Simon has quite the responsible streak in him at times, for someone only 21 months old. I know the desire to emulate grown-ups and help with tasks is a common trait for kids his age, and it is definitely one that I am thankful for every day. After last week’s Toddler Art Group, for example, Simon and a little girl who is also 21 months were the only two kids who stayed in the room when the activity was done, and used wet cloths to help wipe the table down. And they had so much fun doing it!
Here at home, we try to create opportunities for Simon to take on tasks, so that he will learn that in this family, we all pitch in. Jeramy and I believe in instilling certain ideas (in an age appropriate way, of course) while he is little and has the desire, rather than waiting until he is older and missing out on a crucial window. We look for ways to role model helping as a concept, just the same way we do with reading or art.
Some of the things that we get Simon involved in are:
~Bringing his dirty clothes to his hamper, and putting them in.
~Carrying recyclables out to the bin with Mumma or Daddy.
~When I fold laundry, I tell him to gather up all of the socks, and he puts them into a pile.
~When it is time to eat, he knows which drawer I keep the bibs in, and can open it himself, so he will always run to get a bib when I tell him it is time to eat. (Sometimes this takes a while, as he searches through all the bibs to find his favorite ones.)
~Speaking of the bibs, since he likes to get them out himself, I also let him put the clean ones away in there when they come out of the laundry.
~We allow him to assist putting away groceries. (But never the eggs!) He enjoys getting all the stuff out of the bags for us, and he knows how to put the bread in the breadbox, which is on a low shelf.
~Picking up toys. (He says: “Peeeek up! Peeek up!“)
~Putting books back on the shelf.
~Getting his winter gear out, and sitting on the floor while we dress or undress him for the cold.
~When I vacuum, I give him a feather duster, and he runs around, having a blast “dusting things”.
Now, obviously he is still only a baby, so we do not expect him to always do these things. When he is overtired, hungry, or too wound up, it is pointless to try to convince our squirmy, whiny kid to gather up socks. However, I can’t tell you how many times a tantrum has been avoided by me simply saying: “If you calm down you can help Mumma recycle.”
I don’t believe little children should be forced into responsiblity too soon or in a forceful way. Being too commanding about it when they are very young can freak them out too much, and squash their desire to help before it even begins. However, at a certain point, most toddlers suddenly start showing natural interest in things like playing with the broom, or putting the blocks back into the toybox. This is an awesome opportunity to show them that cooperating to accomplish something can be fun. Praising a child for doing something helpful, such as picking up a piece of paper from off the floor can build their self-esteem. It also gives them a start in learning to follow directions.
This does require some time, patience and the ability to accept something being done to a different standard than you would have if you did it yourself. I gave up on the idea that the bibs would remain folded in neat piles when Simon puts them away and paws through the drawer to retrieve one. I accept when he puts blocks away in the toy car bin, or mixes up the play-doh colors. These things are not important, but allowing my child to develop a willingness to learn is. We have a tendency as grown-ups not to allow children the opportunity to try something until we think they can do it “right”. It is the same as not letting a child use crayons until you are sure he knows how to draw people and houses instead of scribbles. I truly believe in letting go of these notions and giving kids the chance to try, to explore, and to surprise us.
Even if it is something silly, like getting a big bowl of warm water and giving a baby doll a bath, toddlers will soak up examples you show them of how to take care of things, and how to perform tasks. I would encourage any other parent to find little ways throughout the day to let your child try to mimic you as you get things done, or to offer them ways to pitch in. There is always some way to help, even for the littlest ones.