Discipline techniques: The 2-year-old

June 1, 2009

Parents can take advantage of their toddler's budding self-sufficiency with the concept of chores. This fact can be shared during the 24-month well visit.

Most 2-year-olds already showcase a desire to do everything for themselves. This creates a golden opportunity for an introduction to chores or household work.

What follows is a review on the pros and cons of chores, along with tips on when and how to implement them. We encourage readers to share this information with parents during the 24-month well visit.

There are many reasons why chores are an important tool for parents. Chores help a child learn how to do a job, whether it is as simple as placing a napkin on the dinner table, or as complicated as changing the oil in the car. They offer an opportunity for parents to demonstrate planning skills, ie, what steps are necessary to complete a task. These exchanges help create a sense of camaraderie and sharing between parent and child.

Basic life skills that the child will need for the rest of their life-cleaning, cooking, doing laundry, household maintenance-can also be learned. The better the instruction the parent provides on these subjects when the child is young, the more capable the child will be to accomplish complicated tasks later on.

But as with any behavioral technique, there can be downsides. Parents may often spend too much time emphasizing that the chore be done perfectly. This is especially true for parents of first-born children, since they have more time available to carefully observe the child's work. Case in point: the parents of an only child who has made his bed will often "inspect the bed," and show the child how to straighten the blankets better. By the time the parents have two or three children, they are often just pleased that the child has made their bed, and don't have time to inspect the job the child has done.

Since there are many more benefits to chores other than just learning how to do a job, it's important to tell parents that perfectionism is not the goal.

Building block for success

Chores allow a child to develop a sense of responsibility and accountability, recognizing that the family is depending upon him/her to perform assigned tasks. A small controlled study by the University of Minnesota evaluated 84 young adults to determine predictors of success.1 Surprisingly, the best predictor of a young adult's success was whether he/she had participated in household chores by age 4. If chores were not instituted until adolescence, the positive effects were not seen.1

As tasks are completed, the child also develops a sense of accomplishment, which builds self-esteem. Telling a child, "You're so wonderful," does nothing to develop the child's self-esteem. However, telling the child, "I like how you worked hard and raked up the leaves, since I can see the grass now," allows the child to internalize the parental support and learn that working diligently to accomplish a task leads to tangible and worthwhile results.