While making dinner the other day, I noticed our 2-year-old setting silverware out on the table. Although I never taught her how to do this, it didn’t surprise me, since she loves mimicking her big sister. And big sister helps set the table. She looked so sweet attempting to place the forks in their designated spots.
As I walked closer, however, I realized that instead of taking the clean silverware from the drawer, she had pulled dirty utensils out from the open dishwasher. I praised her initiative as I explained how we use silverware from the drawer instead. Then I promptly put the silverware back in the dishwasher and finished setting the table.
All this got me thinking about how important it is for kids to know that they have a place at the table, literally and figuratively. Children want to know that their presence matters and that they can add value. I’m so quick to just do things myself because that’s usually easier, but our kids want to be part of what we’re doing in the home.
These days many of us have our kiddos around 24/7. Maybe this means it’s easier to come up with opportunities to involve your kids because you have more time. Or maybe you’re like us and things seem crazier than ever. Either way, we can all find ways to help give our kids a sense of belonging and stability in this ever-changing world. And bonus: something that can give children this stability might even help you, Mama, with your own to-do list.
Numerous studies have shown that children are inclined to help. They usually aren’t looking for a reward for helping either at young ages like two or three – they simply want to be part of what’s going on. I think this speaks to our innate desire to be part of something bigger, something beyond ourselves. There’s a reason God puts value on relationships with him, with our family, and with other believers. We are created for community, and in a healthy community, people love and help one another.
While I believe it’s wise to offer positive reinforcement for behaviors we want to encourage, there might also be times when we can let the “reward” for helping simply be the joy that comes from being part of something bigger.
So how can we foster this innate desire to help? Here are four ideas:
- Start them young. Even 2-year-old kiddos can be given simple jobs to do. Maybe it’s setting napkins on the table or holding the dustpan while you’re sweeping. They’ll likely embrace the opportunity to make a contribution and view this work as fun, since they likely haven’t yet been taught that work is hard or negative in any way.
- Recognize the value they add. While you’re making lunch, you could give your kiddos a task to help you with meal prep. For example, my daughter loves to add that beloved orange powder to the mac ‘n cheese. Then while you eat, remind your child how they helped make that meal possible.
- Work as a team. When I ask my kids to clean up their mess, I’m often answered with, “Mommy, will you help us?” I don’t always help, especially if they were solely responsible for making the mess. It’s interesting, though, because when I do help, even just by putting away one or two items, my girls act as if it’s more of an activity than a chore.
- Make it fun. Have a contest to see who can pick up the most toys or talk in silly voices as you set the table together. One thing my girls and I often do is turn on music so we can dance and sing as we clean. Helping really can be a lot of fun.
Maybe now more than ever, we can so easily get caught up in what’s happening in the world that we forget to focus on what’s happening in our homes. As moms, we have a unique opportunity to give our kids a sense of stability and belonging amidst the changes around us. And while it may add some extra work on the front end, the fruits of raising helpful kids can make a big difference for years to come, both inside and outside the walls of our home.
No matter what your home looks like these days, we can all find ways to raise helpful kids – even if that means dirty silverware on the table from time to time.
Amanda Jass is a wife and mom of three girls ages four and under, so their house is filled with lots of giggles, diapers and bows. She loves being involved in her local MOPS group and has served in MOPS leadership for the past three years. Connect with her on Instagram at @amandakjass and find free resources she’s created at https://amandakjass.com/kids-resources.