A Fantastic Gift for Your Child: A Chore by Ziva Meir
About a decade ago, I heard a parenting teacher tell the story of a mother who would hand her daughter dishes to wash one by one, and as she passed over each one she would say “A gift…a gift…a gift.” As someone who has always seen my children’s help in the house as a gift for me and not the other way around, I never understood this story until I heard the following eye-opening class by parenting expert Rebbetzin Ziva Meir on Radio Kol Chai yesterday. The following is an edited translation
Today I’m going to be talking about a topic that sounds appealing and is fantastic, but is very hard to make happen in reality: kids helping out in the home.
It’s true that getting kids to help in the home is part of educating our children. And, of course, many parents want children to be partners and to help out in the house. And that’s wonderful. I personally see this as something that is truly therapeutic. Before taking a child to therapy, try having him start helping in the home. The results can be fantastic.
The most important thing is that we need to know how to do it: how to request help, how to get them started.
As soon as a mother gets irritated and says to her child, “What am I asking for?! All I asked you to do is pick something up from the floor” or “All I asked you to do is go to the corner store to buy something. And here I am doing laundry, baking, cooking, ironing, cleaning…”
This irritated way of asking for help is not authoritative at all. It’s like a beggar who comes and says “I have ten children at home, give me a dollar…”
First of all, every mother needs to understand that when her child helps out in the house, even more than it helps her, it helps the child.
We are always talking about how important it is for a child to feel connected and to have a good and warm relationship with the family. Help in the home is so crucial, because it’s a child together with his mother, with his father. So much oxygen is injected into the family when relationships are good. It’s amazing. It breathes life into the home.
When a child contributes, he is no longer only connected to the family by driving the parents crazy, by irritating others, by taking, by being selfish and lazy.
And mothers tell me, “He won’t help, he’s lazy!” But there is no such thing as a lazy child. A child who behaves like he’s lazy is simply stuck in a bad place in terms of connectedness and his relationship with the family.
The “bad child” simply hasn’t yet found his place within the family. He is in a prison of himself. A prison of self is the prison with the highest walls. He’s under under siege. Every real-life prison that has been constructed with barbed wire and concrete walls and all that is not as strong as the prison that a person makes for himself.
And a child who is not part of the family, who sets himself apart as the selfish child, the angry child, the lazy child…he is, in effect, imprisoned in a prison of himself.
Now, when I want to ask him to help, he has the opportunity to escape from that prison. He’s not able to escape from this prison on his own, since it’s a prison of self. But if I do it correctly, it’s like I am extending a hand to him to take him out of there, helping him to escape. I am simply helping him to escape from this prison of himself.
We need to be aware of this. Because when, in contrast, I say to him, “Aren’t you ashamed! Lazy!” then what am I doing? I’m pushing him further down into the pit he’s in. I’m sticking him into this terrible place. And anyway, he’s already in this place, and already deep down he feels, excuse the expression, that “I’m a jerk.”
The child who lies on his bed on Friday reading a magazine when everyone else is working around him doesn’t feel good about himself. And this doesn’t necessarily have to be a teenager, it could be a small child who does something irritating at the wrong time. But the example I gave is of a teenager, since in those situations it truly is infuriating. Since how hard would it be for him to lend a hand for a few minutes? Why is he disconnecting himself from the family? And when he pulls himself outside of the family, that disconnects him even more. And then he will start pulling himself outside of other groups. It’s a shame.
In those cases, then try requesting something small from him that he absolutely can’t refuse.
Of course, for a mother who has been working hard, the last thing she wants to do is ask this uncooperative child for something. She just wants to sting him with, “Thank you very much, I managed without you!” This is the automatic reaction.
But what we should do is the opposite. We need to open up a window for him and say, “Wow, a cup of tea would help me so much right now.” And she tells him how good it is. And now he has returned to being a giver. I’ve taken him from being an irritating taker to being a giver! I helped him to make this change.
And after he does that, you can say, “Could you bring this towel to the bathroom, please.” Little things. It’s true, he hasn’t done anything huge, but when he begins to escape from his prison, he can move further. And really the sky’s the limit. And these little things help him to escape from his prison.
So when a child helps out in the house, aside from the fact that it’s pleasant and good for us, it helps the child to connect through giving and being productive. It helps him to join the family circle, in a positive way and not in that irritating, infuriating way that drives him even further away.
What an amazing gift for him.
Click here to hear other parenting corners by Rebbetzin Ziva Meir (in Hebrew)