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What a Little Child Can Do

We want our children to have a great childhood. We want to make their lives pleasant and fun. We may even say their only job is to do well in school. But what are we teaching? Dear child, you have only one job in life? Others will take care of the “menial” tasks? You don’t need to know how to cook, clean, care for a home? We may be unintentionally raising people who are bored, distracted, helpless, entitled, and have no idea who they are, or how to take care of themselves.

Children deserve more respect than that. Let’s show them respect, teach them self-respect by acknowledging that they are important members of the family. We can help them build confidence by helping them develop competencies. We develop their competencies by teaching them practical life skills and by expecting them to participate in the family work of the household, including vehicles, pets, family business, and care for relatives and the community.

Say what?!? Yes, actual real life responsibility. But, you say, they already have responsibilities of schoolwork, homework and perhaps arts or sports. Yes, and so do you. AND the house must be cleaned, food prepared, kitchen cleaned, dishes washed, clothes washed, dog washed. Who does all that? Why, Mommy and Daddy! Parents are working their butts off to get everything handled, while their offspring are bored, restless, filling their brains with entertainment, and not learning anything that makes them feel needed.

By teaching your children how to manage every aspect of the household, they become accustomed to teamwork, learn vital life skills, gain confidence through self-reliance, learn to earn and relish downtime, and learn to manage the work-school-rest-home-play cycle. They overcome the dependency-entitlement-resentment of waiting to be fed, waiting to be entertained, waiting to be waited on. The extra time you spend teaching them will come back to you a hundred-fold as you gain housemates who share the work of caring for the home and for each other.

Here is a list of things a child can do, because a child can do a lot, and in so doing feel like an important part of a team, gain a deep confidence from becoming able to care for themselves and others, and learn about themselves, their talents and preferences.

What a Little Child Can Do:

A tiny new walker under 2 years can:
Fetch a diaper or wipes for mommy
Pick up the dropped spoon
Put one item in one drawer
Do those things many times a day

At 2 years she can:
Help clean up her own spills and messes
Help make her bed
Put her dirty clothes in a hamper
Put her shoes where they belong
Bring her plate to the sink or dishwasher
Fold washcloths and dish towels
Help with grocery shopping by placing items in the cart as you hand them to her
Scoop a cup of food from the feed bag into the pet’s bowl

At 3 he can:
Put items in the dishwasher on the low rack, such as put spoons in the caddy
Sweep with a broom of a size that fits the child (yes they make those)
Pour juice from a small pitcher into a small cup for himself
Wipe up the spill
Wash the table
Choose items from a tray of available snacks
Put away clothes shoes toys in 5 minutes cycles with someone helping/supervising
Use a cup to scoop animal food from the bag pour into your pet’s bowl
Put an item in the recycle bin or the garbage
Pull their things and trash out of the car
Help set the table
Put clothes in the washer
Take clothes out of the dryer
Fold clothes
Put folded clothes in drawers
Dust specific surfaces
Pick up yard trash
Walk the dog
Take out the trash
Make a sandwich
Stir food on a stove

At 4 she can:
Learn to cut a banana safely with a real knife
Get items to help the chef
Stir a bowl of ingredients
Wash out small paintbrushes
Start the dishwasher
Operate small appliances like a toaster with supervision
Water houseplants with a small watering can
Brush her own teeth
Choose her own clothes for most days
Get dressed
Put up the towel from the bath
Put her clothes away
Put on laceless shoes
Put away her toys, books, art supplies with prompting
Feed and water the animal
Walk the animal, depending on the animal
Gather trash bags from the small trash cans and put it in the larger trash can
Replace the small trash bags
Bring in small grocery bags
Put groceries away with direction
Select clothing in a store
Choose between options in a restaurant

At 5 he can:
Help cut fruits and veg and plate these or add to a pot
Learn to make coffee for mom
Make his own sandwich
Put away the bread, peanut butter, lunch meat
Wipe up after food prep and eating
Wash some dishes by hand
Load the dishwasher
Sweep and mop with the right sized utensils
Separate laundry into whites, darks and colors
Load the washer, measure and add detergent depending on the container, and start the machine
Pull clothes out of the dryer into the hamper
Fold and stack clothes and put them in the right rooms or drawers
Select some familiar and lowly placed items at the grocery store
Order in a restaurant
Make a transaction over a counter
Rake, pull weeds, water indoor or outdoor plants

