How to teach children to do their own work?
Created by Sumitra Gopal Updated on Mar 23, 2020
Long ago when my son Jerry was a year old, I remember asking him to bring me his milk bottle. One of his grandparents said “abhi toh baccha hai” (‘he’s just a child’). That just didn’t sit with me: This child was just a year old, but he had a very sharp brain - he understood two languages (Hindi and English), he could spend endless hours collecting stones and making countless trips up the stairs to put them in his basket, he started walking at 7 months and explored our entire duplex, he had the basic understanding of having done something wrong after ransacking my make-up cupboard. That got me thinking…maybe I should use this to both our advantages and groom him into a responsible adult. I had to “catch him young”.
I’m happy I did that because I now live in a foreign country; I don’t have a helper but I have two little helping hands that take care of their own chores, and sometimes surprise me with additional voluntary help!
We began with basic roles and responsibilities at home—remove your shoes and put them in the cupboard, get your tiffin boxes and water bottles from your bags to the kitchen, put your laundry clothes in the basket, keep your folded clothes in your cupboard, keep your toys and books back before you sleep, and turn off the lights when you leave the room. Jerry has now graduated to loading the dishwasher for me, and Kiki, although still 4, likes to lay the table!
Sooner than later
As the children grew, I increasingly felt that the foundation for the values and morals we wanted to impart had to be laid now because later would be too late. We have used stories, cartoons, books, anecdotes, and ourselves as examples to drive the point home.
Being respectful is the way to be, towards elders, friends, siblings and most importantly our domestic staff. Jerry loved reading about Noddy and we helped him observe how Noddy was always helpful and kind to everyone in Toyland. This is our bit towards raising children who will hopefully make the world a peaceful place to live in!
Sharing is caring?
Sharing was a tricky one as Jerry did not identify with the ‘sharing is caring’ philosophy. So we twisted it a bit:"If you share, God will give you more”. In kindergarten Jerry shared his chocolate with another child and when he was asleep I put a bar of chocolate under his pillow. He really believed he got the bar from God for being such a good child. Luckily for us, he taught the same to Kiki too!
As a parenting rule, we buy one toy for both the children (unless there is a specific age-related requirement) and encourage them to share. The same goes with their piggy bank- one pool to spend from.
Value for money
We are members of a library and encourage borrowing books instead of buying our children the entire bookshop. We’re not scared to take our children to a toy store and tell them we can’t buy them something because it’s too expensive. Over a period of time, the children have understood that money is limited and we can either spend on an expensive toy that they already have, or buy them a bicycle they can ride for as long as they want.
We once encouraged Jerry to save his pocket money to buy a toy he was insisting on; he had to shell out most of what he had saved, but we drove the point home.
Discipline around the house
Not to say our home is an army concentration camp, but we expect the basics to be adhered to. For example, we want the children to respond when we call out to them- even an “I’ll come in a minute” is good enough. Food will be laid on the table and you are free to have whatever is made; however wasting food is not appreciated and neither is running around the house while eating food. There is a time for everything- playtime is sacrosanct & uninterrupted, and so is the time for homework.
Discipline is the toughest, for we have to be polite yet firm and realise the right time to just let go.
We have evolved to being respectful towards our children’s preferences and growing needs. As Jerry (influenced by older children in school) and Kiki (under the influence of Jerry) are growing up,my husband and I are learning to talk to them rather than forcing our way into their decisions. We have learnt to pick our battles. Most importantly, we’ve understood that the best way to teach children respect is to treat them and their preferences with respect. It’s not easy but we are at work and hopefully we’re on the right track!
Do you have any other way to teach your child how to do his or her own work? If yes, please do share with us in the comments section below. We would love to hear from you.
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