Toddler Tip: When It Comes to Home Improvement, “Tools” and “Help” May Be Simpler Than You Think

Geek Culture

Some Saturdays I have projects to do around the house and find that dealing with a toddler while getting something done can be pretty difficult. But with simple projects that don’t involve spinning blades or other major hazards, it may be easier to involve your child than you think. You’ll get some quality time with your kid, give them something they can point to with pride (and point to and point to) as something you did together, and actually take less time than managing distractions while working alone.


A walk-through of a very basic project should demonstrate what I mean. We’ll replace the cabinet hardware on a bathroom vanity, a job which in this case meant drilling out some bigger holes to mount them properly, and I’ll point out just how interesting this can be for a toddler, and offer tips for keeping them busy "helping" while you do it.

For this project we needed some new knobs still in their individual packaging, a couple of screwdrivers, an electric drill with about a
1/4" bit, a pair of children’s scissors, and cookies. Lots of cookies.

When you break down tasks into subtasks, there are ones even the very young can perform.  Z was learning to cut at the time and quickly became the official "cutter," removing each knob from its packaging. A child who has mastered safe scissors could even be asked to do this themselves while Dad performs a non-toddler-friendly step.



Z unscrews the old knobs.


Time for more cutting.


Meanwhile, I mark spots for knobs on draws that lacked any previously.


Drilling: Another Dad job.


Z screwed in these knobs, with my help.

This vanity is in the bathroom she uses regularly for potty breaks as well as her morning and evening routine and she pointed out to me for months the "project" we had completed together, swelling with pride every time. That made an impression on me, and I have tried to involve her in any project she seems interested in from that day on. She stands aside and plugs her ears if necessary when I need to use a circular saw or drill and otherwise is very hands-on.

Choreography is key, which I learned while cooking with her and while prepping her to fix her own toys. You need things they can do, even if they are pointless things, that you can claim with a straight face will contribute to the task. While they do those things, as achingly slowly as they do when mastering a new toddler skill, you do the things they can’t do or you don’t want them to try to do, and you see what each of you can get away with. In the end, we get quality time while I get stuff done that has to get done.


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