Why you should let your kids help (even when they hinder)

When our kids are small, they’re always want to try ‘help’ (read: hinder) us around the home when we’re cleaning, or cooking or doing laundry. But more often than not, they do more damage than actual helping. It’s often just easier to give them a non-task and shoo them away so you can get through your list of jobs sooner.

But when we actually want them to help us a few years down the line – when they should be fully capable - they’re reluctant and don’t know how the washing machine or the cooker or the fitted bedsheets work.

Because they haven’t grown up trying out these tasks, suddenly being expected to know how to use these tools and complete these jobs seems an insurmountable obstacle that they’re not entirely willing to overcome. Same goes for small things, like decision making or feeling confident speaking in public. If we do all these things for our kids, they will find them difficult to learn at an older age when they’re more self conscious and less willing to learn and try things out.

There are plenty of life skills that we can get our children’s help with from as young as preschool. Yes, it may take a little longer, but it will get that bit faster and more natural each time, until it’s just a part of their routine. Setting them up for success at a young age starts with letting them lend a hand and teaching them the life skills they’re going to need all the way into adulthood.

Cleaning/ housekeeping

Little girl doing housework in room

While they may make more of a mess than when they started at first, this is definitely an important skill to start early on. Not just because it’s one they’ll be using their entire lives, but because it also teaches them about responsibility (bringing their plate over after a meal) accountability (dumping their rubbish in the bin) and that household duties are to be shared among the people living there. With pre-schoolers, start small, with a job that is just theirs, like emptying the dishwasher, making their bed, putting clean clothes and linens in the hot press. That will be their responsibility to look after and it will become easier for them to do and remember over time. As they get older they can take on more responsibilities, like helping to clean up after dinner, keeping their rooms clean, hoovering or changing their bed sheets. If you have more than one child, have a gradation system with different levels of tasks for different ages. At four or five you start out with the dishwasher but once you turn six it’s on to helping put away the shopping. It becomes something exciting then, to level up to the next task.

Confidence and independence

Photo of Boys Sitting on Floor

It can be hard because our children can’t always express themselves fully but allowing them to speak for themselves and act for themselves is important. For example, when out in a restaurant, allow them to order for themselves, rather than telling the waiter what they want. Send them to go ask for the bill, or to fond the bathroom themselves – assuming they’re in a safe place and at a safe age to do so. If they have a question when you’re out visiting somewhere this summer like a museum or an activity centre, encourage them to ask the guide or activity coordinator. Most children will have a natural degree of shyness around strangers, but encouraging them to speak up and assert their needs and themselves will stand to them in the future.

Decision making

Little boy turning over wicker basket with plastic toys

This one falls in line with independence as well. Starting off simple, like letting them choose what they wear, what stationary they pick out for going back to school and what books they read are all good starting points. Letting them see for themselves the consequences of good and bad decisions is a valuable learning curb and lets them establish their own preferences and thought process that will help later on down the line. Knowing their own minds and that the fallout of the decision lies with them teaches them responsibility.

Cooking

Cheerful little African American girl with curly hair wearing white chefs costume against yellow background and looking at camera

I know what you’re thinking – I am not letting my pre-schooler near a hot stove – which is very sensible. But cooking isn’t just making dinners and baking. It’s food prep and decision making around food as well. This is a skill that’s probably best left until they’re in primary school because of the various dangerous tools, but something as simple as letting them help in making their own lunches, breakfasts or a sandwich can take time pressure off of you and equip them with the beginnings of food prep skills. As they get older, they can move on to microwave meals like scrambled eggs before moving on to stove top. There are plenty of easy recipes they can pick up along the way and the earlier they start the better, as it will expand their palettes and get them familiar with the basics so they’ll be well-equipped when they have to start doing it for themselves. You never know, you could unearth a hidden talent for baking or fine cuisine!

Washing

Back view full length barefoot faceless ethnic child in casual outfit standing on stool and taking clothes out of washing machine with top loader while keeping head inside of washer

Laundry is something few of us would probably trust to our kids solo. But it never hurts to have them watch you go through the different stages. They can help by bringing clothes in from the line, helping you sort who owns what or even just help you with sorting them into piles so they can get familiar with the concept. Watching you use the machine, iron and use different methods for different types of clothes are all things they’ll absorb and though they may need to ask a few times to be sure they have it right, as they get older it will become second nature.

Organising themselves

Happy female cafeteria employee putting on big yellow thermo bag on shoulders of positive child in casual wear working as food courier and looking away

This falls under independence and decision making as well. If we’re constantly running around after them trying to make sure that everything is ready to go, they’ll never be able to do it for themselves. Let them pack their own school bag, or lunchbox or gear bag. If they forget a raincoat, or a bottle of water or the right shoes, it’s not something they’ll do again, By learning the consequences of not being prepared, it will make them get ready in advance and be more careful with their things.

Fiona Murphy is a freelance writer, specialising in book-related content, fiction and poetry. She can be found drinking tea, craving tapas or attempting to finish her never-ending-novel.

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