Getting chores done with toddlers at play

Father of three, Chris Pavey, shares his techniques to still get chores done around the house and not miss out on all the fun!

Completing even the simplest of chores is a challenge when you have toddlers about. So attempting larger jobs like vacuuming, washing the car or even some much needed home maintenance can seem like climbing Everest.

Here are four ways that have helped me get things done, and even propelled me through some of those larger tasks.

Make a list

Putting pen to paper and making a list can help you get a sense of what you’ve got to get through; what’s big and will take some time and planning, what’s small and something you might be able to knock off in an hour or so, and what’s the highest in priority.

My list is longer than my arm, but having the tasks written down has helped me knock off smaller jobs when a spare minute has presented itself - a little touch-up paint to the carport during a spare hour on a Sunday afternoon or a quick mow of the lawn while the kids are busy having lunch. And I’ve been able to plan for the larger jobs, like painting, chipping away at them over a number of weekends: purchasing paint one week, sanding the palings the next, then painting a few weeks after that.

When a job is complete, make sure you cross it off the list, as it can give some great satisfaction. Better yet, get the kids involved and let them cross it off for you!

Include the kids

Wherever possible, include the kids in some of your work. If you’re washing the car, get them scrubbing, holding the hose (make sure you’ve got your swimmers on!), and helping with the sponge. If you’re vacuuming, have them clean up the toys just before you run right over them. If you can make it fun, the job may not seem like such a chore.

Most recently, I’ve been painting some wooden posts and paneling out the front of our property, so I got the kids out there staining with me. The excitement was almost too much for them the night before. They couldn’t wait to get started! It meant a little extra preparation on my part because I knew it was going to get messy and it took a little longer to complete, but it was also a lot more fun. 

The kids still point out to everyone that those posts are theirs - they painted them!
Little boy playing with mop

Arrange some help

No matter how exciting the job at hand is, be prepared for the kids to lose interest. They’re kids after all. Try to have someone - a partner, a friend or a relative - on standby to entertain the little ones after the novelty wears off. That way you’re more likely to get the job done and the kids are less likely to view the task as a chore. They may interfere with your work from time to time, but if your helper can get the kids playing in a safe spot close by, it can be a great way for them to keep tabs on you and your progress and for you to feel like you’re still a part of their day and their playtime.

Be sure to pay back the favour if appropriate. Provide your helper some free time of their own to complete one of the tasks on their list while you look after the kids. Swapping things around can keep things interesting for the kids, and for you!

Set realistic expectations

Take some pressure off yourself by setting realistic goals. The list may be long, but your deadlines don’t have to be aggressive. 

I tackle no more than one or two small jobs, or part of a larger job, each weekend. With three toddlers, that’s all I can manage. And I only manage that when we don’t have too much on socially. If we do, I push it back to the following week.

For larger jobs, see if you can break them down into a few smaller tasks that you can complete over a couple of weeks. An approach that works well for me is an initial preparation session with the kids where I figure out what I’ll need to do and what I’m going to need to purchase, then a trip to the local hardware store to get supplies (my kids love this!), and finally a couple of work sessions to get the job done.

Above all, try to keep these tasks in perspective. It’s not the end of the world if the deck isn’t sanded in one weekend or the posts are painted this week or next. Your children will be all grown up in a blink of an eye, and you’ll probably find you’ll have more time as they get older. Try chipping away at what you can while they’re young and, where possible, make it a family affair and a bit of fun for all concerned.
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