Choosing to Sit in the Dark

Brené Brown is a researcher at the University of Houston whose work centers on shame, empathy and vulnerability. She has written several books and speaks all over the world on these important topics, which have a dramatic effect on the ways we live, work and raise our children.

I just love this segment of one of Brené’s presentation’s about empathy that was turned into an animated clip.

silver liningShe speaks about a topic that is so important for everyone, of all ages, but I especially love it as it applies to parenting. I know as a mom, I often want to “silver lining” things for my kids. They are struggling and having a hard time, and I want to help them feel better. I want to turn an unhappy situation around. My first instinct is to go for a response that minimizes the negatives and emphasizes the positives. It’s like I want to make my kids forget about what’s upsetting them so we can get back to being happy. To brush it under the rug.

But Brené makes an excellent point in that rarely can a response make something better. What makes something better is connection.

Instead of silver-lining things to help my kids feel better, I need to meet them where they are with those heavy feelings. I need to sit in the dark with them. I need to be present and not try to sweep their feelings under the rug just because they are unpleasant, but reach out and connect so that they know what they are feeling is normal. Only then will the weight of those feelings be lifted.

Here’s the difference between “silver lining” and “sit-in-the-dark” responses:

Child: “My friend was mean to me today. He didn’t want to play with me and just left me to play all by myself!
Silver lining: Well, you still have your other friends to play with.
Sit in the dark: Oh, I know you were looking forward to playing with your friend today. You felt hurt when he didn’t want to play.

Child: “I am losing this game AGAIN! I ALWAYS lose at games!
Silver lining: That’s not true; you do great at games! We’ll play another one, and I’m sure you’ll win the next time.
Sit in the dark: It’s so hard to lose a game. You feel really angry. I bet you wish you could win all the time!

Child: “I am trying to build a blanket fort, but it keeps falling over! One part won’t stay when I let go, and the other part isn’t tall enough. I can’t get it right!
Silver Lining: What do you mean? This is a great fort! Look, you have a little cave you can hide in!
Sit in the dark: Oh that sounds frustrating! It’s not working out as easily as you hoped? I wonder if there’s something you could do to help make it more stable.

Child: “I’m trying to do this magic trick, but it’s not magic at all! It doesn’t even float in the air like the picture shows!”
Silver lining: But now you have a cool magic wand to play with. You can use it as a prop with your dress-up set!
Sit in the dark: Yeah, the picture makes it look different, doesn’t it? That must be disappointing. You wish the wand would float all by itself, so you could see real magic.

Sitting in the dark with our children means understanding that their feelings are real. It means not minimizing them or trying to wash them away but validating and embracing them. It means teaching kids how to feel. We may not necessarily agree with a child’s feelings, but we must communicate that we accept them. This is the essence of connection.

We must listen not with the intent to respond but with the intent to understand. ~Steven Covey

Transitions in Attachment Parenting: Infancy to Toddlerhood, Part 5

We are concluding this series with two more of the most common challenges of transitioning from infancy to toddlerhood as your baby grows. Here is what parents had to say…

walkin-with-dadWhat do you find most challenging about transitioning from using AP in infancy to using AP in toddlerhood?

Challenge: Understanding Needs vs. Wants

  • Figuring out the difference between wants and needs. Babies are so easy as they are one in the same. Toddlers … not so much.
  • The shift from solely addressing needs to creating a strong foundation for addressing desires and emotional responses
  • Distinguishing needs from wants

Tip: Be confident.
You know your child better than anyone. You have been caring for her since before she was born, responding to her cues, learning her behaviors and understanding what she needs and when. Have confidence in being able to distinguish the difference between needs and wants for your child. As an attuned parent, you know best what your toddler needs (vs. what is merely a “want”) and can respond appropriately. Things like …

  • nutrition
  • connection
  • autonomy
  • safety
  • empathy
  • adequate sleep
  • belonging
  • respect
  • healthy limits
  • security
  • understanding
  • acceptance

… are the things your toddler truly needs, and there is a wide range of what is appropriate among children. Needs and wants are definitely not the same for every child. You are the expert on your child—so trust yourself in the limits you set for him. Though your toddler may act like he needs a toy or a sweet treat or just one more bedtime story, trust your inner assurance that you are meeting his most essential needs—the ones necessary for optimal growth and maturation.

