My husband and I have found that even at a young age, our own children are eager to be incorporated into the family schedule of responsibilities and jobs. They want to try new things, do them on their own, feel that they've accomplished something worthwhile, and receive the approval of parents. While my son folded towels from the clothesline one day, a neighbor quietly asked me if I planned on refolding the towels again later when my son was not around. I had to admit his pile looked more like a stack of messy papers, but I had no intention of changing anything.
When delegating jobs to children, it's wise to remember that whatever the assignment, it should not be so difficult that it causes frustration for children, or so intricate that we need to do it over ourselves later to meet our own standards. And we should remember, too, if it's a job we expect children to do, we should state the fact that we would like them to do it, not ask them.
When children express a desire to try a more difficult task, parents can suggest cooperation with another sibling or with parents themselves. My sister's five-year-old would like to have sole responsibility for washing their car, but they have a workable agreement where her husband washes the car with the child's help and then he allows the child to rinse it with the hose.
Jobs that recruit the whole family, too, are not only productive -- they're enjoyable. One friend defines stacking wood as a project with which the entire family helps out. In fact, firewood stacking has become a favorite family tradition, complete with hot chocolate for everyone when the work is done.
Once the novelty of a particular job wears off, parents need to decide which tasks they want to assign children and which jobs are optional. Assigned jobs should be consistently done by children, and it doesn't hurt to remind them that the completion of a few tasks is expected of them simply because they are part of a family unit where all members are required to help out. Optional jobs, however, can be an area where children are given a choice and their decision is accepted.
Some of the jobs our own children perform include emptying the wastebaskets, raking leaves, feeding pets, sweeping the driveway, making beds, setting the table, and picking up toys. There are times when it would be faster and more convenient to do these things without children's help, but that would deprive them of on-the-job experience.
For me, the importance of allowing, encouraging, and even expecting children to help out in the home was neatly summed up last week when our preschoolers were picking up books and arranging them on the shelf.
``Here,'' Katy said, while handing Paul the last book. Paul put the book on the shelf, stepped back, brushed his hands and sighed with satisfaction. ``Does it look as good as when Scott does it?'' he asked me.
``It sure does,'' I replied, giving them both a hug. And once again I was reassured that when little helpers lend a hand, they do more than just help.