Letting Them Help

[In her most recent blog post, nido member, Theresa, discusses the merits of letting your child help, even if it's not the most efficient means of getting things done!]

“Me help.” The refrain echoes through our house. No matter the task—unloading groceries, emptying the dishwasher, preparing a meal, sweeping the floors, dusting, folding the laundry—my 18-month-old wants to be involved. It’s a trait I want to encourage, not only because helping is a kind thing to do but also because as a member of a family (and of society more broadly) helping is a necessity.

Yet, let’s be honest, my daughter’s ability to help is not quite matched with her enthusiasm for helping, and her help often results in a task taking much longer than it would take without help. The quick curry I planned to make for dinner becomes a multi-hour endeavor as she helps wash the peppers, open the can of coconut milk, cut the eggplant, and measure and pour the rice. Running out to pick up my husband from work on a rare day when he hasn’t taken his bike means starting the process of leaving half an hour before we need to go rather than the usual five minutes as my daughter deliberates over which jacket she’ll wear, wrestles her feet into her own shoes (after first trying on everyone else’s), and walks herself out the door and down the stairs to the car. In some ways, I’m reminded of her infant days, when doing anything took remarkably longer than I ever imagined possible before having a child.

But this is not my daughter’s problem; it’s mine. She is doing her best given her current size and abilities, and my job as a parent—especially as a believer in the Montessori principle of allowing children to do all they can for themselves—is to facilitate her helping me.

On the basic level, what this means is providing accessibility. It’s coat hooks at her level and a special cubby for her shoes. It’s clothes stored in low drawers that she can open herself. It’s a helper stand in the kitchen that brings her safely up to counter height. It’s keeping her dishes and utensils in places she can access on her own.

But, mostly, what it means is resetting my own expectations. It’s learning that emptying the dishwasher isn’t just a mindless task to be completed in two minutes but is instead a fifteen-minute learning experience in which we explore sizes (small, medium, and big plates), name colors (hooray for Fiestaware!), and practice sorting by type (forks here, spoons there). It’s looking at a task that seems too complicated for her (folding laundry) and finding what it is she can do (pick out all of the socks). It’s overlooking the mess made when she helps crack eggs in favor of noticing the huge smile of pride on her face as she presents me with the finished plate of pancakes.

And on days when it’s hard to accept the increased amount of time and effort required for her to help (not to mention the mess that often comes with her helping), I remember that smile and know that it’s worth it. Because what that time and effort and mess are buying me is not just a little help, but a daughter with confidence in her own abilities, knowledge of the value of hard work, and certainty in her place as a valued and necessary member of this family and of the world.