fill them with such joy.
Today my oldest spilled my daughters (she’s 10 months) cheerios all over the floor by accident, then was TOTALLY willing to clean it all up. Normally, I would grab the broom and get to work, but this time I let him completely do it himself. I was surprised by such a great job.. It is amazing what this age can accomplish. 🙂
I have three boys – 7, 5 and 3 – and have found that the greatest thing about chores is the formation of a habit. They won’t even think of coming downstairs undressed in the morning or turning on the iPad for movie time without putting on PJs, brushing their teeth and picking up the living room. Now we’re working on not walking away from the table without putting the dishes in the sink. But once it’s a habit there is no fight about it. They just DO it. The four weeks or so of constant reminders end up being worth it!
I’ve allowed my kids to earn $1/day for being good helpers. Then when they want swimming lessons or to play a sport I have them pay for half of it. That way they also learn to save and to pay for things they want to do.
Whenever I think of chores I end up thinking about Tom Sawyer turning painting the fence into a reward 🙂 and try to bring that feeling into chores with my kids. For instance, they beg to wash the kitchen cabinets because we use dish soap with a bit of food coloring in it and they “paint” pictures on the cabinets first and then wipe them clean. Love when chores can be both fun and give them the satisfaction of a job well done!
One that always needed done and my daughter loved to do was wipe down the handrail on the stairs. It is wooden and painted white, so she could actually see the stuff come off of it!
Don’t forget the best chores ever: letting children help take care of each other. A 2 year old can fetch diapers, wipes, and pacifiers for the baby you are in the middle of changing. Potty training can also be a job for a toddler, and one that really benefits the entire family when done well. Older children can help with that by “reading” stories to the child on the potty or playing in ways that keep the trainee sitting until done. Picking up towels from the bathroom and giving them to Dad to put in the wash is also a good job.
My son had his daughter help wash the car starting about 3 years old. She had her own bucket and sponge and was in charge of wheel rims, hub caps and bumpers.
This is a wonderful post. Another chore taller kids can do is use vinegar-water and a rag or alcohol swabs to disinfect door knobs, light switches, faucet handles, etc, and then wash their hands afterwards.
Not a veteran mom, but I have started giving my 20 month old some little jobs in the last month or two. He wipes his tray after eating (we’ve been doing this for several months), puts his dirty laundry in the basket, and helps throw garbage and recycling in the appropriate cans. He also helps pick up his toys, blocks, and books at the end of the day. When he started showing an interest in helping, I tried to encourage it by finding things for him to do. His newest interest is “helping” me cook in the kitchen (which usually involves a whisk, spoon, and bowl of water or oats).
I have found that the easiest way to get kids to be responsible, is to be a good example of it myself, and to make my routines obvious to them, from age 1. They watch what we do, and our routines will become theirs. It is much easier to start good work ethics in children, when they are very young. Don’t be afraid to let your little ones join in on all your chores during the day. You just finished up what they were not capable of doing, but usually partnering up with them is the best way to make sure it gets done right the first time, and it’s easier to mentor. Iwish I had realized this when my oldest was tiny. She is 8 now. She is getting better at being responsible and a hard worker, but her 3 year old sister sometimes shows it more than she does. Work is so important, and it can bring a lot of satisfaction and joy! Mommy to an 8, 6,3,and 1 year old.
This is good motivation for me! My two-year-old is already a good helper (or thinks she is, as she keeps me company while I work), and I need to start teaching my one-year-old how to put toys in the basket when we’re cleaning up. You gave me a few ideas to try with my two-year-old that I hadn’t thought of before. Thanks!
My 3 year old loves to get the fresh garbage bag, shake it out and put it in the empty trash can. Yesterday I gave her a dust pan and she helped me shovel snow. She loves to help me put wet clothes in the dryer. I hand them to her and she puts them in and then pushes the button to start it. She can feed the dogs and put away their dishes. Just ask them, they love to help!
I started a game with exactly this purpose in mind. It’s a roleplaying game with which your kids can pretend to be Firefighters, Police, even Royalty or Superheroes. Their character’s strengths are determined by how they themselves handle chores and acting well-behaved in the real world. In other words, they earn points for doing chores and handling themselves properly, and those points aid them in the pretend world where their persona can do amazing things when they play a structured form of make-believe.
