There was a wonderful podcast on NPR by science correspondent and mother, Michaeleen Doucleff, about household chores and the difference between Toddlers in the West and Indigenous Cultures.
To paraphrase, in Indigenous cultures, predominantly toddlers are encouraged to help; wash dishes and clothes, sweep floors and rinse rice. Of course, early on, there is the inevitable chaos, which can be infuriating, disruptive and slow. However, with enthusiasm and patience, it is an investment that pays off.
“Encourage the messy, incompetent toddler who really wants to do the dishes now, and over time, he'll turn into the competent 7-year-old who still wants to help.” Rebeca Mejia-Arauz, a psychologist at ITESO University in Guadalajara.
This is often in contrast to parenting in the West, where the necessity for help often isn’t as pressing and adults prefer to cook during naps, do chores themselves and simply send the child off to play believing they will be happier. Another way to look at it is, if you tell a child enough times, "No, you're not involved in this chore" eventually they will believe you.
Of course, a helpful child doesn't come over night, nor will a child be willing to help every time. It is an opportunity to model graciousness and patience (gulp!). Let the toddler watch you cook, clean, do laundry, gardening and invite them to help if they choose confident they will grow into the helpful volunteer.
We were reminded of the legendary children’s classic book “Dogger” by Shirley Hughes, in which Dave’s mum shows him how to wash Dogger, so he can care for his beloved toy himself. Inspired I gave it a go.
Cecily's 18 month old is now in charge of ant hunting – an infestation of carpenter ants. Nice. He is Head of Pest Control with a beady eye well suited to safari. The cutlery basket in the dishwasher is also his domain, her husband removes the knives, he passes everything else to be put away. All clothes in and out of the washing machine/dryer are the baby's responsibility – naturally pushing all the buttons is central to the process. However, more often than not, he’s up for it – they will be sending him up the chimney next!