Often, I hear from parents, “I wish I had helpful kids.”
Others will see my kids making a sandwich and say, “My kids won’t do that.”
My first question is, “What have you allowed them to do for themselves?” At a year and a half, they can pull clothes from the dryer to a basket. There begins their contribution. Kids learn quickly that Mom and Dad are “supposed to” do it all if Mom and Dad are doing it all. Begin by relinquishing safe tasks. Ask yourself, “am I willing to let go of the consequences (the possible spill, the imperfection of the job done) so that I might teach a life lesson here? Is the child going to get hurt?” If you’re willing and the risk of injury is low, go for it.
“Would you dry this plastic dish for me?”
“Please bring that box of wipes to me so I can change your sister.”
“Would you put the books on the shelf for me, my helper?”
Positive reinforcement, consistency, and most of all, assuring them that they are a big part of the whole, will go a long way if taught early. When they are really small, overemphasize their contribution… “That was GREAT! Thank you so much, Big Helper!!” As they get bigger, call out their ever-growing abilities and teach them things that might be a stretch. With supervision, we taught our daughters how to make salad (chopping veggies with a chef knife) at age 8. Now they respect blades in the kitchen and elsewhere rather than fearing them.
A few Christmases ago, I wanted to make an apron for my youngest daughter, but instead, I decided to have her older sister learn how to sew it. It took 3 hours to make the “jiffy” project. At the end she said, “Mom, aren’t you glad I did this WITH you? We’re almost done and it only took 3 hours. Imagine how long this would have taken without my help!!” Indeed.
It would have been worth 6 hours for the pride and joy I see every time she tells someone that she made the apron her sister is wearing.