Very early in life children learn their actions, (e.g. crying, smiling), have an impact on the world and those around them. They also possess an inborn desire to assist others and affect their world. As toddlers, they imitate the actions of adults.
They want to help and try very hard to do things for themselves. So what changes that helpful child who attempts tasks far above her abilities into a helpless 12 year- old who must be coaxed to pick up her socks? We do! Oftentimes we feel we expect too much (“They’re just children!”). Or it would just be easier to do the job ourselves. However, there comes a time we need the help of our children. In our fast-paced society, where the majority of moms and dads work outside the home, it becomes a necessity for our children to help keep the household going. In addition, as children learn to take care of themselves and help others, their own sense of self-esteem and confidence increases.
So what can we do to keep the desire to contribute alive and well in our children?
- First, we should begin by giving our children developmentally appropriate tasks. As soon as children can walk they can learn to help pick up their toys. Pre-schoolers can put their clothes in the hamper, set the table, or make their beds. School-aged children can do almost any household task that is not physically hazardous.
- To ensure that our children get the correct message say, “When you pick up your things it really helps mom and me!” Phrases such as these let our children know they are needed and are a vital part of the family team. It also conveys a sense of trust, nurtures responsibility and caring, and enhances motivation and self-esteem.
- We must model the behaviors we wish to instill in our children.
If we expect our children to pick up after themselves, we must set the example. Let them see us helping our neighbors and friends also. This takes the value of helping others to a much broader level.
- Give ample praise for a job well done and for a task that is attempted with sincerity. If we criticize our children’s fledgling efforts to perform a chore, they will be reluctant to comply in the future. Hearing constant nagging and disapproval is no motivation to try again.
- You may have to redo parts of a job until they get it right. However, don’t let your child see you go back over a chore they have just finished.
- Teach your children how to be organized. Help them to see that they can reduce their workload by putting things where they belong, combining tasks, (e.g. set the breakfast table while putting away the supper dishes), and learning to use clocks, calendars and lists.
Spend time with your children as a reward for accomplishing their chores. This motivates them to help so that everyone can enjoy more leisure time activities.