Click here to download a teleseminar with Dr. William Sears on API Live! about “Needs vs. Wants: How to Fulfill a Child’s Needs Yet Discern His Wants in a Way That Preserves Healthy Attachment.”

Challenge: Learning New Parenting Tools

  • I feel like I’ve lost my toolkit for how we have handled difficult times (frustration, exhaustion, fear).
  • “The breast” is no longer THE solution.
  • Finding solutions to new behavior

Tip: Stay connected.
Whether it’s online or in person, there are a variety of ways to add to your parenting toolbox. Online communities offer a chance to ask questions and get ideas and resources in return, while local communities are great for connecting to AP moms and dads in person. Both give parents a different kind of support, and both are helpful for gaining new perspectives on handling challenging toddler behavior. In addition to connecting with AP parents who have “been there, done that,” staying connected to the latest news and updates in parenting is a must. There are so many blogs and online resources that are dedicated to sharing articles, posts and links on AP tips, tools and the latest research in parent education. Find some favorites to add to your newsfeed and RSS reader. To start, you can add these great API resources:

Whether it’s online (communities, blogs, Facebook pages, webinars, teleseminars) or in-person (communities, classes, support groups or local AP friends with older children), you can’t beat parents helping parents to expand your toolbox! Keep talking, keep reading, keep learning more about your child’s development.

Don’t miss Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4 of this series on transitions into toddlerhood!

Transitions in Attachment Parenting: Infancy to Toddlerhood, Part 4

We are continuing this series with two more of the most common challenges of transitioning from infancy to toddlerhood as your baby grows. Here is what parents had to say …

jj2010bwWhat do you find most challenging about transitioning from using AP in infancy to using AP in toddlerhood?

Challenge: Understanding Aggression

  • My toddler feels the need to act out physically despite the fact that this isn’t being modeled by anyone in his life.
  • Toddlers kick, punch and bite and yet don’t know their own strength.
  • It’s hard to be kind and patient and empathetic while your kid is kicking your [butt]!

Tip: Focus on the feelings behind the behavior.

Aggression in toddlers is very normal and is a phase most children go through as they develop necessary connections for communication in their brains. As they enter the age of autonomy around age 1-2, children become capable of feeling strong emotions but are still lacking in self-regulation and language skills. In short, the neural connections between the midbrain (where emotions originate) and the prefrontal cortex (where logic and reasoning originate) are simply not there. Help them develop by doing three things:

  1. Accept the emotions behind the behavior (the kicking is not OK, but the anger is).
  2. Give your child the words to identify his feelings (“You are mad. It’s OK to be mad.”)
  3. Create a safe space for an immature toddler to have his feelings while making sure no one gets hurt.

Challenge: Not Taking Emotions Personally

  • Dealing with those big, turbulent emotions without getting caught up in them. Keeping my cool and modeling patience and being a soothing presence takes a LOT of work on my own triggers and stress.
  • I found it hard to accept her negative emotions without feeling upset myself … I was so used to always having a happy baby that I guess I wasn’t prepared for her big feelings.
  • Separating my toddler’s emotions from my own

Tip: Pause
To avoid the emotional exhaustion that follows in the wake of a toddler meltdown, pause to remember three things:

  1. They’re my child’s feelings, not mine. She is not wrong for feeling this way, and I do not need to try to fix her feelings for her.
  2. I am not the cause of my child’s feelings. I will take care of my child by meeting her needs on a regular basis–this means setting limits, ensuring safety, and nourishing her physically and emotionally. She is capable of handling her feelings.
  3. It’s not personal. My child’s feelings are not a personal slight against me. I am not a bad mom if my child is upset.

That said, there are ways to maintain a connected relationship while keeping yourself from becoming caught up a toddler’s in-the-moment feelings. Here’s how:

Pause (Yes, again. Pausing before you react is always awesome). Take a breath. Give your child time and space with her own feelings and you with your own feelings. This may mean you leave the room for a short time-out of your own.

Check in. Stay with her and periodically ask how she is doing. This is not the time to talk about the situation; just let her know you understand how she feels. “I know you’re mad, and that’s OK. Let me know when you’re ready for a hug.” Trust in her ability to handle her feelings.

