I have noticed with my daughters (ages 3 and 6), that often when I am sitting down, watching them play (or hoping to), there is suddenly a fog of boredom that wafts through the room. Conflicts seem to more readily arise between them. Conversely, when I am physically busy with chores or hobbies, the children either want to help, or they respect the tasks at hand and become industrious in their own parallel way. Perhaps the feeling is that if I am “just” sitting there, I am available to resolve all conflicts (therefore why not create more, since we have a built in referee?) and I should also, obviously, entertain them. Yet when left to their own devices, they can resolve conflicts and create more imaginative games than I ever could. I think it is so important to give them these opportunities to play and to navigate how to treat one another without my constant input.
Sometimes the chores of the day capture the children’s interest, and they ask to help. Laundry, dishes and cleaning tasks can all be rewarding work for them, but what thrills them the most is the real work that happens outside - digging, weeding, watering, planting, mulching, harvesting. Gardens are magical, even to me as an adult. I still find myself a bit surprised when a seed I have tended emerges as a food producing plant!
One day recently, my husband decided to make a koi pond in our backyard. He spent hours digging a big hole for the pond. The girls were initially fascinated, and though the excitement waned a bit while the afternoon stretched on, they matched his industriousness with their own digging in the sandbox, as well as helping me to weed and water the garden beds. Beau set up a table with a notepad and pen, and like a mini archeologist, she rinsed, examined and documented the random items being uncovered in the excavation site...marbles, pottery, whiffle ball, hair clip, coal, elephant? We passed an entire afternoon busily and contentedly in our little backyard. (I have a really cute picture of Ruby to add here, but she is one of those new-age, garden-in-your-underwear types).
Sometimes we adults don’t feel like being industrious, and I am not insinuating that we shouldn’t sit down and relax now and then. Children need to have down time too, and its good for them to see us taking care of ourselves. I am simply reflecting on how our own work, whether it is done with the assistance of our children or merely in their vicinity, is an important factor in the children developing their own sense of confidence and self worth. Whether they are learning how entertain themselves, how to get along with their siblings or how to fold laundry, they feel empowered by these experiences. Their will is strengthened by being treated like a welcomed and competent helper, as well as by not always needing to be helped.
Food for thought: Sometimes the tasks at hand can take a little longer (okay, a lot longer) when we are assisted by our young children. But look at it this way - if we do not honor their pleas to participate in our family work now when the desire to be included is so heartfelt, do we still have the right to complain when they get older and no longer have any desire or inclination to contribute?