THE other day I was shopping at our local grocery store and noticed a mom with her two children who appeared to be about two and three years of age.
I was struck by the fact that Mom looked calm and comfortable despite shopping with two young children. Each child was towing a wheeled cart and when Mom took an item off the shelf she would put it in one or the other of the carts. The kids followed Mom through the store, helping her shop and it was an efficient and effective shopping trip.
Watching this family reminded me that kids love to work with adults. Nothing thrills them more than being engaged with their parents in the day-to-day business of running a household.
We all know that toddlers and preschoolers just love to help. The challenge is finding a way to engage them that is safe (cutting vegetables is not a good idea) and actually helpful or at least appears helpful to the child.
Let's take a look at the helpful aspect. There is no question that having a youngster help is not usually the most effective or efficient way to accomplish a job. On the other hand, while you are working alone, your child may be using all the techniques at his disposal to interrupt, so you may as well have him working with you.
When my son Foley was two and a half years old we were busy renovating our home. I had taken our daughter out and my husband John was at home with Foley.
He wanted to nail drywall to the studs in a newly created room. So, he got a container of nails. Then he asked Foley to bring him a nail that he proceeded to hammer into the stud. Foley's job was done unless he wanted to do it again. He did, and he continued to bring nails one by one to his dad for two hours until all the drywall was up and ready for the next stage.
Was this the quickest way for John to nail up the drywall? Of course not. But it was a great afternoon for son and dad. Foley knew he was being helpful, the work was getting done and a friendly feeling permeated the room.
On a more practical note there are many reasons to involve a kid in your activities. When they work with you they are learning how to work, how to follow through and how to experience the satisfaction of a job well done.
One beautiful summer day I watched my neighbour walking up the lane with her two preschoolers. She was carrying shopping bags and each of the children had their hands curled around a potato. The kids saw me and explained that there wasn't enough room in the bag for these potatoes so they each had to carry one.
Later that evening I heard their Dad out on the porch with the kids. He was telling them how much he had enjoyed the potatoes they had for dinner and he knew that it was because they had helped their Mom bring them home so that they could enjoy them for dinner.
Many of us are busy trying to find ways to spend time with our kids but overlook the time we could spend working with them. While folding laundry, weeding the garden or preparing dinner together, you can also be chatting about school, about favourite books or about friends. You can also let the kids know that they are needed, that without their help the job just wouldn't have gone as well.
When you involve your kids as keen toddlers and preschoolers, you are setting a family practice that can continue when the kids are older. And when they are older their ability to be helpful increases.
A toddler who rips lettuce for a salad, a preschooler who sets the table, and an elementary school-aged child who kneads bread, become 'tweens and teens who can cook dinner.
Kathy Lynn is a professional speaker and author of Who's In Charge Anyway? and But Nobody Told Me I'd Ever Have to Leave Home. If you want to read more, sign up for her informational newsletter at www. parentingtoday.ca.