Follow-up. Always come back together and do something fun. You can touch base on the previous situation or not. But do something with your child that she enjoys and that will foster some connective energy between the two of you. Make cookies, play games, go for a walk, dig in the garden, ride bikes, read, go to the park, blow bubbles … pretty much anything you do together will communicate to your child that you love and accept her despite her anger at you, and that you’re not holding her feelings against her.

Don’t miss Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 of this series, and watch for the final installment, Part 5, coming soon!

Transitions in Attachment Parenting: Infancy to Toddlerhood, Part 3

We are continuing this series with two more of the most common challenges of transitioning from infancy to toddlerhood as your baby grows. Here is what parents had to say …

img_3259What do you find most challenging about transitioning from using AP in infancy to using AP in toddlerhood?

Challenge: Not Listening

  • “NO! NO! NO!”
  • Not listening
  • Defiance
  • Frustration with the idea that if you establish a strong connection, they will want to please you and behavior won’t be an issue 

Tip: Set realistic expectations for obedience.

True, toddlers won’t necessarily jump to your every command, but what looks like “not listening” may be a toddler asserting his very new, very powerful sense of autonomy. Young children begin to realize that they have power to make their own choices and take charge of their own actions. What helps with this behavior (and ultimately your relationship) is to do everything you can to encourage this autonomy. The key is to direct children’s newfound power in useful ways.

  • Model cooperation and listening skills
  • Offer limited choices
  • Ask for their help
  • Show appreciation for their contributions
  • Encourage their efforts
  • Celebrate their successes
  • Listen to their feelings and all attempts at communication
  • Physically step in to help or redirect when necessary
  • Establish a child’s sense of significance and belonging

All of these things will help with “not listening” by strengthening your relationship. But while relationship matters, it is not a foolproof cure for undesirable behavior. After all, you’re parenting a very young child with a very immature brain. No matter how strong your relationship may be, until that prefrontal cortex develops, self-control, behavior and “listening” skills will be an issue. But they will develop in time! So hang in there and in the meantime, stay attuned to your toddler and aim for relationship over obedience. In the long run, this truly is the most important part of discipline … even if it doesn’t seem like it in the moment.

early-aug-2007-015Challenge: Tantrums

  • Discipline and tantrums are very hard.
  • Allowing her to cry tears of futility instead of trying to stop them …
  • Dealing with the intense frustration of pre-verbal toddlers
  • Tantrums!

Tip: Teach your child the language for the feelings he is having by empathizing with him.

You may be taking the most helpful steps towards the prevention of tantrums—ensuring your toddler gets regular, healthful foods, adequate sleep, and plenty of cooperation and help with his frustrations—but despite even the most diligent prevention measures, tantrums will happen. Toddlers are simply too immature to handle all of life’s frustrations calmly.

Remember that while it is unpleasant, a tantrum is normal and very appropriate for a toddler, so do your best to stay calm. A child’s brain has mirror neurons that pick up on the emotional state of his environment. In other words, calm begets calm. You may be able to stay composed during a tantrum and provide the calmness your child needs, but it’s also OK to step away from the fit or a few minutes to collect yourself and refocus if you need to.

A tantrum doesn’t need a punishment but simply some time to pass. Stay nearby to ensure a child’s physical safety as well as to touch base as needed. When a tantrum ensues, let your toddler know it’s OK for him to be mad. Have patience with his lack of communication skills, stay nearby and allow him the space he needs to cry. Check in periodically with inquires of, “Would you like a hug?” or other reassuring comments. It might take a while for the explosive feelings to work their way out of his system, but when he is ready, take time to reconnect. Offer empathy and words of acceptance.

You were really angry!
That was really sad for you.
It doesn’t feel good to be so upset.
It’s OK to feel mad like that.
We all get mad sometimes.
I love you!

Remember, you don’t have to change the limit you set (i.e., give the child what he wanted) if you have evaluated your course of action to be appropriate. You are only acknowledging his feelings and being emotionally available to support him through them as his brain chemistry restores. Your empathy teaches emotional intelligence as your toddler outgrows a tumultuous age.

Don’t miss Part 1 and Part 2 of this series … Watch for Part 4 coming soon!

Transitions in Attachment Parenting: Infancy to Toddlerhood, Part 2

We are continuing this series with two more of the most common challenges of transitioning from infancy to toddlerhood as your baby grows. Here is what parents had to say …

imgp1215What do you find most challenging about transitioning from using AP in infancy to using AP in toddlerhood?

