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Raising Helpful Kids

I’ve been re-watching The Office lately. The other day, I saw the episode where Toby, the HR rep, brings his daughter along for “Bring your daughter to work day.” He walks her into the conference room, where his coworkers Angela and Phyllis are setting up for a birthday party, and the cute little girl asks to help. Angela, who admittedly isn’t known for her kindness, immediately snaps no, then explains, “We’d… have to explain everything, it’s probably just easier if we do it ourselves.”

What parent CAN’T relate to that feeling? Even if you’ve never vocalized that to your child, no doubt you’ve had the same inner dialogue at the very least.

The Office isn’t where I would personally turn for child-rearing advice. But the truth is, parenting is a lot like creating passive income in business. You have to invest a lot of time on the front end… but once you’ve got systems in place, the payoff is huge. And one particular area where that is most true is allowing your young kids to help out and pitch in around the house. Remember—the goal is not to raise kids, but to raise independent, successful adults!

Young kids are naturally helpful. Their vocabulary is a good indicator of this. They are quick to express their independence and desire to master new skills—saying “me do it” just shortly after “Dada” and “Mama.” But how do we channel their burgeoning independence into true helpfulness?

There are a few things that parents can do to help our children help us.

  1. Make helpfulness accessible and safe. Obviously, you don’t want to start by handing your toddler a sharp knife and some potatoes. Look around your house and see what is within reach for your child. Can they reach the door and the knobs on the washing machine? If not, could you add a step stool so they can? Or maybe you could start even more simply by giving them two hampers to start sorting clothes into light and dark loads. Think about what is actually possible at their age and stage.

  2. Teach, back off, then re-teach. Demonstrate to your child how to do a task, but then—as much as possible—back off and let them actually attempt it. When they’re done, you can go back and gently correct as needed. But do try to allow them to feel like they’ve done the task all by themselves.

  3. Lower expectations. Even if something is possible for your child, that doesn’t mean they’ll do it to your personal standards—and certainly not right off the bat. Resist the urge to be critical or express disappointment if their helpfulness isn’t as helpful as you’d like. They’ll get there!

  4. Say thank you.

Don’t forget to express gratitude and encouragement to your young helper so they’ll want to help again. Everyone likes to feel that they’ve been helpful, and feeling appreciated generally makes people want to KEEP helping too!

I admit, it wasn’t easy for me to let my kids help when they were really little. I knew that allowing them to help meant that I’d have to lose a certain amount of control. But when I learned to let loose on the reins, I found that my kids were more capable than I realized. With each passing year, their capabilities have improved as their experience deepens.

Sure, their clothes weren’t perfectly folded, and I usually had to mop anytime I had kitchen helpers. But now that they’re tweens, I’m realizing now how the lessons from those early days paid off. They can do their own laundry … cook their own meals (and mine too!) … and help out around the house. I see how the efforts to involve them were more than worth my time (and yes, sometimes frustration!) all those years ago.

As I woke up late on a recent Saturday morning to the smell of breakfast sweetly prepared by my kids, I couldn’t help but think of earlier scenes: flour-covered kitchen floors, and the sounds of us parents constantly admonishing, “Don’t lick your hands!” I’m thankful that we didn’t throw in the towel back then—and my taste buds are too!

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