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 2 year 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 lower dishwasher drawer is also his domain, the merry clank of the china echoes through the flat! His absolute favourite Carrot porridge and banana pancakes - him. More often than not, he’s up for it – sending him up the chimney next!
How do you encourage your children to help?