One of the greatest gifts we can give our kids is a feeling of competent confidence, and one of the easiest ways to instill that feeling early on is to let them help around the house. But what we have to prepare ourselves for is that, especially early on, our kids are just not going to do it right. (Or our way, at least.)
And that's just fine, writes Jessica Lahey, author of "The Gift of Failure," a new book subtitled "How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed."
In an article for Slate, Lahey says it's important to give kids age-appropriate chores around the house, then let them figure out how to do them (perhaps with some gentle guidance). But "be honest," she writes. "Cop to the fact that you failed yourself ... set clear expectations, and hold your kids accountable."
So if you make one child's chore that she must clean up after meals and rinse dishes before putting them in the dishwasher, leave them out. If the food dries and makes it harder to rinse off, she'll learn that it will be harder to clean when she gets around to it — even if it takes days.
"No swooping or fixing," writes Lahey, "but be present and help problem-solve."
She asserts that kids of every age can get into the helping game to help them learn independence. Here are a few tasks Lahey says you can give children:
- Put dirty clothes in the hamper or basket
- Dress themselves
- Feed the dog or cat
- Make their bed
- Clear their place at the table
- When something spills, get a towel or sponge ... with no freakouts
- Peel and chop vegetables (with knife safety training)
- Setting and clearing the table
After age 12, writes Lahey, "I can't think of many household duties beyond their abilities."
It may seem like you'll need to pull teeth to make kids do their chores, but Lahey says "despite all the protests to the contrary, kids want to play useful roles in their family's success. As parents ... we owe them the patience and time it takes to give that purpose and responsibility back."