The Growth and Giggles Blog
Ideas for helping parents and their preschoolers.
Contributing to the Family
Research that was done years ago came to show that cultures that allow children to participate in the normal activities of the home (e.g. tending to the goats, feeding the chickens) – that is, cultures that value the contribution of the children to the family – see a lot of success from these children in later years. They grow up to have a good work ethic, a higher sense of responsibility, hard-working practices, and a solid self-esteem.
Chores may be a thing of the past in many homes today. There are modern conveniences that one might hope would render chores obsolete – or that’s what the sales people suggest. Or the parents simply need to get things done in the limited amount of time they have in their busy schedules. And let’s face it, some in our generation may resent being made to do chores in our youth and do not wish to “put our kids through that”.
But let’s pause for a moment. We may want to ponder the significant benefits seen in these other cultures where children are valued for the work they are doing in their young years. There are long-term results that impact their lives – for the better. So in your own family, talk about what each child is actually able to do that would be a contribution to the lifestyle of the home.
Example 1 – They can make their own bed
An easy example is making their bed as soon as they get up in the morning. With younger children, it may help to tie the corners of the blanket and sheet to the bed posts at the foot of the bed (and maybe even one top corner) so all they have to do is pull up and smooth out. The main point is this: think of things that would help the family for them to do, things that would add to the family and build good habits.
Example 2 – They can put their own toys away
Another example is putting toys away. This is a doable task – if it is broken down into smaller tasks. Every toy has a place. Put one away before getting out another. Bins can be made with picture-labels showing what items go in each bin. (This develops pre-reading skills too.) Say to the two year old, “Let’s find all the dolls. They go here.” (Learning how to categorize also helps the wee one develop pre-math skills.) It is not helpful to tell a child to tidy all the toys in general. It can be overwhelming to think of putting everything away. It is better to ask them to pick up, for example, all the building blocks, or some specific type of toy.
In fact, every night before dinner the whole family can work together to put toys away. They are a contributing member of the family. By the way, this can happen anytime really, not just before dinner. Just make it work for your schedule. If you have reading and bedtime routine after dinner, then tidying the house before dinner will allow a smoother evening thereafter.
If time allows, a reward with something they would want to do can be offered. Possibly even something you would do anyway such as reading a story together can be a treat after working together. Choose what would be a delight to the child. And you know, if the whole house is a wreck (and we know what that’s like!), get your child to work with you to piece away at it throughout the day. (Be careful that older children are not always picking up for the younger ones which may cause resentment.)
Example 3 – Make a “chore” a game.
Let our kids do real tasks. It may even be fun to help Mom with the cooking – dump in, cut up (with plastic knives), etc. If Kirby had her choice, she would get rid of the word “chores” altogether because it typically denotes something undesirable. (“Oh, that is such a chore!”) But you know what? The task may not be something desirable to do, but it can be made into a game. Try “Beat the Clock”. The family can gather around a bowl that has all the tasks needing done written on slips of paper. Everyone picks a slip from the bowl to get their assignment.
The bottom line is this: this is what families do – they help each other.
Some Practical Points
Be Sensitive to Differences. What works for one child may not work for another when it comes to giving out tasks. A child with difficulty processing may appear to not be listening but in reality may just need more from you. First, break down the task further into smaller parts. Second, stay in the room with them while training them to do the job. Finally, are they still processing? Put the task in picture form. Make a chart if you think it’s needed and they can check off their accomplishment once completed.
Be Specific. Again, in our communication with wee ones, it is good to remember to be specific. What may look like a clean room to a child may not appear to be anything like what a parent would expect a clean room to look. We have to train our children.
Don’t Pass Along Prejudices. We also must be aware of ourselves in this whole process. We have to know them and their personalities while realizing that we may have children who are like ourselves – in the good and the not so good. What we don’t like about ourselves may be reflected back to us through our children. Those areas we are learning to be patient with ourselves may get a lot more practice when our littles come along. We need to be careful that we don’t pass down our own prejudices or distaste for certain responsibilities, certain chores, to our progeny.
Be Fun. There are ways to make everything fun. At any age tasks can still be made into a game. Change the reward system to fit the age of the child. As much as possible, make the reward something relational, like a family game night – a way of being together and enjoying each other after working alongside one another.
Going back to the cultures that successfully involve their children in the functioning aspects of the household – much of the rewards they reap come from the response to the children as they work. The focus is not on whether the task is done to the level the adult would have done it or in the time frame an older person could have accomplished it. The children are thanked. There is a genuine appreciation. They are learning to want to help and to want to contribute more to the family.
My 5 year old daughter had been with her father much of the morning spending time together reading and doing schoolwork alongside him as he worked. Shortly after lunch, Grandma came and played with her for a while. By this time, her love bucket was so full from quality time that she declared she was in the mood to help. She spent over an hour helping to prepare dinner. There was much appreciation expressed at the dinner table for the work she put in to make the food. She felt truly valued for her contribution to the family (which started out with us investing in her and then her wanting to give back).