Somewhere along this parenting road I heard (or read) that there’s a great window of opportunity to teach kids to be good helpers with life skills when they are young, really young, like 2 to 4 years old young. These are the ages where they get excited over doing new and challenging things that are easy and mundane to us big people. So every so often I do the right thing and include my kids on simple chores like little cooking tasks, laundry, setting the table, but more often than not I forget or decide it’s not worth the bother. It’s just so much easier to do things myself.
But this article, reminded me that the long term benefits greatly outweigh the short term convenience. Fostering independence in a toddler creates a trend that will lead to a confident, independent teen – and into adulthood. It may sound absurd, but I believe it’s true. I know too many stories of overprotective or spoiling parents who sent their kids off to college only to discover their child had little or no coping skills to deal with the new responsibilities of caring for him or herself. Really, if you make all the decisions for your child and relinquish them from all chores, then how do you expect your child to know how to do those things magically at the age of 18?
It reminds me of my father who once incredoulsly said to me, “You don’t know that DOS command?!?!” To which I retorted back, “You never taught me!” Ok, that’s a weak example, but really my parents were pretty good at giving me independence.
So maybe you’re not up to letting your child carry a big plate of food from the kitchen to the table (like the article suggests). I know the prospect of a ruined dinner is too much for me to handle, but there are a lot of things a 3 or even 2 year old can do. Here are some typical things I let my kids do.
* In the kitchen…
– Help make rice by pouring the rice into the pot
– Beat eggs (with a small whisk)
– Transfer cut veggies from the cutting board into a bowl or pot
– Pour or dump ingredients into the bowl or pot
– Set the table & clear the table
– Help decide the meal
* Other tasks…
– Move dirty laundry into the washer and washed laundry into the dryer
– Clean up their own messes, spills, trash
– Rake leaves
– Pick up small branches and twigs in the yard
– Put things back where they belong
And there’s another category I’d call creative independence. These are things that we would not necessarily term as chores, but that foster independent thought and creativity.
* Creative independence…
– Choose book to read
– Choose play/activity
– Pick out the clothes & shoes they want to wear
With all these things, including the creative items, you have the opportunity to not only give your toddler some independence but to also teach boundaries and rules that go along with each task. Clothes should be appropriate for the weather, twigs are not for stabbing your brother, carefully carry plates with both hands, don’t wisk too vigorously, if you play that game then baby brother will want to play too and when you’re done playing, toys go back where they belong.
And then there are the times you get so frustrated over their push to do something themselves that you let them have at it only to discover maybe you should have just let them do it on their own in the first place. Your child is growing up. Why just yesterday my daughter had a meltdown because SHE wanted to wet her OWN washcloth, so I handed her a dry washcloth… but NO, she wanted to RED washcloth with the DOGGIES (even though I had just used it for her little brother). So in frustration I told her to pick whichever cloth she wanted and wash her own face. After crying a bit because everything was upsetting her anyway, she wet the dry washcloth I had handed her and proceeded to scrub her face with the dripping cloth. Then I reminded her to wash the parts she had missed and helped her scrub behind her ears. So now my daughter can wash her own face, if you don’t mind the little pools of frigid water around the sink and on her pajamas.