A little helping hand
As a mum of a toddler, I often find myself caught in a sort of limbo when it comes to what my daughter should and shouldn’t be doing at this age. Having just turned 3, she’s old enough to understand a great deal more than she did this time last year, but, at the same time, she’s still a ‘baby’. Looking around at my friends with kids of a similar age, it surprises me to see how differently each child behaves – primarily, I think, due to differing parenting methods, which either restrict or encourage certain behaviours and activities for kids.
Now that my daughter is no longer a toddler, I have found myself becoming a little stricter about what she can – and what she cannot – get away with in terms of her behaviour. A prime example is when she’s finished playing with her toys. Unlike when she was just a year old, she is no longer allowed to leave her toys strewn across the room in a big mess. She understands the concept of tidying up, she comments that the floor looks ‘beautiful’ when it’s uncluttered, and, above all, she loves helping out. I’m proud to say that, so far, I’ve been successful in raising a helpful child when it comes to chores.
There are, of course, differing viewpoints on whether chores are suitable activities for kids. On one end of the spectrum are those who challenge their children to a greater extent than I do. One example of this comes from a few months back, when my daughter and I stayed overnight in hospital due to a minor illness. When she felt up to it, my daughter loved to play in the kids’ playroom, which was filled with toys, but I felt very uncomfortable when the playroom assistant demanded that my then two year old, with her fever and breathing difficulties, tidy up after herself. I believe that children of such a young age should be encouraged, not pushed beyond their physical and emotional limits.
At the other end of the spectrum are those who create very few rules for their children. I’m a strong advocate of the ‘each to their own’ philosophy, but I’m always left speechless when other mums ‘jokingly’ accuse me of child labour for expecting my daughter to help out around the home. Believe it or not, I don’t encourage this helpful behaviour because I’m incapable of keeping a tidy and organised home myself – I ran a successful home for 6 years before my daughter came along – instead, I do it to teach my daughter important life skills. I’m a firm believer in the teachings of Princeton University professor Viviana Zelizer, who wrote that “The usefulness of children’s chores is secondary; child work is supposed to train the child, not help the parent”.
I feel this also makes my child understand that as part of the family she is equally responsible to keep the home tidy, and its not just mom who has to clean up and organize everything. That she has to do her own bit, clean up after herself, organize her books, clothes and shoes and become more active and independent. I feel these qualities are very important to be ingrained right from the start as a habit. Though a balance is always required, as a parent I cannot leave her entirely on her own and expect her to do everything perfectly, but instead work with her, help her, guide her and welcome her ideas as well, until she is good to handle it on her own.
So what does this mean for my family? It means that I have mismatched socks in the sock drawer from incorrect pairing, it means that my TV is covered in tiny handprints from ‘cleaning’, and it means that the poor cats have occasionally found dried pasta in their bowls rather than cat biscuits after the two plastic containers have been mistaken for each other! I can’t expect precision and perfection from a 3 year old. But what I do see is one smiling little face as she helps out around the house – and I’m starting to see the blossoming of a helpful and an active little girl.