Challenge: Criticism and lack of support

  • Outside influences concern me, as well as feeling the pressure in public when maintaining boundaries.
  • Other people’s comments!
  • Simply having to deal with others’ reactions to various principles of AP. People are much more vocal with their opinions when you use gentle, positive discipline as opposed to physical punishment with a toddler. It becomes less acceptable to be responsive and sensitive to a child’s needs.
  • Realizing that for the most part, we don’t live in an AP-friendly society. Support and encouragement can be hard to find if you are doing everything quite differently compared to the majority of people in a community.
  • Not having a partner who embraces positive discipline.
  • Enacting positive discipline and feeling the distinct difference in parenting choices with peers.
  • Outside opinions
  • It’s hard to explain to people that you ARE teaching your toddler right from wrong; that it just might not look like it because you aren’t using traditional discipline and punishment.
  • Spousal and family support

Tip: Find a network of support.
Being able to connect to a group of like-minded parents is invaluable. Whether it’s online, in person or some combination of both, make sure you have someone you can turn to when you need a boost of encouragement. API offers a variety of way to connect with attachment-minded moms and dads, so you can always find a source for support. Many API leaders have started groups in their hometowns precisely because they are the ones looking for support! Local AP chapter meetings, telephone leader support, online forums, social media groups … API has places you can turn for help, advice or just to vent. Support is crucial in parenting; if you’re not getting it, seek it out!

Challenge: Perceived entitlement

  • I find it hard to discipline gently and not let my kids walk all over me.
  • I feel like my kids have a sense of entitlement, but it could just be that they have a heightened sense of confidence. But sometimes I have a “parent fail” when they seem out of control.
  • The attitude! Little babies just have needs. Toddlers want it all right this second, 24/7.
  • Teaching my toddler to wait when she has never waited for anything since birth.

Tip: Set limits with a balance of kindness and firmness.
It’s OK to say no. Toddlers will be upset about that—and that’s OK, too. Don’t confuse poor brain communication with entitlement. With their developing senses of autonomy and initiative, toddlers are hard-wired to explore their environment, discover boundaries and act with purpose. They just lack sufficient neural pathways to help regulate feeling and doing. So when we set a limit, tell them to wait or respond with a “No,” the emotions of their midbrain take over, and they communicate and act in the most effective way they know how—whining, yelling, crying and a general lack of patience or understanding.

Responding with sensitivity by setting limits with kindness and firmness will help children develop the neural coordination in their brain that will (eventually) allow them to respond with patience and understanding while still experiencing those necessary boundaries you set for their for health and safety. However, this takes years! Toddlerhood is only the beginning of neural development. You may see the beginnings of a child’s development of patience, understanding or self-control in one moment and in the next moment “entitled” behavior. This is normal. Children have years to go before their development reaches full maturity, and that growth is non-linear. There will be times of progression as well as regression.

The key is to consistently respond with kindness and firmness throughout their development, so children are able to form those neural pathways between feeling and doing.

Kindness: acknowledge and accept the child’s emotions.

Firmness: hold your limit.

I love you and the answer is no.
You really want to ___. It’s so fun! And it’s not safe.
You’re angry I won’t let you ___. It’s OK to be mad about that.
I’m sorry you have to wait; I know it’s hard!

Developing understanding, self-regulation and self-control will happen; it just takes time for the neural connections to develop and for the child to move forward from parental regulation. But every time you respond with kindness and firmness you are helping this process.

Don’t miss Part 1 of this series, and watch for Part 3 coming soon!

Transitions in Attachment Parenting: Infancy to Toddlerhood, Part 1

This is Part 1 in a 5-part series of the most common kinds of challenges AP parents go through when our kids grow out of infancy and into toddlerhood.

Toddler1What do you find most challenging about transitioning from using AP in infancy to using AP in toddlerhood?

I asked this question on the API Facebook page, and the response was overwhelming! Hundreds of parents chimed in with their thoughts on what makes the transition from parenting an infant to parenting a toddler so challenging. Those moments when your little one exhibits a behavior for the first time, and it’s not the rolling over/ first steps/ first words kind of celebratory milestone. The moments of uniquely toddler behavior that make you pause and think, “Hmm, this is new … and not entirely pleasant. Now what should I do?”

Despite the variety of responses, there was consensus: the transition is, indeed, challenging. Here are your answers and a few tips to help you navigate this period in your child’s development.

