I think this is one of the toughest thing parents have to do. Children are born with this innate urge to do, to help, to work, to figure things out. If left to themselves they somehow figure things out. It may not be perfect, may not comply with “adult standards”, but it works and it will do.
This theory has been confirmed over and over again both with Disha and her friends. You take any project on, and all the children who live down the road are enthusiastically there. Especially when their contribution is valued. Disha’s 1 and 1/2 year old friend doesn’t talk in our languages yet, but perfectly understands when you tell her to do something. She communicates in her own amazing and endearing way, never once giving up until we understand.
Children have amazing amounts of energy, they may run around the whole day, play outdoors in the what we call the “hot summer afternoons” and still are game to do whatever work is needed to be done. And its a lot of fun when you work together. Things get done sooner than later. Be it cleaning the play ground, potting plants, setting up the dolls for the annual Dasara Navaratri, cleaning vessels, cooking, cleaning the motorbike or bicycles. Or decorating the house for birthday parties- blowing balloons, baking the cake , arranging the food. The list is quite endless, anything that you do, children are game, as long as you let them.
In fact, Disha is often indignant when she feels that her help has not been enlisted in our activity yet. Recently when we were sorting, packing our household stuff, she was playing in the ground. When she came in, and realized what was happening, she yelled on top of her voice- ” I want to help amma!”. When it was time to unpack, Disha and her friend Shankar, helped me arrange clothes in our cupboards, stack all the empty cardboard boxes in the loft, sweep and mop the floors.
Sometimes we are told, that they are just children and they should not be doing chores or helping with anything that is deemed adult work. Let them cook when they are 18, is one of the constant refrain. In my opinion, by restricting what children, should or should not do, we alienate them, we make them loose their interest, curiosity, their joy of discovery or accomplishment.
Disha almost always needs one of her parents or some one whom she trusts. There is always a balance of being around, getting involved in her play and asking her to help out with whatever you have to do. Initially I would consciously have resist the urge to help or to do whatever she seemed to be “struggling” at. But then once I realized that it was important for her to work it out, I tried to step back and sometimes step away to control that urge.
Another aspect I had to work on was to try and keep my emotions out while telling children to help in a task or to do something. It was mainly impatience, the feeling I had, that something had to be done by such and such a time (I still have this quite often). As Jean Liedloff mentioned in her book, The Continuum Concept if you talk to your child in a respectful manner without coming across as either indulgent or impatient, then it sets the environment for the child to understand what needs to be done. Of course, it helps if you explain why something needs to be done.
Being imaginative has come in handy. Fantasy role play and stories have always helped us in difficult situations when Disha wanted something which she or we could not get for her. I had once read about how pretending to be a train in a supermarket always distracts children. It has worked quite a few times. If we go shopping with Disha’s friends, then it works even better.
Working through your own emotions, especially anger, frustration, impatience and then attending to your child has made me realize that it easier and simpler to deal with any situation at hand.
Handsfree parenting while being close at hand, is the mantra.