There are many opinions right now on how children should be treated in order for them to become confident adults. Some athletic programs provide a ribbon for just showing up, regardless of effort. Some teachers have stopped using a red pen in correcting work, for fear it’s too harsh. On the flip side, some resources counsel parents not to give praise to children, but instead make factual observations about the child’s work (“I see you used a lot of red in this painting.”). How can we get back to basics and help our children grow up to be strong, confident individuals? The answer is in your broom closet.
From the time children are very small they crave purposeful work. They imitate parents cooking, cleaning, and constantly try to help. Some of these efforts go unappreciated—just ask any mother who has left a toddler alone with a basket of clean laundry for five minutes. But by providing children with guidance and setting them up for success we can create an environment where they can experience the pride of a job well done, and the confidence that they can help themselves.
With young children, adjustments are needed to create this environment. Tools like a small hand broom and dustpan to fit little hands, an unbreakable mirror mounted to the child’s height with a comb and wash cloth within reach, and a few step stools set in front of sinks or shelves can do wonders for a child’s confidence. After just a few demonstrations, children find they may take care of their environment and themselves and will ask for more “work” around the house. By taking a step back from our busy schedules and allowing our children the time to do things for themselves, we can foster their budding independence and confidence.
As children get older, we sometimes presume the foundation we have set is enough and end up overwhelming them with what we consider a straightforward task. Telling a child “clean your room,” for example, is too general a statement. By giving them a list of tasks (put stuffed animals in the blue bin; put books on the shelf; put dirty laundry in the hamper) a child can complete a large job without becoming frustrated or relying on a parent to do it for him. Breaking down other tasks may take a bit more creativity. A child can set the table if you provide placemats showing where silverware settings must go, and can clear his if you provide a small dish bin for transporting dishes back to the sink. Again, this requires patience on the part of the parent, recognizing and repressing the urge to say “Just let me do it!” when the preschooler is carefully laying out each fork, spoon and knife.
The elementary age child is now prepared to take on tasks that not only provide for their own needs, but help others as well. As their reading skills develop, children can follow simple recipes (under supervision) that provide meals for the whole family. Elementary age children are generally strong enough to push a vacuum cleaner around a room, carry grocery bags, or bring small laundry baskets of clothing to the washing machine. With some role play for practice, they can answer the telephone, pay clerks at the store, and request help finding a book at the library. Giving the elementary age child these skills—things he previously watched adults do for him, boosts his confidence to new levels. He is not helpless!
As you continue to teach your child how to provide proper care for himself and the environment around him he will develop into a mature, independent, confident adult. He will not be the college student who cannot cook for himself, or brings home five bags of mildewing laundry. By providing a foundation with simple tasks and the realization that he can help himself you are providing building blocks of confidence that will stay with your child for the rest of his life.