November 18, 2009

Preschoolers, Independence and Chores

I came across this topic on the Parents Magazine website, and liked the article overall.  Many parents wait until their child is older to begin assigning chores, but this brings problems.  First, children want very badly to be helpful and grown-up at Preschool age.  Parents who wait lose their child's natural enthusiasm.  Secondly, a child who is eight or nine and suddenly being assigned chores is apt to resent it.  After all, she hasn't had to contribute through chores all her life, why should she have to begin now?

But I do have a few points to add about safety.

In the opening of the article, the author says her own 4 year-old climbed out of bed one recent morning and tried to make a frozen a frying pan on the stove.  I'm sure this was a heart-stopping experience for the author, but it may have been possible to avoid it.

The time to begin talking to your child about kitchen safety is infancy.  Yes, before they can even understand what you're saying.  It may sound extreme, but it gets you into the habit of catching "teachable moments," as my own mom calls them.  When your toddler is fascinated by the stove or the sounds of cooking, that's when you should be ingraining the idea that the stove is not safe.  Don't make your talk heavy or extreme, just make sure your child knows that they are not to use the stove because it isn't safe.

Will that work on every child?  No.  Absolutely not.  Sometimes it doesn't matter what the parent has said about a topic: when a child gets the urge, he'll try something anyway.  But when dealing with a baby, then a toddler, who they constantly supervise and largely control, parents can forget to give children a healthy fear of certain dangers.  They assume that the day they'll deal with the stove or toaster oven is a long way off, and it may not be so.  Find the teachable moments, when warnings or suggestions naturally flow, and find them before you think you need them.

The same goes for my next point: the article's section on answering the door.  Of course, they recommend teaching the child never to open the door, but giving them things to say, such as, "Leave the package and my dad will get it later," or "I'll get my mom."

I would go a step further: never open the door and never talk to anyone at the door.  Call me paranoid, but I don't think a preschooler should be answering the door at all.  An older child could utilize the scripted responses, but I don't think a preschooler should.

Let's think about this for a moment.  If I were at home with a preschooler, why should they answer the door in the first place, informing whoever is on the other side that a young child lives in the house.  And the idea of leaving a preschooler home alone is unthinkable.  Older kids need the skills to answer the door because 1) they are maturing and need to begin practicing this adult skill, or 2) they need to know what to do if they are home alone.  Personally, I would rather teach my 4-5 year-old that the door is off-limits.

On the other hand, the article's suggestions for letting your child feed the pet, get their own breakfast (safely) or do other chores are excellent.  So let your preschooler start helping out...just make sure they are safe when they do it.

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