Why is it difficult for children to clean their own room or put away the legos they spewed all over the floor? They will pull out every toy on the shelf, but when it’s time to pick up they sit in the middle of the mess paralyzed. I know I, as a new mom, expected my first born to learn responsibility and clean his messes on his own by age five. I don’t know about you, but I needed a reality check!
It is true that our children are capable of small amounts of responsibility at early ages, yet even a seven-year-old can feel defeated in the middle of a mess by herself. So how do we help them succeed? When we lovingly plant a seed in good soil, we give it plenty of sunlight. We water it and even fertilize it. We protect it from the storms. We nurture it. Why? Because we believe that seed will grow into a beautiful blossom.
"Mom, I've got my room clean!" Robby races upstairs to announce before I even have the dishes done from our Saturday morning breakfast.
"Robby, you are on top of it. I’m impressed!" I respond.
He has done this three weeks in a row now and I think I'm beginning to see a little blossom.
He comes toward me with open arms, "Ya." he chuckles, "Remember when I would have so much to clean up that I would just sit in the middle of it and do nothing?"
Yup. Pretty much just a few weeks ago.
"Do you think we expected a little too much of you when we required you to clean your whole room by yourself when you were just four and five years old (my cheek to his)?"
"Yah," he chuckles again.
He's eight and I'm beginning to think around age eight is that season where our children blossom into more independent individuals because, developmentally, they can reason through things much more maturely.
"Well, we have the pleasure of learning through you, our first born. Otherwise we just don't know sometimes."
It's like God built him specifically for that.
We head downstairs to inspect his work. I enter the spacious room with tracked taupe carpet. "Your room looks great, Robby! Now it just needs to be vacuumed."
"I don't want to vacuum it," his sinful nature chimes in, "I don't like to. You do it."
"Well, you know, I don't really like to vacuum either," I gently retaliate.
"You're right. You have to vacuum the whole house. I'll do it."
I’m proud of his mature and capable response.
The truth is, in the past, we have helped him through cleaning his room on a number of occasions. We've seen that, otherwise, it would not get done in spite of our expectation and strategic tactics for compliance–yet, not without frustration along the way. But we've learned that at four and five, even six and seven, they are not quite capable of all that we may expect them to do on their own–like we’re rushing the seasons.
And if we’re really honest, we expect this because we get overwhelmed and we have our own tasks that take priority and we’re impatient. We've planted the seed and now we want results. Yet, the seed still needs tending to.
Over time, we’ve come to see that emotionally and even socially, the confidence and ability to succeed is built on loving, on-going, side-by-side nurturing and training throughout these formative years.
We do things a little differently with the younger three. We don't just show them how to take on a responsibility and expect them to have it mastered by the second or third try. In the same way, we can't plant a seed, water it a few random times and expect it to thrive. We walk with them through their tasks, their struggles, and their triumphs and give them more and more responsibility and independence as they succeed–naturally, pushing past resistance along the way. We understand they are not perfect and are in continual training while under our roof.
They don't have to have it all mastered by five. really.
So, how do we help them succeed? We walk alongside and nurture them through the formative years.
Like a bud, which opens in time with good soil, the right amount of sunlight, and plenty of moisture, we nurture our children continually into each season of bloom.
You can’t just throw a handful of seeds over the deck and expect a beautiful garden to grow. –Sally Clarkson (paraphrased)
Edited from the Archives