Last Sunday was Parents' Day. Always the fourth Sunday of July, the day is the result of a Congressional resolution that was signed into law in 1994 by President Bill Clinton. The day was created to recognize, uplift and support the role of parents in the rearing of children. In addition to being a day for honoring parents, it's also a good time for some self-reflection on parents' roles.
One aspect of being a good parent is to help children develop the traits they will need as adults to lead happy, healthy and productive lives. Those might include self-confidence, responsibility, character, and citizenship. But important life skills also include everyday tasks, like cooking, cleaning and doing laundry.
Granted, it takes longer to help a child learn to do those tasks than it would take to do them ourselves. Tasks may not always be completed to the standards of parents, but kids will be learning. And, parents and kids will be spending some quality time together.
Kids benefit by having ownership in a task. They're often more willing to eat foods they helped prepare or helped select at the store. Perhaps they'll even keep their room picked up after they've helped clean it!
Jim Fay, co-founder of the parenting philosophy found at the web site www.loveandlogic.com says chores are essential for children. We all have a basic need to feel needed. Fay says children need to feel that they are a cog in the wheel. By helping with household tasks, children feel they're making a contribution to the family.
Here are some suggestions for introducing children to household tasks.
* Make sure the chore is age-appropriate. Preschoolers can put away unbreakable dishes and playthings. Older children can clear the table, help load the dishwasher, and help with dusting, cleaning and kitchen chores.
* Make safety a priority. Always provide proper adult supervision. Sharp utensils, knives, and pan handles at the edge of the stove are dangerous. Don't allow children to use disinfectants, chlorine bleach or any product that has a "keep out of reach of children" label.
* Let them make some decisions -- corn or green beans for dinner, a cloth or mitt for dusting, which sheet set for their bed.
* Be specific with instructions. "Clean up your room" is too vague. "Put the toys in the toy box" lets the child know exactly what is expected of him.
* Develop a schedule. This can be difficult with today's busy households, but children do better when they know what's expected of them and when it's expected to happen.
* Tap into your children's concern for the environment. Set a good example with sustainable practices. For example, purchase in bulk sizes when practical. Follow label instructions as to the recommended amounts of product so you aren't wasting money by using more than is necessary. Dispose of empty containers in an environmentally responsible way.
* Teach kids to read labels. Whether on cleaning supplies for safety reasons, or food products for nutritional reasons, help kids understand that labels contain useful information.
* Offer praise. Don't wait until the task is completed to offer encouragement.
Remember that you're not only teaching your child to perform a task. You're preparing them to cook for themselves in college and to manage a home for their own family in the future.
Editor's Note: Ann Ludlum is a K-State Research and Extension family and consumer sciences and 4-H extension agent assigned to Bourbon County. She may be reached at (620) 223-3720 or firstname.lastname@example.org.