A while ago, I read an article that really convicted me of my own laziness, and it has shaped my mindset as to how I want to train our kids. It is called
How I made sure all 12 of my kids could pay for college themselves
One of the many roles parents have is to teach our children to become independent and to help them mature in their character. If you do everything for your child, you are potentially setting them up to be lazy, ungrateful, and helpless.
Laziness. If children have the physical ability and cognitive understanding of how to do something, they should learn to do it…the sooner the better. If you do anything for them that they can do themselves, they become lazy and dependent on you for tasks they are fully capable of doing. When our oldest was walking and wearing shoes, we always made her put her shoes away when we got home. She wasn’t always compliant, and she often fought our request. Eventually over time, it became a habit to put her shoes away. Now at two and a half, she puts her shoes away most of the time. If she forgets, a simple verbal reminder will do the job.
Ungratefulness. Another way to see it is taking things for granted, such as home-cooked meals, a fully stocked refrigerator, clean clothes, an empty kitchen sink, or polished floors. Obviously, we want our kids to be grateful, but people don’t know how to be grateful unless they are exposed to circumstances leading them to count their blessings; 1. the loss or absence of the blessing, and 2. learning responsibility.
Helplessness. One of the greatest tools you can teach your child is problem solving skills. This entails utilizing their abilities in times of need (such as reading, researching, etc), turning to resources, and thinking outside the box. If you always do things for your child, you become their crutch, and they become dependent on you. This can be problematic when you’re not accessible in a time of need. This can easily lead to learned helplessness. Training children by breaking down the task actually allows them to experience independence at their developmental level, which leads to greater autonomy.
Children can learn how to participate in the laundry list of daily chores by pitching in their part at their own developmental level and physical ability. A simple task such as putting your child’s dirty laundry in the hamper can be turned into an opportunity to teach your child self help skills. If your child can walk, and hold things with two hands, then he or she can put dirty clothes in the laundry hamper.
Currently, our oldest can do her own laundry. It took about one year to train her from beginning to end. She has been assisting us in the laundry settings, and pushing the start button since she was one years old. She is capable of transferring clothes from the hamper to the laundry machine to the drier. She puts in her own drier sheet. Recently, she has shown interest in folding her clothes, so at 2.5 yrs old, she can fold her pants and put them in her drawers, and retrieve the stool from her bathroom in order to reach and hang her shirts in the closet. She also learned to roll her socks into a ball after matching them together. Because our daughter is helpful by nature, she will also offer to do her baby sister’s laundry as well. The expectation of completing this chore is just to finish it, but not to do it perfectly. On my part, it includes letting go of the imperfect results: shirts hanging in the wrong direction, and drawers that are not perfectly organized. However, empowering my daughter to learn this life-long skill is priceless, and over time, she will perfect her skill.
The process of training kids is certainly not easy nor convenient, requires consistency, and takes time, but the long term results will pay off in the future.
*Note: I am not suggesting that all 2.5 year olds need to learn how to do their own laundry. In fact, I will not even place this expectation on our second child. Our oldest daughter, by nature, is very independent and intrinsically curious about the adult world, so we used her interests to teach her what she was ready for, and she just happened to show interest in this specific chore. The main point of the post is to discuss the possible consequences of doing too much for your kids.