About a week ago, a friend pointed me to a piece on National Public Radio Called How to Get Your Kids to Do Chores (Without Resenting It). I clicked on it, and to my absolute delight, a host of friendly researchers were being quoted! These are researchers whose work I discuss at length in my own book in Chapter 8: Your Confident, Helpful Child. The trick to cultivating older children who enjoy doing chores, it turns out, is what the NPR article calls “embracing the power of toddlers.” When we see involving toddlers in our household chores as an investment in their future, we might not mind that it takes twice as long (at least!), and it’s done half as well (at most).
More Than Just Preparation for the Future
There are additional advantages to involving toddlers in “must-do” household tasks. In addition to preparing them for a future of helpfulness and hard work, it offers immediate benefits. In my book, Joyful Toddlers & Preschoolers: Create A Life that You and Your Child Both Love, I highlight three universal needs that can help us create a life that feels meaningful for children. These are the need to feel connected to others, the need for competence, and the need to know that they are contributing to others in meaningful ways.
Part of why helping is so powerful is that, in its best form, helping involves all three of these universal needs: in helping someone we are using our competence in the service of others, and we are inviting connection through our generosity. In receiving a helping action, the recipient is able to respond with an especially deep type of connection: appreciation. When we appreciate someone for the difference they’ve made in our lives, and the person soaks in that appreciation, a level of connection is achieved that is much deeper than simple enjoyment. Unfortunately, our culture rarely recognizes the very young child’s desire to contribute. Adults are expected to help children, not the other way around!
Why It’s Challenging
If involving children in household tasks is so great, why aren’t more people doing it? The biggest reason is that young children are process-oriented, while must-do tasks are, by definition, results-oriented. This push-pull between process and results can make it a real challenge for adults to involve young children successfully. You can’t just send them to do a task on their own, that’s for sure! In Chapter 8, I go through the nuts and bolts of how to do it. These tips are based on research (the NPR article shares some of the same ones), years of experience, and hundreds of families trying them and giving me feedback.
However, even if you can involve your child successfully if you WANT to, how the heck do you find the time? As a self-employed mom of a four-year-old, I already feel stretched for time. The thought of taking even more time to get housework done can feel completely impossible.
Housework as an Enrichment Activity
Have you ever sat coloring with your child, or enrolled in a mommy-and-me class, and thought the entire time about the laundry and dishes piled up at home? Enrichment activities are lovely in promoting a sense of connection and (sometimes) helping children gain competence, but they are huge time suckers. The trick to getting everything done is to replace enrichment activities with with household tasks done together as enrichment activities. When we do necessary household tasks as enrichment activities, we can set up situations where we are connecting, children are gaining competence, and they know they are contributing. All at the same time. And even if it takes us all day, the tasks are done. Once the children go to sleep, we don’t have piles of laundry and dishes to do, because we did them with our children. Even though we’re doing housework more slowly than we’ve ever done it before, we’ve created time in our days where none existed before.
Warmly, ~Faith Collins
Read about those nuts-and-bolts of involving children successfully in my book, Joyful Toddlers & Preschoolers: Create A Life that You and Your Child Both Love. Check out the reviews on Amazon, then come back and buy it from my website, here.