by Theresa of Montessoriinreallife.com
One of the most wonderful things about toddlers is how they so inherently want to help. They are eager to be involved, be near us, and participate in our day-to-day activities. What we deem “chores,” toddlers see as what they are: meaningful contributions to our family or community.
After toddlerhood, we often notice a shift. Children seem less intrinsically motivated to help and view helping more as a chore. This is a natural part of development: they are more independent and focused on their own work and play. They are discovering who they are and where their own interests lie, which is a beautiful thing. It also doesn’t mean it’s the end of helping!
How do we continue to foster this motivation and raise helpers beyond the toddler years? Here are a few tips that I’ve been keeping in mind in our own home lately. These can be incorporated in toddlerhood and well beyond!
Help Our Children
Our children learn how to help through us helping them. When we respond to their requests for help, they are more likely to do so in return. Helping doesn’t mean doing a task for them, but rather offering just enough help to get them through a tough spot.
Not only should we think about how we are offering help to our children, but how can we offer help to our partner, a friend, or our community? The more our children see us being helpers, the more likely they will want to be a helper too.
Talk About It
“In our family, we help each other.” This is a phrase that we repeat often at home. The more we say and hear this, the more ingrained it becomes and the more natural it feels to be a helper in the family. Importantly, this phrase is said in a gentle way, not as a command.
Make It Part Of The Routine
When we make helping a part of our daily rhythm, it becomes natural. In our family, certain tasks are the kids’ responsibility every day: putting shoes and coats away, setting the table, feeding the dog, wiping up spills, tidying toys, etc. These tasks aren’t rewarded but rather just part of the routine.
Don’t Force It
Inviting doesn’t guarantee our children will help. Even when these tasks are part of the daily (or weekly) routine, everyone has off days. We can offer grace and let it go. Often, the next day, or at a different time, they are ready to help again.
Sometimes we move so quickly through our own chores, we forget that we could involve our children. As much as possible, I try to do chores in front of the children so that they have the opportunity to join in and help. Often, what we consider mundane tasks are satisfying for our children. Having cleaning tools that are appropriately sized for our children makes them feel especially capable.
Accept It As Is
When our children do help, we may find that they’re ‘help’ doesn’t lead to the outcome we desire. The dishes might not be as clean, or the laundry might not be folded in a neat stack. When this happens, we can thank them for helping and appreciate the effort that went into it. Rather than correct them at the moment, we can model again another time, and try to be patient, as every skill takes time.
How can your child help today? •
Theresa is a mom to two, a former Montessori guide, and the founder of the blog Montessori in Real Life(www.montessoriinreallife.com). Prior to momming and blogging, she went to graduate school for developmental psychology and earned her Montessori infant/toddler guide certification. Since transitioning from teaching to motherhood, Theresa found a new passion sharing her love of Montessori with parents,while continuing to implement the Montessori philosophy in her own home.