Contributions Create Capable, Competent Kids

Our children shine when they know that they have helped. We can see it on their faces. But as parents, we often fall into doing everything ourselves, forgetting how important contribution is to the well-being of our children. When kids are little they are constantly begging, “Me do it!”  We may tell them something that dissuades them gently, while in our heads we are rationalizing that they are not big enough or can’t do the job well enough or quickly enough. It seems easier in the moment to “just get it done”. But, let’s look at the bigger picture. Eventually, children may get the message that jobs around the house are not for them….and ironically this tends to be about the time that we ask them to do chores!  Your child will begin to see themselves as capable and competent because in their accomplishment of tasks, they have proven to themselves they are.

Strategies for increasing kids’ opportunities to contribute:

Take time for training. Training is the important first step toward mastering a task.  Initially, it does take time to learn. Later, it will save  time.  Follow these 4 steps, each step taking as long (or as short) as the child needs:

Step one: Your child watches you do it. 
Step two: Your child helps you do it. 
Step three: You help your child do it. 
Step four: You watch your child do it. 

Start when kids are very young. Involve children as young as toddlers in doing as much as is developmentally safe.  Rudolph Dreikurs said, “Never do for a child what a child can do for himself.”  Kids are often more capable than we give them credit for!  A toddler can bring things to you.  If they can reach drawers and cupboards, they can put things away.  Four-year olds can help to make dinner or clean the toilet, sweep and fold laundry – really!  Let them know that you appreciate their help.

Encouraging contribution is powerful at any age. If you have older children who have not been contributing yet, don’t be discouraged.  Let your kids know that you believe they are ready to attempt something new.  Allow them to choose jobs that are grown up. Being encouraged to offer skills that make a difference at home allows a child to understand that they are an important part of the universe…not the center of the universe.

Think outside the box. Maybe you didn’t think about your child cleaning out the fireplace, making dinner, cleaning windows or washing the car.  But, if a child offers to take on a job and is willing to learn how to do it, try to be willing to teach it.

Mistakes are opportunities to learn. Be realistic.  Your child’s contributions will not be perfect.  Jobs may at first not be done to the level that we would have done them, or completed as quickly.  When a mistake is made, allow your child to fix it and learn to do it better the next time.

Invite reflection: Be light-hearted in your corrections and remember to connect before you correct.  When a child is old enough and has mastered a task, hold them accountable to agreed upon expectations.  It is important to allow your child to regularly reflect on their contributions. Ask them how they felt about the job they completed, and what might make an improvement.

Create a routine for contribution and follow through: Together come up with a plan that works so that jobs are getting done regularly. Charts, boards, check lists and chore wheels all help to keep track of who is responsible for tasks.  It is key to have kids involved.  When we present a ready-made system it feels dictated rather than mutually created and compromises your child’s “buy in.” When a routine fails to work, meet with your children to find a new method. Choose together and agree to try it out. 

Make a positive difference in the community. Children feel empowered when they make a positive difference outside their own home.  Together, find places to volunteer.  Find out what the opportunities are at school, or search for non-profits that are doing work in areas that are aligned with your child’s interests or concerns.  If they have voiced concern that people in the community do not have enough to eat, arrange to volunteer at a local food bank.  Perhaps environmental issues are of particular concern and your search can focus on ways to contribute time and energy to sustainability, recycling, beach cleanup or advocacy.  Check out “Seattle Works” or “Hands on Portland” for family friendly volunteer opportunities in the Pacific Northwest.