Parents often say, “I hope when my child goes off to college or moves out they make the right decisions.” Or “I hope they can take care of themselves.”
What I would say to those parents is- it is the early lessons they learn from us that allow them to succeed in life.
This is not an article coming from an academic but rather a parent that wants the best for her own children and who was a child and has grown into an adult and observed hundreds of others move through these stages with varying degrees of success.
First of all, the truth is that the earlier we start teaching our children important lessons and give them responsibility, the easier it will be to continue those lessons as our children reache their teenage years and approach their twenties.
If we want to raise a child that will be a responsible, productive adult, who can take care of themself, we need to start paying attention to the messages we are giving our children even when they are very young.
Of course, we should put having fun and allowing kids to explore their worlds first, but we should be slowly introducing money management, teamwork, household responsibility, ownership and social cooperation to our children.
Start Teaching Lessons Early
By the time your child is 3 you can already have them help you with easy tasks around the house. When you are doing laundry, allow your child to help you. Let them help carry the clothes or put them in the dryer or help you pour the detergent in the washer. It is fun to help mom at that age and without even saying anything you are starting to lay the foundation for teamwork, cooperation and household responsibility.
Even my 18 month old helps clean up toys and throws a tissue in the trashcan for me when I ask. You can see the sense of pride at having accomplished the task when he runs back to me after throwing the trash away.
I recommend becoming aware of the lessons you want to teach your child once you have a baby and realize that, once they are interacting and walking around, you can be teaching them bigger lessons. Of course, even a baby is learning every second- they are learning about love, how to get what they need, how to soothe themselves and how to do new things. But once your child is between 1 to 2 years old you can start having them help you clean up their toys or carry the wipes. Any small job will give them pride in helping out.
As your child gets a little older, between 2 and 3 years old, you can have them cleaning up more of their own toys and being a helper when you clean. And once your child is between 3 and 4 you can start having them clean up their toys and start helping around the house. Have them put napkins out at mealtime and get their own cup (if in a low floor cabinet) for you to fill. You can involve them in helping with a cause when you volunteer your time or food, or money. Let them know what you are doing and, if possible, let them participate in some small way (let them fold fliers or go to see the animals you help) that is appropriate for their age.
Once your child is between 4 and 5, give them weekly, small chores to help at home. Let them bring their clothes to the laundry room or set the table every night. I find a chores chart is perfect to begin using by about 4 years old. Of course it will depend on the child,however, it will help your child feel a sense of accomplishment and putting the sticker on the chart or other item can be fun for them.
Introduce Chores and Allowance
As your kids get a bit bigger, in Kindergarten or Grade School, you can begin giving them set chores every week around the house. If you were considering a small allowance, I would recommend starting by 4 or 5 as well. I will have other articles about money matters and will discuss allowances further. In general, I like the concept that you give your child an allowance and you have them split it between 3 containers, labeled spend, save and donate. And every time they are given an allowance they spilt it between the 3 containers. This is a great tool to begin teaching your kids about the importance of saving money, making a choice about how to spend their own money and the importance of donating some of their money.
Introduce Volunteering or Helping Others
By 4 or 5 you can also let them think about who or what they would want to help or volunteer for (ex. Do they think we should help other kids in need, or animals or older people?) Once they decide, think of a way for the family to go help out that cause (you can call a local non-profit and ask for ways you and your kids can help). You do not want to force this but if they think it sounds fun or they like the idea, you should use that as a way to get them involved, even if only 2 times a year.
Language- What you Say is What You Get
It is also important to be aware of the language we use when talking about housework, yard work, chores, money, helping others, and teamwork. We are our children’s first teachers and we have an opportunity to teach them throughout life if we honor that responsibility and privilege with respect.
We may not feel like doing laundry or dishes, or vacuuming or saving money, but if are positive or explain the necessity of those chores and saving to our kids, as they grow, they will be more likely to help with important work around the house. After a long day or week, it might be easy to complain about the extra work, but if you can stay positive or focus on the necessity of it, you will soon find you have others in your family that will help you and one day be responsible for the laundry or dishes.
If you want your kids to do chores as they get older, be mindful of how you approach the chores and remember that your attitude will affect their feelings about chores now or in a year or two.
Get Your Child Involved in a team Sport or Activity
It is important for children to be able to play alone and do things by themselves. Yet, it is also important that your child learns to play with or work with others. Through out school, our kids will have to work alongside others, and often in teams, to complete a project and later, when they enter the work force. Most adults have to work with others every day.
In order to foster teamwork and getting along with others, I would recommend signing your child up for a team sport or activity they have expressed interest in, such as Soccer, T-ball, Dance, Gymnastics, Basketball, or another activity. Or have them involved in group activities with their peers, such as doing a large art mural or something in an art class or with friends.
Kids not only learn how to take turns, work together and follow instructions, but they are usually learning or improving a set of skills. They are also gaining pride in their growing skills and in either playing well or completing something such as a piece of art or a dance routine. And, of course, any physical activity is a great way to keep their bodies moving and teach them the importance of getting out and getting moving.