Monday, January 08, 2007

Making Do on Mondays: Make 'em work!

I have been enjoying watching my four-year-old grow up little by leaps and take on more responsibility around the home. Oh, how I long for the day when I have a disobedient teenager who can be assigned to dishes and scrubbing toilets for a punishment! I'm being facetious here but the point is that chores are good for kids! I've met people who have a real aversion to kids having much responsibility at home and who berate big families because the older kids often take care of the younger. What is so wrong with that?! Of course, no child can take the place of the mother and father but I am absolutely in favor of my children learning to play, share, WORK and live together as a family. Children are learning skills for the real world, and while we shouldn't treat them like little Cinderellas... we should give age-appropriate responsibilities for them to handle. This is easy to do with older kids who can handle cleaners and brooms and washing machine cycles with ease, but what about the little ones?

Well, as soon as they are cognizant of obeying simple commands, little ones age two and even younger should be encouraged to clean up their own toys and help make their beds. The insistence level of this should increase with age, and understanding must of course be given to when's "not a good time" to ask anything of a child (I think 5 pm on a day with no naps is probably disasterous). Make a game out of it, sing the famous "clean up" song. If you are willing to join in and demonstrate early on, they'll be much more likely to help out. I don't make them clean up all day long... a simple tidying up before Papa gets home or supper and before bedtime. I made the mistake of not enforcing this from the get-go and for a while it was like pulling teeth to get even my oldest to pick up his toys. I'd get the whining or the protesting or the laugh in my face until I got annoyed enough to do it myself. Well, that stopped really quick when I announced that if the toys weren't cleaned up, I'd throw away everything that wasn't put away. He didn't believe me at first until I literally started picking up toys and chucking 'em in the trash! (To soften this callous impression of me you must have by now, I only threw away a few broken toys or insignificant "non-favorites".) He shaped up really quick after that. We talked about how toys are a privilige and he needs to show that he's willing to take care of them or he doesn't deserve them. And all I need to do is make that threat in a nice but sincere way and he'll fall in line to quickly clean up. Showing them your serious about consequences is key. Besides, we have too many toys as it is...

With my four year old, he is able to do much more around the home. He can wipe up his own spills. He can help wash fruits and vegetables. He helps me set the table, get the clothes out of the dryer, organize cupboards, put away laundry and holds the dustpan for me when I sweep. And of course, he is my prized "gopher" when I'm nursing or changing a diaper and need something brought to me. I also let both boys "help" when I mop the floor or wash windows, giving them little rags to do their own sections. Kids this age can also feed family pets, bring in the newspaper, and help outside with pulling weeds, watering plants, or washing the car. These things are interesting to kids... they LOVE to be trusted with responisibilities.

It is often a pain watching little kids work, it requires a gallon of patience and a pint of compassion. It can be frustrating watching the spilled milk getting toweled up when you know you could do it ten times faster and better than your child. But the important lesson is taking place. If we keep cleaning up their toys and doing everything ourselves because we are more efficient, we aren't enabling our children to become responsible members of the family. Of course they'll be awkward at first, but practice makes perfect. After my son takes five minutes to wipe up his spill, I tell him he did a really good job and then I quickly do a once-over on it myself. Positive reinforcement can do wonders...



one of us :: 9:30 AM :: 2 Comments