In my last post, I discussed helicopter parenting. Many of you asked questions about how to avoid this, and to begin instilling autonomy and independence earlier in your parent-child relationship. Today, we will discuss ways to instill a healthy level of parent involvement early in your child’s development. Remember: there are a million ways to go about maintaining a healthy level of parent involvement. This is merely one fun example.
Helpful parent-child behavior occurs when guidance by the parent is age-appropriate. Hands-on modeling should occur during childhood and should begin weaning as a child starts to develop a good sense of the task at hand. (This will be different for every child.) Do not wait to wean once a child has developed mastery. Mastery comes from independent trial-and-error after a child has been given a reasonable amount of exposure to the task.
Making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, for instance, is a task that a child can begin learning by two-and-a-half to three years of age, as long as fine and gross motor skills are intact. Introduce this task by talking to your child about the ingredients in this classic lunchtime treat. Using song to teach your child works best at this stage. After breaking down the sandwich by ingredients, ask your child to join you on a “treasure hunt” to help you find these ingredients. By doing so, you allow your toddler to discover that things do not pop out of thin air. Everything in your home has a place, and this process orients your child to those places.
Once you have gathered the ingredients, together you can think about a good place to make your sandwich. Have the child join you in this problem-solving process. This allows the child to think through why making a sandwich on the couch, for instance, may not be the most effective choice. Instead of hearing you say, “No, not on the couch,” your child will discover that the couch isn’t a good option because you need a hard surface on which to work. Once you have gathered all of your materials and found a good surface, now you are ready to prepare your sandwich.
Prepare two workstations, one for you and one for your child. Each of you should have your own materials: knife, peanut butter, sliced bread, etc. Verbally walk your child through the steps of making the sandwich. Notice that I said walk them through the steps, rather than make the sandwich for them. While you spread the jam on your bread, your child should be doing the same on their bread. If your child needs help spreading the material, use a hand-over-hand technique; however, do not “take over” for your child. Please know that your child’s sandwich will NOT be perfect; it will be a truly unique version of a peanut butter sandwich. Regardless of the results, praise your child’s commitment to the process and the fact that they did it! They worked independently and made a yummy lunch time treat.
Sit down and enjoy this beautiful culinary discovery together. Repeat this process 5-10 times, depending on your child’s needs. (Children with learning differences and motor planning difficulties will need more modeling.) Each time that you repeat this activity, reduce your modeling of the process. While the first few times you may begin by singing the song to your child, by the fifth time he/ she should be reciting the song more than you. In other words, let your child guide the process, allowing him/ her to become the teacher. Children love to be given a leadership role at this age. Once your child is comfortable as the teacher, begin allowing your child to make this delicious treat for the family as their contribution to lunch or dinner. By the age of five, your child should be able to make this treat for his or her own lunch. It should be a consistent expectation by this age to have your child make his or her own lunch at least once or twice weekly.
Follow this modeling process for each and every major skill that your child needs to learn. This a road map toward independence that can be easily incorporated and tailored to fit any child’s age, ability level, and stage of development. Remember: it is unfair as a parent to expect that a child who has had all extracurricular activities scheduled for them; all household tasks done for them; and all aspects of daily life organized for them is somehow going to know what to do when it is time for them to do it all for themselves.
Happy sandwich making!
Example of Peanut Butter Song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gfj29rS2Az4