Challenge: Discipline

  • Trying to express gentle discipline while my toddler is having a hard time absorbing things.
  • Discipline
  • Toeing the line between honoring their feelings and disciplining.
  • Discipline!
  • Finding ways to discipline him. Now my youngest is picking up on his behavior.

Tip: Start with 3 basic positive discipline tools in your toolbox.
There are many types of positive discipline tools that help teach children behavior while preserving and maintaining an attached relationship. Lots of parents struggle with the transition into positive discipline as it can be overwhelming to know which tools to use and when. Is it the right moment for a time-out? A firm “NO”? Should I try spanking? Here are three essential parenting tools to add to your toolbox as a starting point for using positive discipline.

1. Prevention, prevention, prevention. A toddler’s brain is mature enough to take on new behaviors—exploring her environment and her newfound autonomy—yet is not mature enough to exercise any self-control over her actions. This means you must help with her self-control until her brain matures enough for her to take over. Stay close to your mobile toddler so you’re able to step in and prevent any inappropriate behaviors before they occur.

– Wandering away? Stay with her so you can take her hand or pick her up when necessary.
– Climbing on everything? Stay with him so you can either be a ready spotter as he climbs or ready to move him to a different area to play.
– In a hitting phase? Stay with her so you can tune into her frustration, stop her from hurting anyone and move her to a safe place.
– Exploring cabinets and household products? Stay with him to ensure he plays with appropriate items or toddler-proof the house with locks and safety latches.

2. Focus on solutions over punishment. Adopt a “working with” approach to your toddler’s behavior, rather than a “doing to” approach. Work with a toddler’s immature brain development and natural desire to explore by finding appropriate alternatives to inappropriate behavior. If your toddler has a tendency to run into the street, rather than punish him for something his brain is not mature enough to handle (the ability to stop, think, remember what you said and make a conscious decision to turn away), find a solution that meets everyone’s needs. Hold your child’s hand by the street or only play in the fenced backyard. If your toddler can’t sit still in a restaurant, go for walks while you wait. If your toddler likes to throw objects, put the dangerous objects out of reach and give her only those which are safe to throw.

3. Make time-outs positive. Inevitably, your toddler (and you!) will have moments of emotional overwhelm. Ensuring that you both get adequate sleep, healthful foods to eat and plenty of connected time together will help with that. But because of your toddler’s immature brain, there will be times when his feelings simply become too much for him to handle. The tantrums will come. The anger, frustration and sadness—as well as accompanying behaviors—will happen.

In these moments, focus on calming down, restoring your brain chemistry and feeling better before you do or say anything else. Time-outs are an effective positive discipline tool as long as they are implemented in a non-punitive way. Making Time-out Positive” on explains how to encourage positive time-outs in a comforting place. It is important that children understand that their feelings are normal and that mom and dad will help them feel better. So, add positive time-outs to your toolbox. Use them to model how you help yourself feel better so you can do better, and teach your child to do the same.

You’ll discover more helpful positive discipline tools as your child grows, but these three are a great place to start with young toddlers. They give you a strong start in handling most toddler behavior issues.

Challenge: Living in a society that doesn’t seem to value attachment.

  • Watching our children, with their increasing awareness, interact with a non-AP world
  • Dealing with the influence of peers as kids encounter social situations in which AP is “weird”

Tip: Remember that YOU are your kids’ primary attachment, and that is powerful.
No one else’s interactions carry as much influence as yours do. When your children encounter unkind behavior, hear violent language or witness anther parent’s harsh discipline, be there for them. They may question what they encounter outside of your family, but your attachment provides a foundation for growth that is stronger than you can imagine. Yes, you should answer their questions, respond to their inquiries and begin to explain the world in simple but straightforward terms. Let your toddlers’ real-world experiences guide your teaching. Just always remember that you don’t have to have the answers for them; you are their answer. Hold onto that as you navigate this “less-than-attachment-minded” world.

There’s more! Watch for Part 2 of this series highlighting more challenges and more tips in transitioning from AP in infancy to AP in toddlerhood.

