As I was talking recipes on the phone with my daughter, she was laughingly coaxing her 20 month old son to let go of her leg while cooking. So I shared my tips for toddlers in the kitchen that I had used when she and her siblings were little. It’s important that even toddlers feel helpful and included and as they get older they will actually be a help. You need to put the time in now and it’s almost all one way. I do think you get paid back in hugs and smiles. Then later they are a little help and at about age 10 or so it pays back in big dividends.
Their Own Place in the Kitchen
Have them their own cupboard for their dishes and Tupperware. I had small plastic or unbreakable dishware so that they could get their own dishes out. I also had a Tupperware ( mismatched) cabinet for them with wooden spoons so they could mix too. One child had a habit of crawling into it and playing in the cabinet instead of the Tupperware.
If They Can Get It Out, They Can Put It Away, with Help
Also, if they are old enough to get it out, they are old enough to put it back. Now please realize they are not actually just going to put it back. It is you getting on the floor with them and taking their little hand and showing them piece by piece how to put it back. Yes it will be incredibly faster if you do it yourself. However time spent investing teaching them will return many times over. Not only will they learn to be a help to you they will become wonderful self sufficient adults.
It Takes Longer
Add more time. For each child I added 15 minutes to whatever I was doing per child. That way they don’t think hurry up is your favorite phrase. You have time to enjoy the activity with them if you’re not thinking how far behind you are. When they are totally able to get themselves ready then you can subtract that 15 minutes.
High chair time. If you are working on the stove and can’t have them near, use the high chair. I’ve given them pudding to “paint” with on their chair. Remember, if they still put things in their mouth, then everything needs to be safe and edible. Edible play dough is great. 1/3 nut butter, 1/3 honey. 1/3 powdered milk. Put in a container and keep in the fridge. I’ve given them tape before rolled so it’s sticky on both sides and they move it from one hand to another. Some days the cost of a half roll of tape is worth 10 minutes. They can string cheerios on a spaghetti noodle or a piece of licorice.
Let them copy whatever you’re doing. When I made biscuits or bread I gave them part of the dough to make their own mini loaf. Give them a bowl to stir or let them help. They can help put toppings on pizza or sandwiches. As they get older you can give them a lettuce knife to help cut lettuce, cheese, pb sandwiches, etc.
Close to You
Keep them near you. Young children are happier when they can be close to you. They are happier and learn work is normal. We’ve taught them phrases such as “We love to help, We work before we play.” Teaching them to work at a young age is so much easier than breaking bad habits of sitting in front of the tv as a baby sitter and then changing that pattern later.
When my little girls were 2 and 3, they so badly wanted to wash dishes. Now I had let them once before and I knew what a mess they had made. Everything was wet, the floor, counters and most of all them. But I didn’t want to discourage them so came up with a creative solution. Trash bags. I cut out holes for their head and arms and it kept them dry. Look for creative ideas that can help you in ways to engage your toddlers.
Make it Fun and Purposeful
If you make work fun, it doesn’t seem as much like work. Don’t complain about the work you have to do. It is a privilege to be able to care for your family. I know in the past years when I couldn’t do as much I missed it. Sing while you work. Pray for whom you’re doing it for. I know when I fold clothes I pray for the person I’m folding. I told them when they were little we’re making this to bless daddy, he works so hard for us. Or if it was a special dish. this is Sam’s favorite. If someone was down, let’s cheer them up and help them. Everyone has to work so it might as well be fun, plus they learn to bless others.
Engage them. I would talk to my children while we cooked. We would sing and I would teach them songs. I’ve keep scripture cards or song lyrics on the inside of my cupboards and would work on memorizing them and so would they. Children learn memorization at a faster rate so don’t get discouraged if they learn it faster than you. I had a board book when they were younger that had a short verse for each letter. Instead of A is for apple it was A- All have sinned. It was amazing how fast they picked up on it.
Be Mindful of Where You’re Taking Them
As you’re putting these tips for toddlers in the kitchen in place think about where you’re going. You are training their habits while they are young. These are the same habits they will have later. Now if they have bad habits as toddlers, they can be retrained as younger children. I know, I’ve done it. But it takes a lot more work. Get in the habit of starting with them as toddlers and working together. As they get older children will share a lot of things on their hearts while working side by side. But you have to put the time in first.
Please remember these years are fleeting but the memories are forever. They really do go fast. I know when mine were little I was told how quickly it goes. With many little ones I really didn’t believe it and it really really didn’t feel like. But time passes and they grow up. Enjoy them.
I hope these tips for toddlers in the kitchen have helped you. Let me know which one is your favorite or another tip you have.