I bet you’re teaching your kids responsibility, integrity, and compassion, not to mention, reading, writing, and arithmetic. That’s all well and good, but it is not the subject of today’s discussion. I want to talk about clothes—the dirty kind.
When I was a college freshman, the dormitory offered some tasty people watching. In particular, I was fascinated by the dorm’s laundry room.
I discovered three types of people: those who did their own laundry, those who were learning, and those who saved their dirty socks for their mother. I never once heard anyone say, “Dad will do my laundry when I get home.” That privilege was reserved for Dear Old Mom.
What’s the big deal with laundry?
Laundry represents those practical skills that a child needs to learn before they leave home. For me, it’s laundry, for you it could be cooking a meal, making a doctor’s appointment, or changing a flat tire.
Parents are busy and sometimes just don’t have the time to sweat the small stuff. But the “small stuff” is important. Otherwise, you’ve got a 20-year old who can’t shop for groceries, a 30-year old who can’t balance a checkbook, and a 40-year old who can’t, or won’t, move out of your basement.
How do you teach kids to do the little things?
It’s really a simple process, but it requires intentional parenting. Here are my three easy steps for teaching your kids to do stuff.
Step 1: Show your kids how stuff gets done. This is where you remove any illusion of a laundry fairy who swoops in to wash, dry, fluff, and fold. Don’t assume that your child understands the time and energy you put into maintaining a household. Let them shadow you for a day.
If you have to get the car serviced, your child sits in the waiting area. If you wash clothes, your child stands by the machine. For maximum value, turn off the television. With nothing but the sound of work filling the house, your child will really feel the full weight of your burden.
Step 2: Train your child to do stuff. It’s hard to imagine it, but there really was a time when you didn’t know how to polish the furniture or pay bills online. That is exactly the position your child is in. In Step 1, you showed them how stuff gets done. Now you want to set aside time for training. This does not have to be painful, in fact, catch your child at the right age and they’ll think washing dishes is fun.
Step 3: Practice doing more and more stuff. Chores are a great way to get your child on a regular schedule of doing stuff. The practical skills they learn will not only help you out, but they may also pick up skills that will help them in the future. For example, the seven-year-old who can sew a button may just end up a fashion designer.
Readers: What practical skills do you want your child to know before they graduate high school? What are your tips for teaching kids the “small stuff?”