Why Involve Children in the Activities of Daily Life?
Sometimes it is just easier to do it yourself. Toys need to be picked up in a hurry? Table needs to be set? A four-year-old needs to get dressed? Activities for Saturday afternoon need to be planned? In our busy day-to-day lives, if there is a job to do or decision to make, we tend to mull over the options, choose one that seems manageable, and just do it. Quick and easy, right? But when we do it all, we are missing opportunities to involve children in meaningful ways that can help them become more independent, creative, and resilient.
Everyone Needs a Voice in Family Life
When we find ourselves making the decisions, telling children what to do, where to go, what to wear, what to eat, we are inadvertently depriving them of the chance to think for themselves and to voice their opinions. Like adults, kids begin to bristle when they are micromanaged all the time. Even the youngest children benefit when they get to be involved in life’s little decisions.
When given opportunities to express themselves, share their experiences and make decisions, children feel valued and develop a sense of self. This gives them the message that they are an important part of the family. And when they are involved in a way that has meaning to them, when they have a Voice, children become more cooperative and behavior issues decrease. So how can we let children know that we value their ideas and experiences?
We Need to Listen
One way for children to have a Voice is to take a few minutes to let them know you are genuinely interested in what they have to say:
- Listen to how their day was. Prompt them with something specific like “tell me about one person you played with (or talked to or laughed with) today.”
- Ask them to tell you that joke again (even though you’ve heard it 100 times).
- Have them tell you about the picture they made or the block structure they built.
- Ask a silly question like “What super power would you like to have?” or “If you discovered a new planet, what would it be like?” or “If you were the boss of the world, what rules would you make?”
While most adults can listen and do something else at the same time, to a child it feels like you are not tuned in. So when they are talking, be sure to stop what you’re doing and really pay attention. Let them know you are listening by looking at them and responding to what they say.
Involve Children in Decision-Making
Another way to help children have a Voice is to encourage them to share ideas and opinions when decisions must be made or problems need to be solved. Some examples:
- Giving ideas about a family activity (which park to visit, which movie to watch)
- Working through a problem with a sibling by brainstorming possible solutions
- Helping to pick out gifts for relatives or friends celebrating birthdays
- Brainstorming dinner ideas
- Helping to plan a party or celebration
While they may not end up getting the final say, children get the message that their input is valuable and is taken into consideration. Needless to say, certain decisions are not appropriate for children to be involved in such as bedtimes and how much TV is watched. It’s important for children to understand that some things are not negotiable. Giving children a Voice is not the same as letting them ‘rule the roost’. Having a Voice means being involved in the process of child-appropriate decision-making and problem-solving, not necessarily the outcome. Life does not always feel fair, but it is valuable and reassuring for children to learn that there are times when caring parents make the decisions
What Caring Adults Can Do
To help children have a Voice, Dr. Richard Grossman, a psychologist in Brookline Massachusetts, suggests that we keep 3 guidelines in mind:
- Assume that what your child has to say is just as important as what you have to say.
- Assume that you can learn as much from them as they can from you.
- Enter their world through play, activities, and discussions; don’t require them to enter yours in order to make contact.
By letting children know that we value their thoughts and ideas, and that we want their active participation in the life of the family, we give them the message that they matter. Research tells us that involving children in a meaningful way helps them become more resilient and ready to take on the challenges that life will certainly throw their way.