Raising a Responsible Child

July 09, 2008

Why Children Will Not Complete Routine Tasks

© Connie Newbauer
Dec 26, 2006

Do you have to tell your five-year-old or eight-year-old every morning that their face should be washed and their bed should be made? YES!

You’re a good parent. You’ve taken the time to patiently explain what must be done for proper hygiene each morning, how to dress and how to find the emergency bowl of cereal – then why can’t little Elizabeth complete these tasks on her own yet!

There are several reasons children cannot complete what adults see as easy, routine tasks necessary for everyday independence, some are physical and some, just like any routine in life, take multiple explanations and practice sessions to sink in and become the status-quo.

As incomprehensive as it may seem to adults, there are days in which a five-year-old cannot not physically manipulate the buttons on her shirt or zip her jeans or skirt. Other days, she may be just fine. Once a child is physically mature and their small motor skills have completed development, such tasks will not be a hurdle, but until then, patience is the answer – along with a helping hand, not a scolding when a little extra help is needed!

Hygiene seems to be another learning curve for parents to take. If you've instructed the average adult to get up in the morning, wash their face or shower, brush their teeth, comb their hair, get dressed and make their bed, there would be few, if any problems. Telling a five – or eight year old to do this and then even showing them, may not be enough to accomplish these tasks on a daily basis at first.

Even going through all the motions with them once, making sure everything they need to complete these tasks are stored at their level may not be enough. What can you do to make sure the routine is completed each morning?

At child’s eye level, paste a chart (with pictures for younger learners), with expected tasks.
Give a gentle reminder each morning, when you wake them, what you need them to do. Encourage them to check their progress off on the chart. In that way, they will have a visual indication of their accomplishment.

When they next appear, ask them if they have completed (brushing their teeth, washing their face and hands, making their beds, etc.) their tasks.

Before she leaves for the day, say you’d like to see what a beautiful job she did and accompany her to her room to check the bed and to the bathroom if they seem to need “extra help this morning” brushing teeth or washing face and hands. If so, help without demeaning the way they've completed the task prior to your checking their progress.

If a task has been done, such as the bed has been made, but is not up to your expectations, stop and make sure you're not expecting the bed to look as if you had made it – it won’t. The covers will be lumpy and crooked and not ready for a photo spread in House Beautiful - but it should never be re-done in front of the child! They will feel they can’t please you and will eventually stop attempting the task!

If you are having company and wish for the bed to look a little neater one day, take the vacuum into the room with dusting materials and tell her you’d like to work with her today to tidy the room for guests. Let her help you make the bed and then have her dust while you vacuum. I’m sure she’ll do such a lovely job, you will be happy to let her help in the living room while you clean as well – and she’ll do so willingly! On a future day, not too far away, you will be rewarded with a child who volunteers to help you.

Although on busy mornings, it will be hard to keep up the "intensive training," it will be worth it in the long run. Any adult beginning any new task - working out at the gym - taking a walk in the morning, getting up at a new time - it takes a repetition of a minimum of seven times before the new task becomes routine.

We are raising little ones - and sometimes, we have to be extra attentive to details before a new task evolves into routine! Remember: Repetition teaches Responsibility!]

The copyright of the article Raising a Responsible Child in Early Childhood is owned by Connie Newbauer. Permission to republish Raising a Responsible Child must be granted by the author in writing.

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