I read a piece recently on the importance of real work for children, and it really, really resonated with me. I’m definitely guilty of underestimating what my daughter is capable of, especially when it comes to contributing to our family. I mean, she’s only 2. It’s far easier to imagine the scope of the damage she can do than the help she could be.
But I’m happy – if a bit sheepish – to be wrong.
While most of the scenarios mentioned by the author are more for older children, toddlers love to help and I’ve tried to find ways to make Miss E feel included. Clean up is a really natural extension of play, and while I sometimes have to help to ensure dumped blocks and un-shelved books get back where they belong, hopefully she’s learning that her stuff is hers to take care of. Also, that I’m her mama, not her maid.
Sorting clothes isn’t quite happening for us yet, though I’ve heard that laundry can be another seemingly easy place to begin with toddlers. While she does love to stack her cloth wipes when I’m putting clean diapers away, she also loves to shriek and toss them in the air, so I’ve got to be quick about removing them to their bin on the changing table.
Miss E also feeds the cat, using “both hands” to carry his daily cup of food to his dish and pour it in. When it doesn’t all quite make it, which happens pretty often, she’ll squat down beside his dish and pick up the pieces, one by one, and put them in. While this can sometimes become a bit too like a game to be productive, and certainly takes longer than it would take me to do it myself, I try to let her be responsible for feeding him as often as I can. And not only because I’m tired of being the only one he comes begging to.
And while our house isn’t as little people friendly as her classroom at school, I’ve been trying to let her help set and clean the table for dinner, too, just like they do for lunch. She can reach to place napkins and silverware on the table for herself and her dad and me, and after we eat bring me a plate or a cup at a time to rinse at the sink. This used to be a solo endeavor for me while her daddy gave her a bath, so it’s actually really helpful. I might otherwise have put it off in favor of checking my email and begrudgingly tidy up the kitchen before bed… or not, and really regret it in the morning.
Soon enough she’ll have a new sibling, and a whole host of new ways to help. This time, I’m not going to make the mistake of believing she can’t.