Liz Pryor is Good Morning America's Advice Guru as well as an author & Mom of 3 young teenagers. Please visit www.LizPryor.com with any & all parenting questions. She is a big help with parenting tips!
THE EARLIER THE BETTER
By: Liz Pryor
I’m so excited to have been asked to write a piece for the chirping moms. I receive hundreds of letters from parents every week, and the opportunity to offer my two cents to an entire group with very young children is an enticing opportunity for me.
So many of the questions I hear come from parents of children who are older, who find themselves battling against the things they wish they’d instilled when the kids were young. One of the more common issues is in the area of helping around the house, and pitching in as members of the family. It’s maddening for parents who have worked hard to provide their children good lives, who have schlepped, and fed, and cooked, and done it all; to find themselves at their wits end with the lack of contribution their kids make within the home.
It’s easy to forget I guess, that children are creatures of habit, just as we are. They do what they know, what they’re used to, and become accustomed to the daily patterns we instill. One of the many traps parents fall in, is imagining that because our children turn a certain age, look to be old enough to handle certain chores, that they will do them. That they will suddenly behave like the responsible people we hope to be raising. It doesn’t work that way. Responsibility, accountability, competence graciousness doesn’t automatically arrive with a certain age. It comes with wise parenting, thoughtful teaching, and consistency. My motto is, the younger the better. I heard my thirteen-year-old son’s friend say to him the other day, how long have you been taking out that trash? My son answered, “Ever since I can remember”. And I thought, Good!
One day, believe it or not, your 2 year-old, 3 year old, 5-year-old children will actually become teenagers. Yep, the big annoying kids at the park will one day be your kids, who by nature can be rebellious, contentious, contrarian and otherwise temporarily-impossible to be around. Imagine the beauty of having already done the groundwork for their tasks in the home. Imagine what you get to bypass by paying attention early. To be able to get your child to understand that being a part of a family comes with some sort of contribution on their part. It’s a goal worth its weight in gold.
It’s not that throwing out the trash, or folding laundry is so enormously important. The gift as I call it, and it is a gift; is far greater than the tasks. It’s about teaching them the behaviors of responsibility and productivity and a sense of pride. They will call upon this experience for the rest of their lives.
How young can we begin? Can your child walk? Okay just kidding. My thought is to begin paying attention to the entire concept by age 2. A lot of women say that kids this age are willing participants in their daily tasks but it can become frustrating as the children’s willingness to do our work at home slows us down. This is true, and where we want to work on our patience and remember that everything in life that is really great takes time and hard work.
Here are a few ideas’ to get you pointed in the right direction-
1. AGE 2
-Make a place for your young child to be near where you’re doing your daily tasks. Set them up with their own version of your work
If it’s folding laundry; give them the same items each time. Keep it all in a basket nearby, and let them go at it, same place every day.
-Same thing applies to the kitchen- find something to give them that matches what you are doing. Put them in the same place each day. When you have the time and patience go ahead and make them a real part of the chore if you can.
Let them pour in the soap, take things out of the dryer, water the plants with you, help feed the dog. It all takes time, but it will be well worth it later. At this age it’s about the child knowing what you do, and being familiar with how it’s done.
2. AGE 3 almost 4
You’ll now notice your children have been watching you and know more than you think. Find one thing they can actually do that helps you, and gives them a feeling of accomplishment. And be consistent throughout the week with it.
-Separate light from dark clothes for the laundry.
- Wash vegetables or fruits in a bowl in the sink at mealtime.
-Refill the toilet paper roll
-Put water in the dog’s bowl
-Swat flies on the porch
-Pick up toys in playroom
Find your way, the way that works for your sanity, but find something, and stick with it.
3. AGE 4 and 5
Real chores can now come into play. This is your opportunity to take a totally willing participant and find something they can do for the house and family-team during the day. Their sense of accomplishment will astound you. Write the responsibility on a chalk or bulletin board with your child’s name on it and refer to it when the time comes to get it done.
-Empty office, bedroom or playroom trash into big trash bag
-Organize the art bin or marker box or toys or puzzles
- Collect the laundry from the hamper
- Get the napkins and placemats and put them on the table at mealtime.
-Turn off all the lights that don’t need to be on
-Get the mail
-Get the paper from out front
-Water the plants
Something they can do everyday that is their very own responsibility is ideal.
The idea is for you and your child to have an understating that even at this very young age, they are expected to contribute as part of the family team. Your attitude about house hold work and family responsibilities sets the tone for the entire family, so be aware of your negativity when it comes to doing the things that need to be done. You want a “Gitter done” attitude as opposed to “oh wow this is awful”.
Try to remember that the bottom line to decent mindful parenting is so much more about staying connected to, and following your instincts, rather than following rules. As you may realize by now, there are no actual rules when it comes to effective parenting, it truly is what works for you and your family. Take guidelines and let them point you in a direction, but you are the master of what will work in your home. If you’re mindful, thoughtful, and find your patience, most of the time, you’re on your way---Happy chore-ing.