A Bundle of AP Resources

If you love great AP resources, this is the opportunity for you! A team of gentle/ mindful/ attachment parenting bloggers, writers and professionals from around the world have come together to create one amazing set of resources. Ebooks, audio recordings, tele-seminars, workshops, and e-zines…there are a variety of topics and materials brought to you in this bundle of materials from positive/ gentle/ attachment parenting leaders around the world. Our in-house ebook formatters have been helping authors make sure each eBook is personally reviewed and formatted for publishing. It is a chance to get a lot of great content at a really great price. Take a look at just a few of the contributors and resources you will get in the bundle:

The 8 Principles of Attachment Parenting; a 2-hour panel discussion put on by API Live (a $38 teleseminar by itself!)

Encouraging Words for Kids, by Kelly Bartlett

Newbie’s Guide to Positive Parenting, by Rebecca Eanes

Audio recording:
Stress Relief for Parentsby Genevive Simperingham

Mommy Overwhelm; a Holistic Approach to Parental Stress and Depressionby Laura Schuerwegen

Online course:
Connecting Family Through Creative Playgiven through Creative Playhouse and Connecting Family and Seoul

The Parenting Primer; A Guide to Positive Parenting in the First 6 Years, by Michelle Carchrae

Audio recording:
Getting Back on Track–Why We Explode and What to Do About It, by Genevieve Simperingham

Mindset for Moms: From Mundane to Marvelous Thinking on Just 30 Days, by Jaimie Martin

Audio + workbook:
Children and Foodfrom The Organic Sister

42 Rules for Divorcing With Children, by Melinda Roberts

Audio recording:
Relaxation Meditationby Amy Phoenix

The Playful Family, by Shawn Fink

Play Grow Learnfrom Childhood 101

Parenting for Social Change; Transform Childhood, Transform the World, by Teresa Graham Brett

Raising a Creative Kid, by Jilian Riley

You can go to the Mindful Parenting eBundle site  to learn more about the bundle and see the complete list of contributions.

If you were going to buy each product separately, you’d spend close to $300.00 for all of these resources. The bundle is being sold for $24.95…that’s about $1.00 for each item! The sale goes on for just the next two weeks.

API is excited to be a part of this resource package and offer its teleseminar on the 8 Principles of AP to so many attachment-minded parents around the world! Take a look at what else is available; this is sure to be a valuable resource for any family.

Click here to Buy the Mindful Parenting ebundle.


Chores Without Threats or Bribery

Contributing to household tasks and responsibilities is a great way for children to feel a sense of belonging. While at first, household contributions may only seem necessary to teach kids about responsibility (true; they do) and prevent a sense of entitlement (they do that, too), it may be surprising to learn that they also contribute something important to the attachment process. Completing a job that benefits everyone not only instills a sense of personal responsibility, but also a sense of importance in the family. There is a sense of pride and participation a child feels in helping out. He knows, “My contributions matter; I matter.” This feeling of significance is a cornerstone of attachment.

That said, we all know it can be difficult to get a child’s willing participation in completing jobs around the house. Our kids don’t have quite the same priorities we do, and they’re not exactly proactive about getting housework done. We end up reminding, nagging, engaging in power struggles, or resorting to threats and bribes to get kids to help out with certain jobs.

So where is the middle ground? How can we use housework to foster that sense of significance and belonging in the family while still understanding that kids don’t love it and wouldn’t necessarily choose it as a preferred activity? More pointedly, how do we teach our kids to be responsible for the practical tasks involved in daily life?

Take Time…
…to teach, that is. The key word is “teach.” And when it comes to teaching, the most effective long-term approach comes down to two words: take time. Household tasks, while seemingly straightforward to us parents who do them every day, take time for kids to learn. And we need to take enough time to teach them the how-tos as well as to expect independence with the jobs. Promises of rewards and threats of consequences aren’t necessary as long as the task-learning process is cooperative and encouraging.

Here are four steps to teaching kids the long-term skills and habits of contributing to household  jobs:

  1. Model. They see you do stuff first.
  2. They help you. You get to have an assistant.
  3. You help them. Now it is their turn to take the lead.
  4. They do it alone. You’ve done it enough times together that it is not unreasonable to expect them to get a job done on their own.

Of course, the length of time to get through this 4-step teaching process depends on the task. Getting the dog her food is much less complicated than cleaning one’s bedroom. It also depends on the child’s age and ability.

It helps to see how complicated some jobs can be to a child by breaking them down into simpler parts.  For example, cleaning a bedroom can be broken down into several smaller tasks, each of which has its own learning process.

