Children are viewed as items that need to be managed — more often than we, as adults, would like to admit. When we do this, however, we take away from them the opportunity to use their unique talents to help their family, school, and community. Children have amazing insights, ideas, and talents – and it is important to their growth that the adults in their lives recognize the abilities of children.
Gone are the days when “children should be seen and not heard”. We have learned that children need to give input on appropriate family discussions. On the website, healthychildren.org, the American Academy of Pediatrics teaches that while families are not democracies, children should be part of family decisions. Parents are ultimately responsible for making those decisions. But, allowing children to have input will help children accept the decisions more readily.
As a family, we often make plans for Saturday as we sit around the breakfast table. We ask each person to list two things they want to do that day. We end up with a list of about 14 items. Some are simple – my four year old always wants to have cuddle time; and some are more complex – like me wanting to clean out the garage. Because everyone helped to make the list, everyone is more willing to work on the items on the list. In addition, my children seem to have better attitudes about the chores on the list, because they know there are other activities planned as well.
Children have amazing capabilities and will often rise to the level of the expectations adults have of them. And while it’s important to keep those expectations age-appropriate, it is just as important that those expectations are high. It is reasonable to expect grade school children to help with housework, to complete their homework (with some parental encouragement), and to play kindly with one another. It is not reasonable to expect grade school children to also roof the house or exclusively tend the younger children.
The responsibilities parents assign to children need to help the family in significant ways. Having children help tend the garden, for example, is a responsibility that is significant because it helps support the family (if it is a vegetable garden) or helps to beautify the family’s living space (if it’s a flower garden). Having children do meaningful jobs, with their parents, sends messages of capability, responsibility, and trust. Also, when parents give children meaningful chores to do on their own messages of dependability and reliability are sent.
Parents are in an interesting business. It is our job to raise our offspring to be productive and well-adjusted members of society.
When we take the opportunity to show our children that we think they are capable, are responsible, are trustworthy, are dependable, and are reliable – then those are the messages they will internalize and the characteristics they will develop.
Are there ways every child in a family can help the family and learn these characteristics? Yes, it only takes looking for the opportunities, stepping aside, and letting the children show what they can do. It always amazes me how much more my children can do, when I step back and let them.