At 6 she can:
Complete her whole morning and bedtime routine independently
Walk the dog
Feed and water the animals
Run the vacuum
Start a load of laundry
Wash dishes by hand or load the dishwasher
Straighten her room for 10-30 minutes at a time
Help a younger child make a sandwich
Cook an egg on the stove
Help substantially in the kitchen, house, yard, office, farm
Wash a car
Read to younger children

Kids can do a great deal if you take the time to teach them how. A 12 year old can just about run a household. The trick is in a couple of parental intentions and habits. The main thing is realizing that kids can do, enjoy doing, and benefit learning the skills of everyday life. They gain precious things from doing: confidence in themselves and a sense of being needed as part of a homemaking team.

Making It Happen

We start by having them help, even when it would be more efficient to do things ourselves. We increase over time the help and the expectation, as we teach them skills and let them practice. Eventually they string together longer chains of behavior until they can make the sandwich, wash the dog, make the bed more independently. We continue close supervision over potentially dangerous situations such as cooking, until they have the thing mastered and show good judgement, even when things start to go wrong. We expect them to clean up after themselves, including mishaps like spills.

Kids have differing talents, some easily acquire the kitchen skills but struggle with organizational skills like sorting or putting away. The key is to watch each individual child, and carefully note what level of complexity in a skill area is displayed, and what would be the next lesson and/or next level of responsibility. It is absolutely a parent’s job to make sure that by age 18 our kids know how to do all the skills of daily living- money, budgets, food, housekeeping, nurturing others, clothing, yard, cars, pets, dealing with larger communities (teams, clubs, extended family, church) merchants, etc. The point is to keep the lessons and expectations moving forward at a rate that reflects the unique child’s capabilities. This is how we respect them, and how they respect us, and how they respect themselves.

Skills training only works if the parent(s) are willing to expect the participation of their child; and teach their child how to do things bit by bit as the child is able. We teach kids to pick up after themselves by introducing the ‘ten second tidy’ at a very young age, and do it often, many times a day, every day. We are talking literally thousands of repetitions over a young lifetime.

So in any one instance, we are not expecting more than the child can deliver. Kids have fewer resources to deal with moments when they are tired or stressed or craving some distraction. We are patient yet firm. If the two year old won’t put her dirty clothes in the hamper, well we can’t have the bedtime story until it’s done. We may offer one buy-out option per week to lessen the power struggle, but we, like the tide, come again and again with our expectation. Figure out your consequences for chore refusal ahead of time. And/or build a reward for good citizenship or clean room into the weekly routine. That’s actually another article, so I will leave this here. You might be amazed at what a little child can do.

ask for what you want

ASK For What You Want

ask for what you want

It’s OK to ASK

When my husband and I first met, he wasn’t interested. He thought I was cute, but crazy. I knew right away he was someone I wanted to get to know better. He was one of 7 men in a classroom of 50 people. I kept hearing some beautiful male voice say things that really impressed me. Soulful things, intelligent things, attractive things. But I couldn’t catch him talking at first. All the men sat in a clump on the far left rear of the classroom. I couldn’t tell who was speaking.

When I finally figured out which body went with that beautiful heart and mind, the semester was getting old. My chances to get his attention were few and getting fewer. I had to make a move or lose the opportunity to meet him. So I asserted myself while he was talking to an entire group of admiring women. He was talking about heading out to hike a long trail. I gave him my business card, and told him to drop me a postcard. He didn’t know me from Adam’s housecat. My card didn’t have an address on it. But he called me. He still wasn’t interested, but that is another story.

I asked for what I wanted. Women outnumbered men in that class 6:1, but it was me he called. Because I let him know I wanted to hear from him.

Our daughter is now 14. We have cleverly kept her penniless, and she is just now deciding that she needs money and that means finding work. She’s willing to work (for anyone but us), but she is not willing to ask for work. So it’s not likely she will get any work. If no one knows what she wants, she is unlikely to get it. And this is true for you, too.

