Toddler Advice: The Case For Letting Your Little One “Help”
Contrary to conventional wisdom, it may seem that toddlers aren’t as self-absorbed as we once thought! Read on for more information on how your toddler may actually be hard-wired to help - and ways to let him help you!
Although it may be easy to assume that toddlers, who spend the majority of their time yelling “Mine!” and “My turn!”, they might not be as self-centered as people think. Prior to recent research, most observations pointed to toddlers being self-absorbed, independent creatures who were hard-wired for protecting their own belongings and wishes. However, several modern researchers have been striving to prove otherwise - that not only are toddlers capable and willing to help those around them, they’re also wired to want to be helpful.
Felix Warneken, a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan, has conducted several experiments that actually prove toddlers are hard-wired to want to help people. Warnekin’s research has spanned over 15 years and was even referenced in the Netflix docuseries Babies. In experiment after experiment, Warneken found that toddlers were willing to help the experimenter retrieve lost objects or objects that were out of reach, and return it to the experimenter without being asked to do so.
So, just how can parents allow their toddlers to help them? Here are some good starting places:
1. Cooking together.
Cooking together can be a wonderful way to bond with your little one and create some wonderful moments as a family! Even young toddlers can get in on the action in the kitchen. Some parents invest in special step stools and ladders (sometimes called “learning towers”) to allow their toddlers to safely climb and stand by the kitchen counter - but always make sure your little one is supervised! A great activity for young toddlers is measuring and pouring. Your child can help assist with scooping and pouring flour, salt, baking mixes, water, oil, chocolate chips, sprinkles, cinnamon, and more! Older toddlers can practice counting skills by reading the marks on a measuring cup or measuring spoon. Toddlers can strengthen their dexterity by pouring, kneading, and stirring carefully. Your little one might enjoy simple recipes such as personal pizzas, blueberry muffins, banana bread, and much more. Preschoolers can assist parents in setting timers, decorating cakes, chopping (with child-safe knives), and cleaning the kitchen after preparing a recipe. Spending more time in the kitchen can be a fun and rewarding way for your child to help you out!
2. Grocery shopping.
Although to many adults, it seems like a chore, grocery shopping can be a fun adventure for toddlers. If you take your little one along with you on your next shopping trip, have them hold the list and cross out items as you find them. You can let your older toddlers search for the items or grab the items off the shelves and place them in the cart. Some young children also enjoy helping push the shopping cart! Once you’re done with the shopping, your child can help you unload items onto the conveyor belt at the register. When you get home, you can give your child a bag of light groceries to carry inside. There are so many ways to help out!
3. Sorting laundry.
This simple skill is a great one for building the foundations of doing laundry! Even little toddlers can help throw clothing into the washing machine or pull clean clothes out of the dryer. Older toddlers can help pour laundry detergent or press the button to start a wash cycle. Once you’ve collected a load of clean clothes, your little one can help you sort through clothing items by type (shirts, socks, pants, jackets, etc), or he can help you match pairs of socks, or he can attempt to help you fold clothing or hang on hangers! This might make the chore more time-consuming, but it will be so rewarding for your toddler to help you.
4. Setting the table.
Don’t just serve your toddler’s food and set it on the high chair - allow your child to actually help serve the meal and set the table! There are many different styles of placemats available online that help teaches children how to properly set the table. There are designated pictures of where the plate, cup, napkin, and silverware should be placed. Older toddlers might want to help serve their plates as well.
5. Cleaning up the playroom.
This is a skill every toddler should master by the time they start preschool. Toddlers should practice cleaning up any toys after they are done playing with them. Buy a toy chest or a set of storage cubes, and help your child keep her toys neat and organized. There should be a special place for each toy or type of toy. You can print labels or pictures of items to go in each spot, so your child can clearly see where to place each of his toys. Make a habit of having “clean-up” time before meals, before naps, and in the evenings before bed. Knowing how to stay organized and keep spaces clean is an essential skill for starting school!
6. Clearing out the trash.
Although you’ll want to keep your toddler away from hazardous materials, especially if she still tends to put random items in her mouth, toddlers may enjoy cleaning up trash. After meals, your little one can help throw away any used napkins or food particles. There are many child-size brooms and dustpans available for toddlers to use as well. Older toddlers might be strong enough to carry out a bag of trash and put it into a large trash container outside, or he can practice getting a clean trash bag and placing it on the trashcan. Older toddlers and preschoolers can help sweep, mop, and vacuum floors as well with some adult assistance!
7. Getting dressed.
One of the hardest skills to master as a toddler is getting dressed. It can be difficult to get arms and legs to go in the right holes and can be hard to zip or button pants. However, learning to dress oneself is a big milestone and can give your toddler a huge sense of accomplishment. You can start small (have your child practice pulling up his shorts) and build from there. Buttons, snaps, and zippers will probably be the hardest to master, but with enough time and practice, your child will be dressing herself in no time! Consider buying a floor-length mirror for your toddler’s bedroom, so she can watch herself in the mirror as she gets dressed. Knowing how to put on and take off clothing is another school readiness skill!
Allowing your toddler to helping you can actually help foster his sense of pride and independence. The more your child assists you in everyday activities, the more self-sufficient and confident he will become!
Parenting is awesome. Sleep is overrated. Every day is an adventure.
Meet Our KeaMommy Contributor: Kaitlyn Torrez
I’m Kaitlyn Torrez, from the San Francisco Bay Area. I live with my husband and two children, Roman and Logan. I’m a former preschool teacher, currently enjoying being a stay at home mom. I love all things writing, coffee, and chocolate. In my free time, I enjoy reading, blogging, and working out.