“Can you help me?” might be the start of some of my best parenting moments. It lets my child see themselves as important. “Mom is asking me for help, not anyone else!” Using this phrase, my kids have attempted all kinds of new activities, knowing they had my support.
Recently, I decided to use this phrase on my son when I got a new fish tank. For months, I had been thinking about getting a Beta fish. After some careful research, I set up a curbside pick-up order of a small tank that came with a filter. I let my son know, “I’m getting a fish tank, and I’d really like it if you help me set it up.” He agreed. So, when I got home from my errands with my new tank, I checked in on him. He was playing an online game with a friend and didn’t want to help that minute.
Being the Grown-UP
Now, this is where I had to be the grown-up. My inner child really wanted to set up that tank now. But, the adult in me knew there was no reason to do that. To make this project last a little longer, I actually had not yet purchased everything, particularly not the fish. I had a tank, water conditioner, and some rocks for the bottom of the tank. Yes, I could have set it up quickly on my own right then. However, waiting until after dinner when my son had time to spend with me on it, was the right choice.
While I might not understand the online game he is playing, I have come to realize that when he is playing with a friend, that friend is relying on him. Yes, it is a make-believe world, but doing well there is important to him and his friends, and he would be letting them down by just quitting to help me. So, I respected his need to keep playing with his friend at that moment.
Letting My Child Take The Lead
After dinner, we put the fish tank together, together. When doing this kind of activity with my kids, I make myself move slowly. I let my son read the directions and instruct me on what we should do. He figured out how to put it together. I do help, I just don’t move so fast.
This method works well for a lot of kids and a lot of activities. As the adult, if you move a top speed, you can complete a project before your child has fully absorbed what needs doing. So, when getting a child to help, allow more time for any project and just slow yourself down. It is sometimes hard to stand back and let them work out what to do when you already know. But the more your child does, the more they will learn from any project.
Shopping is a skill
Once the water, rocks, and filter were in the tank and it was working, I mentioned that I still needed a few things. My son helped me shop online for what I still needed. We price compared and read some reviews together. I purchased a heater and some testing strips for the tank that he selected. I’m not sure that water testing is completely necessary for the Beta I want, but it will tie nicely into the Chemistry unit we’ve been doing. I’m also building his confidence as a consumer, asking him to help me shop.
This means he will help me again, on another day, to set up the heater and test the water. Last will come adding our fish. I also plan to add a snail or shrimp as the tank has enough room for them. Altogether, a project that I technically could have done in a few hours, will be something we spend several hours on, over the course of a week. It gives me something to bond with my child over that isn’t schoolwork. However, it is educational. According to the National Pet Owners Survey, there are well over a million freshwater fish being kept as pets in America. This means that having a knowledge of fish and their tanks could result in all kinds of social conversations, someday.
IT works for other projects too
This technique of asking for help is one I’ve used with all of my kids. I’ve asked for help making new recipes, starting a garden, doing research, and decorating the house. If one child says “No thanks” I move on and ask another child. If no one wants to help, I can do it myself. I don’t want to guilt my kids into helping. I want them to be people who can ask for help and take no for an answer. So I have to model that.
I am working on raising people who know how to do a lot of things by engaging them in many things. I am working on making them confident by trusting their judgment, even if it isn’t exactly what I planned on. I am letting them do challenging tasks, so they become people who can do challenging tasks. The fish tank wasn’t challenging, but digging out the garden bed last spring was! These tasks also open up the world of doing adult tasks to my kids. Yes, adults have chores and bills, but we also get to paint the house or bake cookies whenever we want. I believe that knowing how to do things for yourself is a path to happiness. So we are walking that path.
About the Author
Laura Sowdon, OTR/L is an occupational therapist, writer, speaker, educator and creator of the Five Senses Literature Lessons homeschool curriculum. She has worked as an occupational therapist with children in public and private schools, as well as private practice. Laura has taught and managed homeschool co-ops as well as homeschooling her own three children. Laura is dedicated to the idea of educating children at a pace that aligns with brain and physical development milestones and respects neurodiversity in all its forms.