Interesting habits in Germany: we all gathered on Saturday to clean up the kindergarten garden. Children and parents alike, with rakes, shovels and wheelbarrows, we worked our way together through the big piles of dead autumn leaves that the wind had scattered everywhere.
Luna is 2 and she learned to use a mini wheelbarrow for the first time, while her colleague helped out using his mini shovel to load it with leaves. So sweet to watch, really. It is however not uncommon here to see 2-year-olds and 3-year-olds trying their best to clean up and do small jobs.
The best part was that after all of their hard work, the kindergarten teachers served hot drinks and then “Sankt Nikolaus” visited the place. He had presents for all the kids present. See the connection there?
Kids don’t usually get toys from St. Nicholas, that is Santa’s job. They got the classical Saint Nicholas gift – chocolate, oranges and walnuts. Luna was over the moon because she recently has been having 2 mantras: “Chocolate” and “Cartoons”. I sometimes count how many times in a row she repeats these words, and I slowly become a bit zen.
I was amazed to see how effective we can teach kids responsibility, sharing, working in teams and so much more. All of that by doing together an otherwise ordinary job that the kids will love. This event goes clearly to our list of traditions from now on.
Why are chores so important for kids?
Kids thrive when they are given the trust to handle things that adults can. Parents thrive when they can also rest and receive support from their family members. My husband and I both come from Eastern European cultures that were not giving full attention to these things.
Although we grew up in different countries, we both saw similar habits around us. Many kids were much too smothered by their parents, for much too long. Especially by their mothers, who took on much too many practical life responsibilities from their kids.
Although this was done initially with good intent, one can’t help but wonder if aiming to make children’s life easier might not actually be a selfish thing to do. Doesn’t taking away the responsibilities take away as well the skills they would otherwise gain?
They are clearly connected. And the result?
On one side, tired, unhappy and even bitter and resentful women, who believe it is their sacred duty and role to do all the household work and nurturing by themselves. On the other side, kids stripped away from the confidence and knowledge gained after work, be it well or poorly done.
And this is a common trap that anyone can fall into, which is why it needs extra attention. Lessons come out of the problems that we solve, and doing everything for your child also tells him that he needs an adult for everything because he can’t handle life by himself. But we can surely change the way we see our kids just by trusting them more.
The benefits of chores
I can think of many reasons why kids need to help out with chores. It helps them:
– feel useful and needed
– learn practical life skills
– learn better hand-eye coordination through practice
– learn responsibility
– correctly appreciate the value and effort of someone’s work
– become independent
– feel competent and capable of solving problems
– enjoy the feeling of completing a task
– learn teamwork
– avoid becoming entitled brats
– have parents who are not bitter over too much work
Here is the list of chores for toddlers and preschoolers that I put together. You can download the pdf directly here.
Starting with 18 months, most toddlers can slowly start trying most of these activities. I don’t believe in splitting by age necessarily just because each kid is so different. Some will love doing a harder chore and refuse altogether an easier one, regardless of age. Some will need you to show them how to do a task over and over until they join in. And this is fine.
But most will not do it correctly in the beginning. This is why it helps so much to be patient, count to 10 and let them do these chores poorly, without correcting it. “Done is better than perfect”, may this be your mantra when you see yogurt and grease spread across the entire table after you asked your toddler to clean up their spills.
I believe it helps to just show them how we do these tasks and encourage them to try along. Praising the job done and making a big deal out of it is crucial.
Also, I am not here to say I am a super mom. I actually made the chore list a while back for personal accountability. I wanted to put down this map of what I envision and believe will be useful for the kids and us. Some days we get enough sleep and energy and we stick to it. Some days we’re tired and adult life responsibilities kick in and basically, ain’t nobody got time for that.
But overall in the last 3 years, I started completely moving away from this idea that we as adult women need to do all the work for everybody, all of the time. I had a lot of support from my husband on this, he’s great with sharing responsibilities. I also did a lot of work on myself and I keep doing it. But I know for sure it does not make me a lesser mom and a lesser woman if I give responsibilities to my small children. On the contrary.
I say ask for help. I say take the help. I say be kind to yourself and let go of this deep down pressure to do everything to the point of exhaustion. I say listen to people properly so you understand what they REALLY need you to help them with. Make it easier for others to help you. It opens your life to a new way of being. And it helps kids grow confident and independent.
What chores do you find important to teach your kids?