I recently spoke to a mother who was concerned about how difficult it was to get her children, ages 7 and 9, out the door for school each morning.
“I can’t make it through a single morning without yelling. It just makes me feel awful. I don’t want to yell at my kids, ever, let alone every morning.”
As we continued to explore what was happening, she said something that really caught my attention. “My son refuses to help out. He isn’t very independent. He wants me to do a lot for him and so I do. But I resent it.”
It brought up a great question. How do parents navigate those situations when we need our child to help out without resorting to yelling, hitting, or threatening? How can we consciously parent through it?
Feeling resentment towards our children, usually unspoken yet very present in the space between us, can make our ability to handle every day stressors involved in getting kids out of the house or moving through any other transition too much. And of course, our kids are feeling it, too.
When there is stress because our kids aren’t helping out, we need to work to make that different. AND we need to do it in a way that feels good to everyone, that respects everyone’s needs and feelings.
Here are some thoughts about creating a culture of working together:
Find age appropriate tasks your child can do. From about the time that children can walk, they can help out in small ways. Little ones can throw things away (and yes, they may pull them right back out again and that’s OK, too) and as they get older, they can do more. Revisit what your children can do periodically. It changes rapidly.
I remember when my oldest was about 10 months old and had just started walking. We had purchased a gallon of water for a camping trip and he, weighing in at all of 18 lbs and a mere 2.5 feet tall, was picking it up and carrying it across the room. Now, at almost 14, there are days when it is hard to get him to pick up his towel off his bedroom floor. Teenagers probably deserve their own blog post… or entire blog to address the somewhat confusing backsliding of abilities that happens once they turn about 13.
Find child-sized cleaning supplies- brooms, towels, etc. and do the work together. Even if your child isn’t actually being productive with the broom, let him join you when you are sweeping. (Cleaning with a young child reminds me of sweeping the floor with my cat nearby. He stalks the broom and pounces on it, making it take much, much longer. My cat reminds me of a great lesson to learn in parenting: When we relax and remember that it isn’t a race, ANYTHING can be fun if we’re not rushing through it. Process is more important than product, especially when children are involved. The floor is just going to get dirty again. But the memories of being together and having FUN cleaning together can last a lifetime.)
Use the magic word: “Let’s”
Pam Leo discusses the importance of “let’s” in her book, Connection Parenting. When you tell your child to do something, there can be a disconnection in the relationship. By saying, “Let’s do this together,” you create connection. When you walk in and see the Legos all over the room, pull out the word “Let’s”, as in, “Let’s clean up these Legos together,” and see what happens. Legos get cleaned up and you end up more connected. Win, win!
Ask yourself if your child is physically capable of a task? Is it appropriate for you to expect your 2 year-old to put on her own shoes? Is it appropriate for your 8 year-old to be able to tie his own shoes? When they can do it, encourage them to do it.
Is now a good time? Is your child currently overwhelmed and not able to do what he normally can do? A friend of mine was upset at her 6 year-old who wouldn’t buckle his seatbelt, even though he had been doing it for years. When she realized how many things had just changed in their lives and how many losses he had JUST experienced, she realized it wasn’t that he wouldn’t, but that he couldn’t. She buckled his seatbelt for him for a few days until he was able to do it for himself.Children need to contribute to the family and the family needs them to contribute. It’s OK to set limits for children. In fact, consciously parenting principle #7 talks about the importance of setting limits. If we are upset at our child because we’re pulling their weight (and they’re capable of helping), we aren’t really helping them. Even if our intention is that we want them to feel loved, if we aren’t being loving because we’re frustrated and exhausted, we aren’t helping them and we’re not helping ourselves.
What are your experiences with creating a culture of working together in your home? Share your stories! I’d love to hear from you!