Parenting Payback: How to Get Your Kids to Do Stuff – for You!

I am by no means a perfect mother. I say ‘no’ a great deal, the naughty step is frequently used, I threaten to throw away all the toys that are widely distributed throughout our house, I bribe with chocolate and I’m not above feeding my kids a Happy Meal from time to time. I feel guilty when I put my work – or the next tweet or FB status – before their immediate need for x, y or z. My tolerance threshold for whining is very, very (did I say very?) low. There are many unanticipated realities of parenthood that keep me dazed and confused every day.

Still, there is a lot that I think I might be doing right. When I say I – I mean my husband and I – because it’s a team sport, this parenting business.

Right from the beginning, our wonderfully wise pediatrician told us not to become short order cooks for our kids. Dinner is what’s on their plates. Same thing for everyone. If you don’t eat it, it’s a long time till breakfast. We have tried our very hardest to maintain this policy, even when it’s meant our  four year-old daughter going to bed with an empty tummy and waking up hungry in the night. Call me mean, but the lesson is slowing seeping into her angelic and often quirky grey matter. Last week she voraciously ate swordfish! (Of course, this week she turned it down) It’s worked with my son too –  he now has a man-sized appetite and is (mostly) willing to try new foods.

Beyond the dinner table, we’ve taken this approach further. By that I mean that teaching our kids to do stuff for themselves is an everyday priority. Self-reliance, independence, resourcefulness – call it what you will, but teaching it to your kids from an early age is so important. It was tough for me at first. Being the control freak that I am, it was intolerably painful sitting by and watching my toddler figure out how to get into feety jammies and zip ‘em up by herself. Standing back as your kids pour cereal into their own bowls knowing that, at any moment, the entire contents of the Cheerio box are going to be avalanching out of the packet and cascading onto the floor. Waiting for your kid to figure how out to buckle their own car seat when you are already running ten minutes behind schedule.

The key, we discovered, was to drill this concept of self-reliance into them precisely during the “I want to do it by myself” stage (which starts around three) to the “teach me how to do it” and “can I help?” stages (which are roughly from four to seven – and who knows maybe longer.)

Patience, restraint and several large glasses of wine later ….  the rewards for teaching our kids to be resourceful is paying off. Not only are they doing more stuff for themselves (and feeling proud about it,) now they are finally doing stuff for me! See what I mean? Hooray!

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