One of the things we intentionally do in our house is we encourage each child to be as independent as is age-appropriately possible.
Basically, I have four steps when I’m teaching the kids to do new jobs, which are:
- Watch me do it
- Help me do it
- Do it while supervised
- Do it alone
1. Watch me do it
At first, when I’m getting a little person ready to take over a task, I’ll invite them to “hang out while I [whatever the job is]” I’ll talk them through what I’m doing in a super low-key way and talk to them about how awesome it’ll be when they can do it, or how I got started doing it when I was younger, etc. I want it in their mind that they can do it, and they will do it one day themselves. For older kids, this usually leads to good conversation, like doubts they can perform the task, or wishing they could do it too. I like this, because with Autumn, my little perfectionist, she almost always has questions. “But what if I spill the dish soap?” “What if I put too much laundry in the washer?” “What will happen if I put away your shirt in daddy’s shirt bin?” and this lets me tell her that there are solutions to all of those problems, or tell her how she can avoid them. We also talk through what would happen if her worst case scenario happened. (If she puts my shirt in Ian’s laundry bin, we’ll move it to the right one. No harm done.)
Sometimes, I even make basic mistakes on purpose, things I’ll expect them to do their first few times they do the task, just to take the pressure off when they make their first mistake. (This is especially helpful for children who tend to be perfectionistic, but may not be necessary for all kids.) One time I squirted WAY too much dish soap out onto the dish rag, just so I could talk autumn through how I could have done it better, and how I solved the problem. When she did it herself, it wasn’t a cause for panic, she just solved it like I had. She was even excited that she didn’t even have to ask me how to fix it, because she already knew how!
We might do this once or twice before I mention them helping, depending on how complicated the new task is.
2. Help me do it
Once I know they’re ready to get started, I give them a easy-win way to immerse themselves into the task at hand: by helping mommy in small, not overwhelming bits.
Quick ways to include young kids in chores & introduce them to bigger chores
- washing dishes with none or few food particles on them
- putting away a few pieces of laundry
- picking up their things in the bathroom
3. Do it while supervised
This, for me, is the hardest part of teaching kids to do things for themselves. It’s hard to watch a child take 15 minutes to wash two spoons, a cup and a practically-clean plate, but it’s necessary to give them confidence, and to correct any big mistakes.
- Don’t micromanage – nothing sucks the joy and enthusiasm from a child faster!
- Let them struggle a little – give them the opportunity to ask for help
- Ad they master the easy parts, give tips on managing the hard parts
4. Do It Alone
Once they’ve done the task a few times by themselves, it’s time to let them do it on their own. Stay far enough away that they can do the task, but still be available to help them if needed. I like to stay in the next room, so I can hear if they’re struggling more than they need to be. Staying in the room can lead some kids to ask for help more often than they need to, so give them a little space, but pay attention to your kid. You know them best and know their personality better than anyone!
Ultimately, your job is to teach your kids to successfully become self-sufficient adults, so teaching them to do their own jobs is critical!