Taking pleasure in working

Here are some guidelines:

– Keep the jobs simple and rewarding. For example, two-year-olds can pick up their toys and pack them away before bed.

– Show enthusiasm and praise them at first. ‘That’s a good job.’ ‘That was very clever.’ ‘Doesn’t the floor look nice?’ ‘All the toys are safe in the box now.’ Eventually, all you’ll need to say is: ‘Okay, it’s bedtime’, comfortably expecting the job will be done, then simply accepting that it has been. It’s important not to set up an ‘escalating rewards’ problem.

Praise is given initially so the child feels good. Eventually, they will gain satisfaction from being competent and contributing to everyone’s well-being. You will know this in your own experience: it’s nice to be praised and there is also the inner satisfaction of knowing what to do — fixing a flat tyre in the bush, for instance; you’re 75 just glad you can do it. It’s okay to say things like: ‘We all help each other in this family’ and: ‘We all like living in a clean and tidy house.’

For children from about the age of three, we recommend the movie Mary Poppins. Many of us have fond memories of this film which is full of messages about lovingly taking care of children and, at the same time, helping them to be tidy and helpful. You will hear the songs that say: ‘For every job that must be done, there is an element of fun’ and: ‘A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.’ Children can (and often spontaneously do) sing these songs as they work. Another fun working song from Snow White is ‘Hi ho, hi ho, it’s off to work we go’.

Good jobs for kids

Here are some examples of first jobs (from two years of age):

– Put away toys at bedtime.

– Empty small wastepaper bin.

– Take plates to the sink after a meal.

– Hang up towel after the bath.

– Put dirty clothes in hamper.

– Tip water into dog’s bowl.

– Put clothes pegs into the holder.

– Use dustpan and brush to sweep up.

You can pick any of these or something that you think is more suited to your child.

You will have to explain the job, show your child how to do it the first time, help and do it with them if needed, supervise, encourage and remind them, and still keep it light and pleasant. You will soon see that this is not aimed at making life easy for the parent in the short term. Teaching kids takes energy, but it’s a beautiful gift, too, and a real way to build self-esteem which praise and adulation alone can never do. Self-esteem comes, eventually, from competence — knowing you can do things well.

Specially for three-year-olds

This is where it becomes fun. It’s the age of, one day: ‘Let me help, Mummy’ and the next day: ‘No, I won’t do it!’ Look on the bright side — this just goes to prove that your child is developing normally, learning to think, behave and feel independently. They are getting to know their changing feelings. They are also starting to test out ‘who’s in charge around here?’ And at this age, their independence can be a real plus for you. For instance:

The sensuous child (a special note about three- to four-year-olds)

Experienced parents have noticed that, around the age of three or four, children often show heightened sensual awareness. Parents can feel confused and worried when their son or daughter exhibits behaviour which can even look seductive. Parents have often told us they observed:

– Little girls putting beads or other objects into their vaginas and enjoying the feeling as they walk around.

– Children wanting privacy in the toilet, while they experiment with their faeces.

– Children rubbing their genitals against a parent’s body during play.

– The classic case of children playing doctors inside a cupboard with another child.

Sandra, 32 ‘One morning, when we were having a cuddle in bed, my four-year-old son got on top of me and was very smoochy, and said in a seductive kind of voice, “We’re making love, aren’t we, Mummy?” (He has a book about how babies are made, so I knew where the concept had come from.) I was really shocked, but put him down off the bed and said, “No, we’re not; only grown-ups make love.” I tried to make it firm, but not too harsh. He went off to play and seemed happy enough. My husband and I made a practice of getting up in the mornings and sitting with our son on the couch, reading or talking, for our close time, instead of being in the bed. After a while, we went back to normal behaviour and the problem passed.’

This seems to be a brief phase, if it is handled matter of factly, by redirecting them to other forms of play.

– Your three-year-old can tell you when and where they feel sick or are hurting, accurately naming the parts of their body.

– They can share and take turns with toys.

– They can understand simple reasons. ‘I can’t let you go up on that slide; it’s too high for me to hold on to you.’ ‘Nana asked us to come to her house tomorrow — she’s busy today.’ ‘If you put your bowl up on the table, the dog won’t get it (again).’ ‘When you’ve finished your sandwich, you can have a drink.’ ‘This machine is not a toy for playing with; come and we’ll find a toy.’

The jobs you choose for this age group should never be backbreaking, frustratingly difficult, totally inconvenient or excruciatingly painful to perform, even though they may try to convince you that’s exactly what they are!