“Toddlers are born assistants,” says Michaeleen Doucleff with NPR. Earlier this month, she contributed to NPR’s series on “How to Raise a Human” with an article about how to get kids to (willingly) do their chores. The key, she says, lies in that toddler instinct to help.
Doucleff cites a study that observes the tendency of 20-month-olds to stop what they’re doing in order to lend a hand to someone else. Doucleff gives an example. Say an adult drops something across the room. Toddlers will often put down their toys to go “help” the adult pick it up again.
Such a desire to help likely comes from the toddler’s desire to be with his or her family. That’s what Rebeca Mejia-Arauz, a psychologist at ITESO University in Guadalajara, says. Even though the toddlers’ attempts at helping and joining in on the family’s work are often more unhelpful than helpful, Mejia-Arauz suggests that the key to raising helpful kids is to let them contribute—even if it’s inconvenient. Doucleff summarizes Mejia-Arauz’s idea: “Encourage the messy, incompetent toddler who really wants to do the dishes now, and over time, he'll turn into the competent 7-year-old who still wants to help.”
According to Doucleff, this is the approach that many mothers of indigenous heritage (in this article, mainly Mexican families) take with their kids. Researchers have documented the helpfulness of these families’ kids in their studies, and the results are striking. Doucleff summarizes, “Young children in these homes are extremely helpful around the house.” Some of these studies tell of children who voluntarily pick up the house or tell their moms things like, “I’m going to help you do everything.”
Occurrences like these aren’t as common with Western kids, and Doucleff suggests it’s because Western parents keep their kids from helping out when they’re toddlers. So, by the time the kids get older, they just assume they’re incapable of helping.
To counteract this Western tendency, Doucleff offers some advice to parents. One of her suggestions is for parents to “change [their] mindset about young children.” Summarizing a concept introduced by one of the researchers she cites, Doucleff writes, “In the U.S., we often think toddlers and young children simply want to play…. But the indigenous moms see a toddler coming over to them as an indication that they want to help.” So, they try to find a way to help the toddlers learn to be helpful.
While Doucleff makes a valid point here, she could have taken it in another direction. At a more fundamental level, Western culture’s perspective on the purpose of children is the mindset that needs to change first. With the rise of family planning and the designer baby, Western culture has shifted from seeing children as a fundamental part of the family to viewing them as accessories—cute props who should only be involved if it’s convenient. In a sense, the kids are there to socially benefit of the parents and give them a valuable “life experience,” not the other way around. Within this mindset, it makes sense why Western parents often exclude young kids from chores, but the result is detrimental to the child. As Doucleff says, “The result is a child separated from the adult activity and not around to learn about the chore—or about how to work together collaboratively.”
Leah Hickman is a 2017 graduate of Hillsdale College’s English program. She freelances for BreakPoint.org and has written pieces for multiple Hillsdale College campus publications as well as for ChristianAnswers.net/Spotlight and the Discover Laura Blog. Read more by Leah at aworldofgrasspeople.blogspot.com.
Photo courtesy: ©Thinkstock/Lisa5201
Publication date: June 14, 2018