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Two Birds with One Stone: Getting Kids to Help

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May 3, 2018

The older my kids get, the more frequently it hits me that they’re going to be adults at some point. That day continues to get closer. In fact, I pretty routinely tell my daughter, “As someone who hopes to move out on her own in a few years, that’s something you should be doing.” But there are so many life skills that never appear in school, on a list of chores, and certainly not in Khan Academy.

I recently stumbled onto a fabulous parenting two-fer. I’ve started giving them more responsibilities and insisting that they participate in all of the tasks that happen around them. It’s made them more aware and capable while also giving me needed help with the everyday running of our lives.

I would encourage anyone with kids to get them involved beyond the simple tasks they might be doing now. There are a few things I’ve learned to make the process more manageable.

  1. Pause before you start a task.

Moms, in particular, tend to power through the day. Time is at a premium so we take the simplest, most efficient route possible. This leaves little room for allowing the kids to do things. But as they get older, the balance in effort saved versus effort spent might shift. Take a moment before starting a task to consider if your child could do it or might need to learn how to do it. By taking a few minutes to teach them the correct method to do something, you’ll ultimately save hours when you can continue to hand off the task. This does, however, mean you’ll have to take yourself out of automatic pilot which can be a challenge for busy moms.

  1. Be specific.

The key to my kids grasping new tasks has been to show them very specifically what to do. Instead of asking my kids just to gather all of their laundry, I told my son to gather his laundry and separate the clothes into color piles. He needed very specific details about what exactly made a piece of clothing “dark” and where to put the piles of clothes for washing. The first time he tried, there were a lot of trips back and forth to me to double check. But now, a few times in, the laundry piles don’t have to be my responsibility anymore!

  1. Choose the familiar.

I’ve tried to keep new tasks within the bounds of what my kids have already experienced. Nowadays, when we go to the grocery store, they are in charge of getting what they usually eat. My daughter has no trouble choosing eight apples from the produce department because she frequently eats one with lunch. She knows what blemishes or bruise to avoid because she knows what she wants to eat.

  1. Let go of perfect … or even really good.

It was a miraculous sight the first time I came home from taking my son to soccer practice to find my daughter had folded a large pile of laundry. I’d swear I heard an angel sing. I made sure to tell her how fabulous she was and how great it made me feel. It wasn’t until I looked closer that I noticed she hadn’t turned the shirts right-side-out. I kept my mouth shut and remembered to include “turn the shirt right-side-out” in the specific instructions next time.

In the end, it’s not just household chores and everyday tasks that I’ve introduced my children to. I’ve started talking about life events that come up as well, like whether or not a particular doctor is covered by their health insurance or how much I should tip a waiter. My hope is that, between laundry piles and restaurant calculations, becoming a functional adult won’t be quite so mysterious or overwhelming!

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