Household Duties Create Competent, Self-Reliant and Connected Children

img_6852The Gift of Failure by Jessica Lahey

Did you know doing laundry is an opportunity to learn competence? It’s true. And cleaning the dinner table and loading the dishwasher is an opportunity for children to build their self-esteem. Helping prepare their own school lunch and packing it themselves helps children gain autonomy.

In her book, The Gift of Failure, Jessica Lahey explains that children want to be capable and responsible members of a family. Knowing how to do household duties is the best way to show them they are competent (confidence built from experience), autonomous (when kids realize that self reliance and individuality feels great), and connected to their family.

Lahey says that children have been deprived of a sense of contribution and purpose for a couple of generations now, and it’s time to give it back. Household participation is a first step toward building a purpose-driven and fulfilling life.

There are a lot of reasons parents and nannies give for not granting children the space and opportunity to find purpose by doing chores, among them:

  • It’s faster if I do it myself.
  • The kids will just do it wrong anyway.
  • Kids should be kids while they can; they will work when they grow up.
  • The house will look disgusting.
  • My boss won’t think I’m doing my job.

But, Lahey convinces us that it is time to grant kids the opportunity to contribute. Allow them the chance to step up, try, fail, and try again until they get it right.

She writes, “We sacrifice so much when we want things done better and faster and take over instead of letting the kids do chores. What’s more important: that the child has the dishes immaculate or they gain a sense of pride and purpose because they are contributing in a valuable way?”

The worst thing we can do is after children complete a household chore is to swoop in and try to help them or make it better by smoothing out the lumps and bumps in the bed they made.

Whether we do chores for children to over protect them, due to need for perfectionism, or to prove we are excellent caregivers, when we do household duties for kids we withhold the gift of allowing them to be contributing members of their family.

As nannies it can be difficult to just allow kids to clean up after themselves, fold their clean clothes imperfectly, or do their own homework without helping them, because we don’t want the parents to think we are lazy and aren’t doing our jobs. It’s true some parents will be upset to see the teen’s dishes left in the sink or the preschooler’s toys left on the floor could look like the nanny is being lazy. That’s why in-home childcare providers need to communicate openly with the parents about their wish to help the children be self-reliant.

First, I recommend reading The Gift of Failure. Then, share the book with your employers or show them this article. Explain your goal is to help their children to be as self sufficient as possible — which will also improve their self-esteem.

The key to successfully instilling a sense of responsibility and pride, and helping children understand that they have a role to play in the family dynamic, is to start young. When dealing with younger children be sure to make your expectations clear and age-appropriate.

Communicate family participation as a privilege, or even a game, and toddlers can accomplish more than you might expect.

Here are some examples of the kinds of tasks toddlers are capable of learning:

  • Put their dirty clothes in a basket or hamper.
  • Dress themselves with clothing that’s not too complicated.
  • Fold simple items of clothing or linens such as pillowcases or washcloths.
  • Put their clothes away in drawers.
  • Follow two-or three-step directions in order to complete tasks (get your toothbrush, put toothpaste on it, brush your teeth).
  • Throw trash and recycling away in the proper place.
  • Put toys away in tubs and baskets when they are done playing with them.
  • Take out, and put away, their dishes as long as you arrange their cups and bowls on a low shelf.
  • Feed the dog or cat.

Kids between three and five are big fans of counting and sorting, so give them jobs around the house that encourage them to practice these skills while instilling responsibility.

Ask them to put five books on that shelf, or ask them to count out five oranges and place them in a bag at the store.

Kids three- to five-years-old are perfectly able to:

  • Make their bed.
  • Straighten their room.
  • Sort and categorize items, such as utensils in a drawer, or socks in the laundry.
  • Water plants.
  • Clear their place at the table.
  • Learn to not freak out and cry about spills, but get a towel or sponge and clean them up by themselves.
  • Prepare their own snacks.

Children as young as five can understand and accept the consequences of their actions (and inaction), but only if they experience those consequences. Left her bagel on the coffee table and the dog ate it? Don’t make her a new one and she will remember not to leave it within reach of the dog’s mouth.

Once kids have entered kindergarten, they are able to conquer tasks of much greater complexity and begin to develop solid habits for completing household duties.

The more independent you allow children to be, the more independent adults what will become. The best learning can happen during times they make mistakes and learn to problem solve and figure it out themselves.

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