Let your child be “big!” (task ideas for toddlers)

My son Wade wants you to know something. He wants you to know he is BIG. He wants you to know he DOES things. And that he does some of the same things mommy and daddy do. Has your child declared the same statement? A child’s heart clamors I’m small – but I matter – and I can do things like you!

Children want to be big. They want to grow up and do big things. They want to do what Mommy, Daddy, Grandma, Grandpa do. Your child may complete a simple enough action in your eyes, but he or she thinks “I just did what Mommy and Daddy do!” Pride is most evident on my son’s face after completion of a task. He wipes a counter, sweeps up food or empties the trashcans. Once I even saw his toddler chest puff with pride.

But what sets a chore or task apart from other “play”?

Some parents believe chores to be cruel, or the fruit of a “my-child-shall-wait-on-me” mentality, especially at a young age.

The truth is – chores and tasks give your child a sense of value and competency. They communicate that he or she is needed in the family unit and that what he or she does matters.

At the heart of even a young child is this desire to matter. Expecting and offering your child ways to engage through task is a way to grow self-worth and competency. And that gift lasts a lifetime!

Children want their family to be proud of them so they can feel proud of themselves. Giving chores and tasks, even to the littlest children, is an excellent way to cultivate confidence.

Not giving your child tasks or chores robs them of a crucial opportunity for character development.

Most parents think children need tasks or chores eventually, like when they’re in high school. But what about an 18 month old or a 3 year old? What can they do?

Well, as I found out, much more than you think!

Giving your child tasks may seem like more work for you. But it can be easy. Just remember to:

  1. Give simple tasks, even one step in a series of actions works great. The simpler the better.
  2. Keep your expectations few and flexible. Your child has a limited attention span and skill set. The point is involvement, not perfection. Don’t get frustrated when something isn’t done as you like. Learning new skills and gaining confidence is more important than creating perfectly folded stacks of laundry.
  3. Tasks for little children can be life skills, like washing clothes.

Here are some simple ideas from our home that work for a variety of young ages.


  • put laundry in washer/dryer (works especially great with front loaders)
  • fold towels or wash cloths
  • move clothes from drying rack to basket
  • put shoes in a special spot
  • get dressed, or pull shirt on/off head if very little

    get that washer going!

    get that washer going!

General Cleaning

  • return items to a drawer or cabinet
  • dust with rag or dusting wand
  • sweep/dust floor with small dust pan and broom
  • dust-buster sweeping
  • sweep open floor areas with big sweeper
  • swiffer or dust mop
  • sweep/pick up food from floor after meals
  • wipe counters with towel/rag
  • empty trash from rooms into one large can or bag (at 18 mos my son empties all the house trashcans into one big one for daddy to take to garage – and he loves this “responsibility”)
    wade's weekly trash chore

    wade’s weekly trash chore

    wade's first test run of the swiffer months back

    wade’s first test run of the swiffer months back


  • set table, plates and silverware
  • take unbreakable plates to dishwasher
  • load dishwasher or scrap plates in sink
  • stir eggs or batter
  • place fries or potatoes on baking sheet
  • place ingredients in a bowl or processor
  • chop or “cut” fruit/vegetables with a handled crinkle cutter
  • turn microwave off/on, press buttons with direction
  • put groceries in fridge, i.e. vegetables in vegetable drawer
    loading up the tots to bake

    loading up the tots to bake

    chopping a banana

    chopping a banana


  • move a sprinkler around the yard
  • carry in the mail, open/shut mailbox
  • water plant
  • rake leaves
  • pull weeds
  • collect sticks
  • fill a bucket or watering can with water
  • open and close garage door via button

    bucket filler

    bucket filler


  • wash/clean toys
  • clean-up/stack toys/books
  • help make bed
  • help wash and rinse his hair in bath
  • dump water out from bath toys, put in basket or bag
  • wash own hands
  • put lotion on body/rub in
  • get a diaper from bin
  • help dry hair with hair-dryer

    dry that hair!

    dry that hair!


  • turn light switches on/off
  • turn water faucets on/off
  • press buttons (with direction) to turn on the washer, dryer
  • open and shut doors
  • your own creative chores!

    washing and rinsing brushes

    washing and rinsing brushes

And most importantly, be creative! Last week my son “played” by helping wash and rinse my makeup brushes. Many tasks can be made fun! And most tasks can be broken into smaller actions a young child can complete independently.

There are some great chore resources and charts online as well. Here is one Montessori list I reference for ideas.


Please share one of your favorite tasks or stories!


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