A Parent's Perspective. Allowing small hands to help

Just when kids are finally old enough to be of some help, it seems they don't want to help. Parents are fortunate if they see their children long enough to tell them something needs doing. Never mind getting the help from them. That seems to be the size of it in many households. But what became of the little tyke who pleaded to help his parents?

All too often that eager youngster was not allowed to try to help when he was little. The reasons given were legion and sometimes legitimate.

``Wait until you're older.'' ``You're too little.'' ``I'm in a hurry.'' ``We don't have time to show you right now.'' ``Maybe next time.''

This too-busy-now approach is certainly understandable because time is generally at a premium. Many a hurried and harried parent slips into this syndrome. But there are ways to avoid this situation. Youngsters can experience the satisfaction of ``helping'' while their parents accomplish the actual job.

Children are fascinated by paint. If you're painting the house or garage and your daughter asks to help -- let her. Give her a brush and a bucket of water. She'll spend some real quality time with you while beginning to pick up a useful skill.

Later that same young woman may paint her own apartment or pitch in to help her grandmother redo the kitchen. Not only has she already learned to use a paint brush, but, better yet, you won't have to help with the job.

When everything is hustle and bustle with preparations for a big family dinner or party, your young son may want to help. Let him. He can count and place napkins. Have him locate and carry measuring spoons, count the eggs you need, or keep track of what has been done. The important thing is he is helping.

It's not the easiest thing in the world to watch small hands clumsy with inexperience as they struggle to complete a job an adult can accomplish in minutes. But it's necessary if those same hands are expected to lend willing aid a few years later.

Try not to cringe each time the beginning builder misses the nail's head and puts another dimple in the wood. Instead put your young helper to work first ``holding'' material for you to nail. Then let him drive nails into wood which will later be covered with dry wall and hidden from view. Also, keep any scraps from a project and present them to your youngster. ``This is just for you. Make anything you want.''

Just as important as allowing children to help is showing them how to be of help or how to accomplish a task. ``But what if I ruin it?'' The Cub Scout wants to complete the birdhouse but doubts his own ability.

``Tell you what. We'll just take it a step at a time. I'll be right by your side if you need me. Let's begin by measuring the base and cutting it out of this board. I'll help hold while you saw.''

Since not all sons have available fathers and not all mothers have daughters it's a good idea to avoid giving children the impression this is men's work and that is for women.

I wash dishes and even push a vacuum at times. My wife helps build fences and is an accomplished firewood hauler and log splitter. I do a fair job of cooking. My elder son can do a load of laundry or sew a patch onto his jeans. His brother grabs the iron to touch up his shirt or pair of trousers. In our neighborhood it's common to observe a teen-age girl hitching the stock trailer to the pickup while her younger sister sets irrigation tubes.

Start early and have patience. Young children want to help. And older children will lend a hand provided they are accustomed to the ``helping'' pattern.

You'll reap great rewards when your teen-ager finds the glitch in your word processor or shows you how to program the new VCR which came complete with directions no one past the age of 20 has any hope of understanding.

The Cub Scout who learned to saw a straight line and drive a nail has become the youth capable of putting up the basement shelving you've wanted for years.

Of course, you may experience a few minor setbacks now and again. My younger son had an immediate response the last time I casually mentioned the barn was in need of cleaning.

``Sorry, Pops, I'm busy that day.''

Ah, yes. Perhaps he just did not wish to deprive me of some much needed exercise. But then again. . . .

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