Thursday, September 30, 2010

Working With Your Children by Bloom Guest Jennie

clean laundry - all ready to be put away

Hey everyone! So great to be here with you at Bloom!

I'm a modern girl with an old-fashioned upbringing. One of the best things my family gave me was a good work ethic growing up. But I didn't realize quite how healthy a little work is until I recently began to see its effects on my own spirited four year old. About a year ago I started actively teaching her about work because of a suggestion I found in a book. What I've learned is this: the minimum age threshold for the fortifying effects of work is way, way low. Work has given her more confidence, more calm. It is giving me a little more compliance (GLORY BE!). With each job that becomes "hers" she's gained a little bit of control over her universe. When you start teaching your kids to work, you're giving them power to make a visible, positive, immediate change in their world. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
  • Get Organized Make a mental list of "chores" that you'd like to see your little ones handle on their own sooner rather than later. Pick one item at a time and work on it together. But first, create a successful working environment. Are things within their reach? Is this a task within their coordination range? Kids can only do what they can do. If you want Johnny to hang up his coat, he has to be able to reach the hook.
  • Break Things Down Any project you're attempting can be broken into steps. If you break it down far enough, you'll hit on a job suited for the age and abilities of your kids. You probably don't want your preschooler scrubbing the floor but she might totally handle planting her little feet on a towel and scooting across the tile squares behind you. You're looking for little steps for little people, something they can do quickly and successfully. My two year old isn't so much with tucking in the sheets, but she's a professional pillow fluffer!
  • Use Your Words Think ahead about who plays which parts, then lay out your plans aloud so your littles know what to expect. And sell it! Years ago, my Mom shared this secret with me: "Make it sound fun, and it probably will be". I could talk my brother into thinking that doing my weeding was AWESOME. And it was! Play the same trick with your kids. Pick your words and your tone carefully, positively. It'll get your attitude in line and your kids on board.
  • Create A Habit Build little pieces of work into your everyday routine. As a new(er) mother, I struggled with keeping my house together. It just felt so overwhelming. I wasted a lot of time flaccidly resisting the mess. I noticed my friend, L, seemed to always have her household ducks in a role. I started to study her. What was the difference between her and me? What it came down to was habits and assumptions. We'd have lunch and then she'd load the dishwasher without skipping a beat. It was just what happened next. We're all creatures of habit. I'm working on giving my kids, and myself, tidy ones. The best advice I can give you is to as be pleasantly tenacious as you can. With a little practice, putting their dirties in the laundry basket will be just as natural as the story and songs that follow.
  • Positive Associations Tiny babies are good at cause and effect. Toddlers and preschoolers take even sharper notice. Help them make positive associations with work. If the result feels happy, the habit is more likely to stick! Choose their assignments carefully so you're not itching to redo what they've done. Of course you can guide them, but we're aiming for progress here, not perfection. Praise them for their efforts. Go ahead, lay it on thick! Line up something fun directly after the jobs are done. Made beds mean a show comes next. Cleared table means stories. Personally, I prefer not to outline the jobs to goodies ratio explicitly. Sometimes my girls just get 15 solid minutes of unannounced but uninterrupted Mommy time. The goal is to mentally align "work" with "good".

Thanks so much for sharing these helpful tips, Jennie. This is not an easy aspect of parenting - it's often tempting to just do the job yourself (it gets done to your standard and on your timetable and there's no push-back), but that approach is really detrimental to our children in the long run. It takes a lot of patience and forethought to teach children to work.

This is someting we'd love to dialog about in the comment thread:

What are you doing to help your children become good workers?
What are you finding success with? What are your stumbling blocks?


Kristyn said...

thank you! thank you! thank you! this is something i've been thinking a lot about recently. i will definitely be using some of htese ideas!

Jessica said...

Thank you so much for sharing this. As a young mother of a 2 year old and a baby on the way it's tricky keeping things tidy and organized. It's great advice to have the kids help with those tasks that they can do.

Melissa said...

This is such great advice! It's so fun to see how eager they are to learn and work. One thing I've noticed is that it's important not to let your expectations get in the way of their success. So true that you need to break down the assignment and let them know how to do each piece. After that, if you know that their best will fall short of how YOU would do it, then you're on the right track. I, sadly, had a friend who could never be pleased. She wanted a clean room to look like something she would create, and her little ones were just not capable. I'm sure this is common sense, but it may not be so I thought I'd throw it out there in case it helps anyone.

Peachblossm said...

I like this idea, I'm trying to implement it with our little girl. I'm running into a roadblock that someone might be able to help me with. I try to clean up after myself and teach our little girl to do the same, but other members of the family are not. How can I show her that she needs to clean up even if Daddy does not?

Heather said...

Great tips! I'm definitely going to put these to use as we are getting ready to have my newly 3 year old help with a few things, and such great advice to break it down and not expect perfection. After all, they are just little kids!

Joan said...

Jennie: such thoughtful insight.
Teaching our children the joy of work is invaluable.
Thank you for sharing your wisdom :)