We are all aware that it is easier to do things for children than to wait for them to do it themselves. We can clean their rooms or get them dressed in a fraction of the time and with much less stress. What unintended message, though, does our doing everything for them convey? Depending on the children and adults involved, it can be either of two messages resulting in either of two results.
- Entitlement, dependency: The first possibility is that they learn they don’t have to do what they are asked or to be responsible. This can result in a sense of entitlement, that the child (and later teen or adult) deserves to have things done for her/himself and should not have to expend any individual effort.
- Incapable, afraid to fail: The alternative underlying message is that the child is not capable of doing things and therefore he/she becomes unwilling to try for fear of failure. Both of these unintended messages are destructive. Therefore, we cannot take the easy way out of doing things for our children that they are capable of doing themselves.
Research has shown that children live up to expectations. High expectations yield higher effort and greater chance of success, while low expectations result in little gain. Hence, encouraging your children to do tasks by themselves, and their resulting success, will build their self-esteem and develop their willingness to take risks.
In a family, everyone should contribute. Therefore, give your children responsibilities and hold them accountable for completing the tasks. Dressing themselves, helping to set the table by putting out the silverware, feeding a pet, cleaning up their toys, clearing their plate from the table or putting clothes or towels in the laundry room hamper are reasonable expectations for preschool-aged children. If they have not had any of these responsibilities before, it will take your children time to get used to new expectations. Start with one or two jobs, give honest praise for their attempts and their successes - and consistent, logical consequences for not making an effort.
Parenting preschoolers can be a challenge, which shifts as students get older. Don’t give in, give up or lose patience; keep your expectations constant and remember that by doing so, you are giving your child a lifelong gift.