When our children are very small, they come to us asking to help and we are quick to reply with, “No, too hot; too heavy; too dangerous; too sharp; too fast; you are too little; too slow; too short.” And then we send them out of the kitchen and into the other room to play with the plastic kitchens and plastic food and say, “Now go play and have fun.”
– Vicki Hoefle parent educator and author of
Duct Tape Parenting and The Straight Talk on Parenting
Does this sound familiar? All too often, we shoo our children away when in fact they are asking to contribute in a meaningful way. Inviting children to participate in daily routines really can slow you down, but in light of recent events, we’re here to say, listen to your children when they ask to participate! The comment “can we have the same thing on each night of the week, you know like taco tuesday” became a weekly refrain in our house from our eldest son – completely out of the blue, but on repeat for a few weeks in a row. Rather than continue to ignore what had become a plea for a weekly meal plan, we turned the request back to him and asked if he’d like to tackle meal planning for a week. He’s six. Read on to learn more about why our six year old is now in charge of dinner.
For three weeks our six year old has planned our dinner menu and been in charge of arranging our evening schedule. We’re not going back to our old ways because our meal planning….
Going to the grocery store used to be a series of “no you can’t have that or that or that or that…” Now, we’re on a mission to find the ingredients necessary for his meals. He’s engaged and motivated. Plus, he’s more likely to accept invitations to help cook and far less likely to complain about what’s for dinner.
Builds Confidence and Independence….
Decision making and planning both require a remarkable amount of brain power, which is why I’m usually raiding the fridge at 4:00 in a frustrated panic about what to make for dinner. By giving children real decision making power and the tools to act upon those decisions, we afford them the opportunity to practice grown up skills in a safe environment. We’ve acknowledge that our end game is a confident and independent son, so we better be giving him space and time to practice being confident and independent now. That means real world tasks that require responsibility and the risk of failure; in this case, four hungry-angry family members will be waiting for him if he decides to shirk his responsibility. Or conversely, four truly grateful family members who appreciate and acknowledge his decision making and planning and implementation skills.
Being able to look my son in the eye and genuinely thank him for his contributions to the family is an experience I didn’t expect to have for years. But his contributions really did make my week less stressful. I felt more relaxed and emotionally available. While he practiced life skills independently, like making phone calls to dinner guests, I spent more time cooperatively engaged with him and his siblings. By giving him a real responsibility we fostered his sense of self worth and expanded his understanding of his own ability to contribute.
If you’re wondering if you need to start forcing your kids to meal planning today, we whole heartedly disagree. Meal planning just happens to be the one thing that our son wanted to participate in. The idea came from him and he ran with it. So, if not meal planning, then what? Whatever your kids are interested in that is a genuine contribution and responsibility. Our family goal is to open up new avenues for teaching cooperation and independence that allows our children to contribute to our family in a meaningful way. Meal planning just happened to be the golden ticket for our son.
In what ways do your children contribute to your household management?