I unfortunately never got funded (Kickstarter) so I’ve had to delay my efforts on the book, but it’s right in line with your recommendations here, so you may want to have a look. 🙂
When mine were as young as two, even up to four or five years, I would have them sort the silverware into the silver tray from the dishwasher. It also helped with matching and motor skills.
Especially in extremely cold weather, when lots of indoor time is unavoidable, it’s so helpful for my attitude to look at this as world exploration for them. When my three-year-old sweeps so slowly under his chair after a meal, and he stops to bend the bristles this way and that, he’s observing physical properties that deepen his education. These chore processes take a lot of time and are very hands-on for me as their trainer – but this is quality time! And it’s play for them at this age. They really enjoy it and want to be helpers – want to do things “by myself,” and get that feeling of mastery. I’m following the Charlotte Mason habit formation plan, beginning training on a new habit each six weeks, while not letting the previous chore habit go undone. So far we’ve added daily bedroom cleanup including inspection followed immediately by one downstairs task, like dusting a certain piece of furniture, washing walls and doors, spot mopping floors, vacuuming with hand tools – and we’ve added before-bed straightening of the living room, each assigned a particular measurable role, and sweeping under own chair after each meal or snack. To remain consistent with these is a major training of mom, who is often way too tired to see them through but does it anyway. With four little ones, we can’t afford to let these habits slide, or we will be knee deep most of the time! Spontaneous jobs that they love and beg to help with: recipe assembly, especially pizza and pancakes, putting away clean flatwear and clothing, helping load the dishwasher, and believe it or not wash the garbage can…. All of these take longer with their help, but the learning and togetherness are an investment that make me see my sometimes necessary hurry as a loss. Incidentally, even with all these daily and spontaneous chores, my three- and four-year-old boys have also recently discovered work for pay and are asking for extra jobs in order to earn money – an intellectual challenge for me to find more age-appropriate tasks!
At about age 1 and 1/2 I started having my LO help with laundry. She is 3 yrs old now. She can now put dirty laundry into the washer. I put the detergent in. She pushes the start button. She can load the clothes from the washer to the dryer. And her favorite part is unloading warm clothes from the dryer. One day she came to me and said she did laundry for me. (I was thinking uh-oh). She had put dirty clothes into the dryer and had it running. 🙂 I just said thank you so much sweety and quickly switched the clothe into the washer. She also knows that when her clothes are in the dryer that she is responsible for taking them out and putting them in her dresser. Right now – I don’t care about folding it. She knows which clothes go in what drawers- it’s a fun game for her. And you are right – she LOVES knowing she is needed and feels a sense of responsibility and belonging and loves to get praised for a job well done. 🙂 And whenever I do dishes – it’s, “Mama, I want to help you!” And I just release my desire to get it done quickly and let her ‘help’. I know that this will pay off in the end. She will be a responsible young lady who is a positive contributing member of society one day if I just keep letting her help. 🙂
Thanks for sharing this–I needed some ideas for my 2 year-old.
Collect small trash. Like in the bathrooms and bedrooms. Also shake out small rugs
I am 52 years old, and posted this sheet for myself to use….we are never to old to learn!
This article is very encouraging. Thank you for sharing. I have two toddlers (2.5 and 5.5 years old) and they definitely need chores to keep them occupied. Washing their bike is the first task that they need to do this weekend.
Excellent -thank you for sharing! This is a great reminder and now that spring is in the air it seems a perfect time to renew the chore list and the sticker system – amazing what kids will do to earn a sticker :o)
I was looking on your site to get ideas for my grandson. When my daughters were young I had a special large bowl filled with chores,each one would pick 3 to do but not only was there just chores but notes they may get saying 10 minutes of break time,or you get to pick a fun snack, or sing a song, tell a joke, or do a dance. My kids never complained on chore day and we all had fun cleaning together. Thanks for your ideas.
This list is helpful! Will be passing along to my husband as he is the SAHP.
I love this idea, definitely going to try. What do you guys do about tantrums? I know some people use stars as rewards for prizes do you take stars away?