One of the hardest things in a family with many little ones is figuring out how to incorporate everyone into the work of the household. It’s not too hard to train the older ones, but then the younger ones want to “help” and things can get sticky.
This is particularly true when the older children are very clear on the right way to do things. They can quickly get frustrated with the “help” they are receiving, which in turn discourages the little ones from ever trying to lend a hand.
Here are a few things I’ve found to help:
1. I need to remember that my goal is for all the children to learn to live together in kindness and harmony. The completion of chores is great—and a big blessing—but more important is that each one learns to encourage, lay aside their own desires, and bless each other.
2. I need to remind the older ones that they once were the little ones, trying to “help” me. I remind them that they are now teachers, and that it is through their example and encouragement that the younger children learn to be helpful and capable.
3. Sometimes I need to remove the little ones from the situation. Picking up the toys, only to have the toddler scatter them as quickly as they hit the toy basket, is frustrating to anyone. The little ones need to learn to respect the work their older siblings have put into something.
4. I need to plan ahead of time what jobs are the best ones for the little ones to help with. Some things are just not suitable for them, and I need to be prepared with an alternative for them at that point.
5. I need to model both allowing them to help and accepting their help. This means that I may need to have a toddler at the sink or counter while I’m cooking. It may mean that the socks get pulled out of the sock bin as quickly as I sort them out. When these things happen, I need to remember that the other children are watching and will learn how to respond from my response.
6. I need to watch for bossiness when I’ve assigned an older child and a younger child to work together. When I find bossiness, I need to take the older child aside and give specific instruction and examples of how to encourage instead of give orders.
7. I need to make sure that I’m not modeling the giving of orders in my interactions with the older children. This doesn’t just mean attaching a “please” to a command, but instead it means making it clear from my words and tone that the children’s help is valuable to me. I need to remember to thank them and to specifically make clear how their help with the laundry has benefited everyone.
It is the rare child who learns to give and receive help without training and encouragement, and our being intentional from the earliest ages may not result in much work being done at the time, but it will give our children the wonderful gift of being encouraging and helpful to others as well as learning to graciously accept what others offer in the spirit in which it was offered.