It can be terrifying to ask for what you want. What if people react badly? What if they remain calm, but they think poorly of you later? What if your request or statement puts them on the spot? What if they say yes when they want to say no? What if they resent you?! What if they Hate you!?!

But wait!…What if they…don’t? What if they are glad you asked? What if they give you what you want? What if it’s not a big deal either way? What if they say no, and it’s not a problem? What if we all try to take responsibility for our own stuff? What if we didn’t have to guess at what our partner wanted because he asks for what he wants?

It’s ok to ask. It’s even ok to pitch it, presenting your argument for why giving you what you want is beneficial to them. It’s ok to be told no. You may be severely disappointed. You may even decide you have to leave your job or your relationship, but at least you’ll know. You will know that you are not getting your request fulfilled and now you are free to make your next decision. The alternative can be spending years thinking you will eventually be rewarded at work or within your family, only to find out the thing you desired and even expected is not going to happen.

Asking for what you want increases your chances of getting what you want. Asking does not guarantee your wish will be granted, but successful people agree that not asking seriously decreases your chances of getting what you want.

OK, you say, but how is this asking thing done if one is shy and unsure?

1. Know what you want. Easier said than done! Ask yourself frequently “What am I feeling? What do I need? What do I want?” Be still and listen to that inner voice. It’s there, waiting for you.

2. Know what you are willing to trade. Are you expecting that you have already earned this, or are you asking for a gift? Are you proposing a reciprocal arrangement? What are you willing to give in return? If you want no strings attached, know that, too.

3. Compose your attitude correctly. You deserve good things. (If you are sure this is not true you are reading the wrong article.) Say this 10,000 times until you believe it in your bones. Who has power in the relationship? Do you need to be firm and businesslike? Soft and humble? Charming? Persuasive? Evaluate whether yours is a common, simple request, or is it a big commitment on the part of the giver? Or are you asking for the world? It’s ok to be confident, bold even. It’s ok to ask for a lot, but try to put yourself in the shoes of the other. Show up wearing the right attitude.

4. Find some words. If it’s tricky, or an audacious request, or you are shy or not good with words, compose your request. Miss Manners, Dear Abby, Emily Post all have some phrases that are helpful. I have a friend who is especially good at helping me say all kinds of things in the kindest, clearest way possible. I have at times written notes on index cards when I am nervous about asking. I have even read from the same cards, held in trembling hands, to a person sitting in front of me.

5. Choose your moment. Try to find a time when everyone is rested, fed and not feeling pressured by deadlines or other concerns. Make an appointment if needed, even with a family member, even with your spouse.

6. Set the tone. Sometimes I say “I want to ask a favor, but whatever you decide is fine.” Or “I have thought about this a lot, and I feel I need this/deserve this. Feel free to take some time to think about it, because this is important.” This gives people an idea of the relative importance of your request.

7. Make the ask. Be succinct. Then stop talking to underline the fact that the next move is theirs. “Why don’t you send me a postcard?” “Can I please have a Coca-Cola?” “I would prefer an ocean view.” “Our room is not satisfactory, do you have another room you can put us in?” “Do you want to meet me sometime for a meal?” “I’d like to have a shot at that promotion.” “Is it possible that I could work from home?” “Do you have any work that I could do for you?” “Could you find some time to listen to me while I tell you about a problem I’m having?” “Thanks for the advice, but what I really need is for you to just listen.” “Will you marry me?”

8. Set a time frame. Some answers are immediate, some deserve time. Suggest a time frame. “Do you need time to think about it? Can you let me know by tomorrow/next week?”

9. Let it go. People are going to do what they are going to do. You will be happier if you let go of notions about what other people should do. They make their choices the best they know how, just like you do. There are many variables that you will never know about. So respect their decisions, and now, armed with your answer, yes or no, you can make your own choices.

10. Practice this over and over and over. It gets easier. The benefits are freedom, knowledge and self-respect, honesty, intimacy, and greater success and satisfaction in personal, work and financial relationships. Practice with smaller things often, push yourself to address all the big things (you know what they are because they make you feel nervous) until you get really good at asking for what you want.