Last month, my family decided to have a slow morning. That in and of itself isn’t all that remarkable – none of us, even the toddler, are really morning people, and it takes at least two cups of coffee for me to function. As I moved around the kitchen, my shadow followed. She was eager to help and full of energy, carrying her own cup of milk emblazoned with bright, colorful tigers and repeating everything I say like a tiny parrot. And everything I did, she wanted to be part of, usually by demanding to be “up” with me.
And that’s when I realized it. We’ve officially entered “Mommy’s Little Helper” territory.
When this stage began, I was at a loss. In fact, I’m still at a loss. It’s hard, at least for me, to find the middle ground. What makes her feel like she’s part of the action and actually helping in the kitchen without causing an even bigger mess for me when it’s time to move on to the next chore? What will she be interested in doing that won’t trigger my anxiety over her possibly getting hurt? Is there even such a thing as age-appropriate chores for a 2-year-old?
Spoiler Alert: The answer is yes.
But the more articles I read, the more it seemed apparent that this stage of toddlerhood is a beautiful one. Lots of the articles out there, particularly this one, talk about a toddler’s instinct to help and the importance of cultivating that interest. And so, my focus shifted. Instead of worrying about the mess, do what you can to include her.
If you’re like me and struggle to let go of the reigns, here are three of the baby steps I took, from the kitchen to the playroom. We’re establishing a routine that lets my toddler feel involved – she’s only 23 months now, but seeing the level of understanding and interest she has in actually helping is heartwarming. And if the psychologists say to encourage it, I will. Especially if it means she might be better at cleaning up after herself than her father is…
- Let baby be sous chef safely: Invest in a toddler learning tower.
Okay, this one’s a game-changer.
At first, we used a little plastic stool to let her see the counter, but it required one of us to hold onto her at all times to make sure she didn’t slip and fall. It was functional, sure, but it was a hassle. And it made it feel like involving her was going to be the death of me.
Enter: Facebook Marketplace and a toddler learning tower.
This thing is awesome. When we made pancakes the other morning, she was able to stand in her tower beside me and stir her tiny bowl of flour next to me. She felt involved, and I felt like I could measure ingredients without worrying about serious bodily harm.
Price points are all over for these things, but I recommend keeping an eye on consignment sales. New wasn’t an option for us, price-wise; Ours came used from someone local on Facebook Marketplace and fit our budget that way. She doesn’t care if it’s used or not. She just wants to help!
2. Let your little helper jump in for meal cleanup.
This one’s one of the easier ones. They practice at daycare, so reinforcing it at home is natural. We wipe her face after she eats and then give the damp paper towels to her so that she can get a chance to clean up. And then she’s in charge of wiping her spot down, throwing the paper towels away, and putting her plate on the kitchen counter. Invest in colorful, durable plates (we love these!) and be ready to say over and over again not to touch the trash. We’ve pretty much got this one down unless we spy something “cool” in the trash can.
3. You make the mess. You clean it up.
I heard someone say, once, that lazy parents clean their children’s toys. And this, at first glance, seems like the most backward thing in the world to me. But…there’s truth to it. It’s hard to teach a toddler how to clean up. It’s a lot of repeating yourself, a lot of calling their name, and a lot of redirecting. Oftentimes, these actions are sprinkled in with a tantrum or two. But it is so worth it in the end. The first time they clean up their toys for themselves…*cue Hallelujah chorus*
There are a million other baby steps for chore integration. I’m no expert, but I’m slowly coming around. I’ve seen the light and am ready to start tackling some bigger things. Folding laundry. Sweeping. Pouring milk (even the thought sends my anxiety through the roof!). But these baby steps have been far more successful than I would have envisioned.
And as someone who spends roughly 90% of their time in the kitchen (decorated sugar cookies are my calling), bringing my child into that part of my life is amazing.
Try it. And if you find a task that works amazingly, hit me up. I’m on board with this “Mommy’s Little Helper” stage now.