My baby just turned 4. One of the things we decided to do to celebrate his birthday was to build him a new sandbox. I’m so glad we have my dad around; because if it were up to my husband and me to build it, we’d have a pile of sand in the middle of a bunch of rocks. It would have been washed away and gone in no time at all. So my dad shows up one day to “help” build the sandbox. When my son came out to help with his Fisher Price tools, the scene was priceless. My dad would cut a piece of wood, and my son would be “cutting another” at the same time with his “tools and his protective eye gear” – working side by side. As my dad got to the point where the piece of wood was about to break, he’d ask my son to come over and kick the plank apart. Sure enough, one swift kick from a 3 year old and it would fall apart. My son was beaming, and so proud of his role in building the sandbox. My dad gave him other roles as well: bringing over the landscape planks, standing on the weed control fabric so it wouldn’t pull away, and bringing a bucket of sand down to start the sandbox. He was a natural at including and empowering my son. The look on my son’s face said it all. Here are a few things to consider when including your child in day-to-day activities:
- Provide a role for your child that is within his/her competence level. Expecting too much will result in feelings of failure or incompetence but giving a role that doesn’t challenge enough, while not harmful, is not pushing the child to explore and learn. Don’t leave your child alone to do his or her role – this is about teamwork, doing things together. With every activity you do, determine how you can work together, both with a role. What a great way to build a relationship and competence at the same time!
- Support your child. Too often parents will give their child a role, and then expect him/her to do it without proper support. Great ways to show the support is to demonstrate it; do it hand over hand; or start the role and let him/her finish, like my dad did for my son when he let him kick apart the piece of wood.
- Encourage your child not in the role s/he just did, but in what you accomplished together. Instead of saying “good job,” try letting him/her know exactly what you like. “Wow, what a kick!” or “We built a sandbox!” Let the competence of success and hard work build the child up, instead of leaving it up to him or her to determine if everything s/he did was either a good job or a bad job.
- As your child becomes more competent in his/her role, offer a challenge or increase the complexity. Perhaps your child was helps you to empty the dishwasher, and typically s/he puts away just the spoons. Stop and think: Can s/he handle doing the forks as well? Maybe s/he can handle the entire top shelf if s/he hands the dish to the supporting adult and the adult puts it away. Continue to look for ways to do something s/he feels good at and change it up, even if just a little.
- Find something to do together daily. It’s amazing how often a day can go by and I’ll stop and think: “What did I do to engage my son or daughter today?” It doesn’t have to be anything big, nor does it have to last long; simple moments can be very powerful at creating memories and empowering child.
The opportunities you create can be simple: read a book, fold laundry, empty the dishwasher, bake cookies, or make a card together. What have you done today to engage your child/ren? If nothing, don’t be discouraged; each day is a fresh start, tomorrow is a new day! What will you do tomorrow?