  • Make the bed
  • Put toys away
  • Pick up clothes
  • Vacuum
  • Clear dishes
  • Throw away garbage
  • Wipe surfaces

That’s why it’s overwhelming to say to a child, “Clean your room,” and expect it to be done 1) quickly and 2) without supervision/ direction/ guidance/ help. Though kids can do these kinds of jobs on their own, it is reasonable to expect them to need both direction and assistance.

Here are some jobs that kids are typically able to handle alone at various ages after a some time for teaching (and not expecting perfection). Remember, the nature of these tasks is unique to each child, family and situation. Use these ideas a guide, but choose jobs that are appropriate for your children:

Age 1-2

  • Dusting
  • Window washing (water in a spray bottle and a rag)
  • Fruit & veggie prep (washing & drying)
  • Choosing their own clothes to wear
  • Unloading utensils from the dishwasher
  • Sweeping
  • Wiping table tops
  • Clearing the table
  • Gathering recycling
  • Watering the garden
  • Putting clothes in drawers

Age 3-4

  • Food prep
  • Setting the table
  • Feeding animals
  • Sorting clothes
  • Folding laundry
  • Shelving books
  • Clearing the table
  • Getting dressed
  • Pulling weeds
  • Putting toys away
  • Making beds







Age 5-8

  •  Doing laundry (Depending on the machine…some new machines have a customizable 1-button setting that is perfect for kids)
  • Vacuuming
  • Helping to cook–stirring, mixing, chopping, measuring ingredients
  • Doing dishes–rinsing, loading
  • Bringing in the mail
  • Making lunch for school
  • Helping to put away groceries
  • Cleaning bathroom sinks & counters
  • Packing own carry-on for trips
  • Pet care
  • Taking out the garbage
  • Preparing simple meals (sandwiches, quesadillas, soup)

Keep in mind that at any age, kids simply have different priorities than parents do! Don’t expect kids notice on their own what needs to be done and take the initiative to do it. You will certainly notice, and you can invite and value their help.

When Resistance Occurs
What if kids say ‘no’ or argue when it’s time contribute? The no-fuss answer is, “Yes, let’s do it together.” Even if it’s a task that you know a child can do on her own, she may simply be needing some extra encouragement right then. For example, in our house we don’t move on to another activity until the work is completed. I’ll break the job into “You do this and I’ll do that…When we’re done we’ll move onto X.” No arguing, negotiating, reasoning, bribing or threatening…just patience, cooperation, and some re-teaching. It’s OK to revisit some of the earlier teaching steps–sometimes you’ll need to go back to modeling and helping cooperatively. For families with young kids, a great housework motto is “We do it together (until you can do it alone).”

Don’t Praise; Encourage
When kids have contributed to the family by setting the table, sorting laundry, walking the dog, putting a book back on the shelf or even taking out the garbage which can be easier with equipment from sites as Disposal zone online, then express your gratitude with words of encouragement instead of praise. This is what helps to develop that sense of significance and belonging.

When children help, we can encourage them by communicating our acknowledgement and appreciation. “You’ve really helped out, thank you so much!” That’s it. Many parents are hesitant to leave their response at that; it’s tempting to add on some type of praise and tell a helpful child that he did a good thing, but this evaluation is unnecessary. If you’ve acknowledged your child’s effort and shared your genuine appreciation for his help, he is filled with a sense of his own goodness. He realizes that he is a valued member of the family and feels pride for his contributions. He decides on his own that what he did was a good job.

“Here are some ways to acknowledge effort and share appreciation without imparting judgment:

  • That helps so much!
  • I know you don’t like doing this, and I thank you for doing it anyway. It really helps.
  • Thank you for your cooperation.
  • You really show a lot of care for others.
  • That was hard for you; thank you!
  • I appreciate the time you spent on this.
  • I couldn’t have done this without your help, thank you.
  • We make a great team, all working together like this!

~Excerpted from Encouraging Words for Kids by Kelly Bartlett

The bottom line is: expect to take time (a long time) to teach kids how to do household tasks. Expect to do it with them. Expect to remind them what needs to get done. But most importantly, expect them to contribute. There are a variety of jobs that a child of any age can do; find the ones that work best for your children and take time to teach them. With consistency, connection, and cooperation, it will become second nature for kids to tackle their responsibilities with confidence.

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