I love swimming days. With school and Taekwondo sandwiching the kids’ joint swimming lesson, and needing to fit lunch and showers in there, too, they are our busiest day of the week. But also our favorite! Swimming really “takes the edge off” for all of us, and we welcome the inevitable sense of calm we feel after a half-hour of hard work in the water (lessons for them, laps for me).
Part of this routine is navigating the locker room; trying to get myself and two young kids undressed, suited up, to class on time, then undressed once again, showered, washed, dried, dressed, combed, and packed up in a reasonable amount of time is a feat of parenting each week. But we have established a pretty efficient routine, and can get it all done with minimal problems.
Part of that routine is, after showers, JJ (age 4.5) gathers everyone’s wet towels and puts them in the laundry basket (we don’t bring our own, but use ones provided by the fitness center). Sometimes he grumbles about it, but for months, he’s always gotten the job done.
The other day, I thought I’d give JJ a break from his usual task of gathering everyone’s towels, and I said, “How about everyone put their own towels in the laundry today?”
Me: Well, every week I ask you to put everyone’s towels in the laundry, and I thank you for that. I just thought we could do our own today and give you a break.
JJ: Oh, OK. [long pause as he starts gathering just his own towel] Actually, I like my job of doing the towels. So I’ll still do it today. I’ll do everyone’s.
Me: Oh! Yeah?
JJ: Yeah. Because I like you thanking me. Yeah…that feels nice.
Me: OK, well, thank you for doing the towels again today, too! I really appreciate your help in getting things done.
Here is an example of a child realizing on his own that helping out feels good and is the right thing to do. I never praised him for doing “a good job” on the towels. I never told him he was “a good boy” or “such a good helper” for doing it, or that anything about his work was “good,” nor did he ever get anything in exchange for doing the towels. Yet he’s deciding on his own that helping out with the towels is what he wants to do, and is worth continuing. It’s worth it to him because he knows he is needed and important. His older sister and I genuinely appreciate his effort, and that ultimately feels better than any form of praise. He is aware of how capable he is, that his job is necessary, and that it feels personally satisfying to contribute in a meaningful way. All because “thank you” is more accurate than “good job.”