HARRISBURG, Pa. — It's something that is so simple for parents to do, and yet more often than not, we don't even think of it. Kids -- in my case, our son Joey (his sister Charlotte is still too young) -- always want to help around the house; doing dishes, starting laundry, cooking dinner, you name it. If there's a chore to do, you better believe a toddler is going to want to do it.
Why can't they be so generous with their time and energy when they get older and are actually physically capable of doing these everyday household activities?
Believe it or not, there is a real answer to this question which has confounded parents for generations, and it all comes back to you, mom and/or dad.
"If we are able to slow down and say 'Yes, this is something that you can help with,' you are fostering that desire to be helpful," says Rachel Vucic, a mental health professional and family expert at Wellspan Philhaven. "If you can continue to do that as they get older, they will also have this feeling of independence, and a feeling of pride, that can come from being helpful."
The easy thing to do is what a lot of parents do already, and what I am guilty of as well: I'd rather do it myself. How often have you said to your young child, "Not right now, sweetie?" or "Hold on, buddy, please don't." Parents know we can get things done faster, and better, when a toddler isn't nipping at your heels. A little extra screen time is well worth the guilty conscience when it allows you to cook a hassle-free dinner.
What happens, though, if your child hears and experiences that shutdown constantly? Days turn into months which turn into years. Eventually, the toddlers start to form their own thoughts; "Why should I ask mom and dad for help if they're just going to shoo me away?" they ask themselves.
"Their ability that they're not capable of helping, or they're not capable of doing certain things really reflects how they feel about themselves through their parents view of what they're capable of," Vucic said. "I think being able to foster that ability to build them and build their self-esteem and pride can really go a long way."
Vucic says the key to doing that is planning ahead. Each day, figure out the ways your child can help you that day. It could be setting aside extra time to fold and put away laundry. If you're making dinner, and you know you're going to be using a knife, tell them ahead of time they can help by putting something in a bowl or mixing it.
It takes time and patience, but each instance your child is able to engage in their helpful desires, is one step closer to getting them to be helpful teens and adults as well.
Wellspan Philhaven is offering free educational support groups for parents and caregivers. Class sizes are limited to 50 people. Health professionals, like Rachel Vucic, will be available to answer questions, provide support, and give helpful tips to residents will kids age 2-21.