Including Your Children

Parenting is an Apprenticeship

Are you neglecting an important part of parenting? Here’s what I mean. You see, I’m a perfectionist, which means that I have a specific way of doing things. To ensure that things get done the way I them, I do them myself.

But I’m also a parent of young children, which is requiring me to curb my perfectionism in favor of something else – inclusion. In other words, I am learning the importance of including my children in the things that I do.

Raising children is a grand apprenticeship, which easily escapes us in the scurry of survival.

  • We drop off our children for classes at a school or summer camp, then go our separate way.
  • On occasion we go with them to some music lessons or sporting events.
  • But how often to we invite them to join us in the things we are doing?

Children need this side-by-side attention – watching you do things. Consider the following diagram of what this should look like:

parenting-apprenticeship

You Do While Your Child Watches

During this phase, be sure to include your child by explaining to him what you are doing, how you are doing it and why. Talk about other ways of doing it, and why these are good or bad approaches. When your child asks questions, be sure to give him thoughtful, meaningful answers. Teach him what he needs to know to do the job himself.

You and Your Child Do Together

This phase may test your patience, but invite your child to actively participate in what you are doing. Are you shoveling snow? Give her a shovel of her own. Are you shopping for groceries? Let her choose which box of crackers to buy. This phase is especially difficult, because it requires you to slow down, anticipate some mistakes and settle for something less than perfect. But it’s worth it. Mentoring your child is far more important than completing the task at hand.

Your Child Does While You Watch

This phase tests the success of your mentoring, and it can be very rewarding and satisfying for both you and your child. Find ways to express confidence in your child, and thank him for taking on a new responsibility. Keep an eye on his work at first, but not in an imposing way. If he’s mowing the grass, then glance through the window now and then, but don’t stand in the yard and watch him the entire time. When he finishes, inspect his work and offer constructive feedback. Be sure to praise his effort, progress and accomplishment. If he missed the mark in any way, share that with him as a way to improve, but not as a point of failure.

Sooner Rather Than Later

Including your child in the things you do should happen sooner rather than later. Too often parents wait until they believe their child is old enough for Phase 3, having neglected Phases 1 and 2 along the way. A teenager finds it confusing, for instance, when her parents suddenly want her to take on responsibilities around the house, though they wanted her out of the way for the very same things during her childhood years. However, when a child can reflect back over years of inclusion, teaching and shared work, she readily accepts new responsibilities and find great satisfaction in her work.

Questions for Self-Reflection

  • Do you include your children in the things that you do?
  • If no, then why?
  • If yes, then are you using this as a teaching opportunity?
  • Do you answer your child’s questions thoughtfully?
  • Do you give them the opportunity to participate in the work?
  • Do you mind being slowed down or taking the risk of messing up?
  • Does your child enjoy working with you?
  • Do you have a goal of giving your child the opportunity to do this work himself?
  • Do you praise your children for their progress?
  • Do you offer constructive feedback that doesn’t discourage your child?
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