I cover a lot of ground in this episode because I think one of the leading causes of parenting exhaustion and overwhelm is that we are in the habit of doing too much for our children. Whether it's little things like unloading backpacks or the bigger things like developing independent play skills and tools for emotional regulation.
It's unintentional, but it snowballs before we realize it and suddenly you find yourself doing a lot more than you need to be. As a result you are exhausted and your child isn't building some essential life skills.
In this episode I'm focussing in on the importance of building in time for developing child responsibilities (chores) and some of the misconceptions people might have around how long these types of skills take to build, when things become habits and how our background and experience plays a role in development.
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Hello, and welcome. I'm Tara, the founder of raising resilient children, where I support parents and educators with tools and skills for feelings, kindness, and everyday mental well being also known as social emotional skills and empathy. As a longtime educator, former preschool owner and parent, I know that there is no cookie cutter approach to raising children and information can be overwhelming. Let's tackle some of this by having some important conversations and digging into some different topics. For today's episode, I'm going to talk about something that I think is maybe one of the leading causes of parent overwhelm in modern parenting. And that is our habit of doing too much, and how that plays out over the years and what the sort of impact is. So it's unintentional, you don't mean for it to happen. But it is one of those things that is a bit of a snowball, once you realize that it has happened, it's already a giant mess, if you will. So one of the things that's happening in modern parenting is that we are extremely busy, we have long days. And that leads to us having a little patience, not spending a whole lot of time with our kids, between before care, school, daycare and after care. Their days are actually a bit longer than our days because we drop them off and we pick them up. And the reality is trying to move through transitions is quite tricky. So quite often, we will do things to get out the door faster, or to support a transition getting through the transition. And before you know it, you're a little bit here and your little bit there turns into all the time, every month, month after month and year after year. And suddenly you have a nine to 11 year old, who still you're still unpacking their backpack for them. And you're still making sure you line up their clothes, and you're still making all their food and they're not helping around the house. And you're trying now realizing that you want them to help. But they're nine to 11. So they are very resistant, because they're not used to it. And it's something that they're not interested in doing. The older we get, the less likely we are to want to participate in family responsibilities, because it's not fun, right? Whereas when it's younger, and we create a habit and we build the habit into our routines, then we're more willing to do it. Now here's the thing, if you are listening right now and you're like I am in the nine to 11 zone, I am totally toast. Not true. I you are able to build things into your life at any age and stage. here's the here's the thing. It's harder, I'm not going to mislead you it is harder when your child is older to build habits, routines, change behavior. That's why so much of the work I do is focused on sort of two to six, because in the two to six range, it's so much easier to build social emotional skills. It's so much easier to build habits, but it's not impossible. Our brains are relaxed, sticky plasticky, right? neuroplasticity, but once our superhighway so if you think of your brain as a sort of superhighway, right? Once your highways are well paved, right, the ATB highway is like well paved, you know, the route is the route you use all the time. And suddenly you find a new route with a new highway, you kind of retrain your brain to take that highway because it wants to take the super well paved easy direction, the one that you were always using. If you want to start taking a new route, you have to think about it and think about it and think about it until you change the route. Now, depending on where you are in your life trajectory, if you're an adult, that conversation may have to be ongoing for the rest of your life. I need to react to my feelings differently, I need to react to my feelings differently, right. Whereas if you're younger, you can sort of redirect that neural highway, and it becomes your new habit. The younger you are, the easier that is right, the more flexible you're thinking your mind, right. So this applies to this too. So if you're listening, and you're like, great, I have a nine to 11 year old who I'm trying to get to be more responsible, and I haven't been doing these things. Don't worry, you can do it. But you do have to in the back of your mind, keep reminding yourself, this is going to take me longer this process of developing these responsibilities. And there's going to be a lot more pushback, because you have a different relationship and habit, if your child is younger, this is going to be an easier process, you're going to build it in slowly, you're going to build it as skills. So one of the things that comes up quite a bit in the work that I do is by the time kids are sort of nine to 11 There's a few different things happening. One, they're more independent, they're more sort of in their own space, have their own world and those kinds of things. But when we start to ask them to do tasks, like cleaning, like chores, like I don't like the word chores, actually, I'll talk about that in a bit. But this idea of like putting away laundry and helping in the kitchen and learning how to cook when we haven't built those skills up. up, and we haven't taken the time to help them throughout the years, there's a bit of a like, thing that happens that we think we can do things that we can't do, but we should be able to do and that's really frustrating. Right? It's kind of like the idea of you think about school, right? We don't expect kids to just start reading we teach them letters. First, we teach them to put a couple letters together, we then teach those letters into words. And then we put some words into a sentence and words, those sentences then become paragraphs, right, we don't immediately say, Hey, you're just going to start reading, we build the skills, slowly, letters, few letters together, making a word few words together, making a sentence, he's on his gather, making a paragraph, and so on. The same is true of building a child's responsibilities, we have to start little, and slowly build up so that they master the skills. One of the things that's sort of really interesting about my family dynamic is one of the things I talked about in episode three was the importance of getting information that has a solid balance of expertise and experience. Right, the idea that my Masters is only one component of me and I did that in through research. And I did that in a very scholastic educational way. And then my expertise is built on my life experiences, working with families and children in different roles and capacities over the years. Another element of my of my experience, is my relationship with my husband. And one of the things that is really interesting about our relationship that really does inform how I help parents learn some of this stuff, if you will, I think like an educator. So I think about this, as, you know, putting these letters together to make a word to make a sentence to write, I think about this, my husband doesn't, because he's not an educator. Now we come from totally different worlds, my husband and I, I come from a world of privilege, and experience the traveling and I never had for want or any of those kinds of things. One of the things that's very unique about my husband is he grew up in near poverty, and in a war torn country. And so his experiences of the world is very different. And his understanding or belief system around how we help each other is also culturally different. Now, something interesting about me is I actually grew up in the Middle East. So I have a lot of insight into the cultural significance of being supportive of family and the importance of, of those types of relationships. Now, one of the things that my husband has said on a reoccurring basis is our children need to know how to do things. They need to know how to clean and cook and put things away, they need to be a member of the family to be responsible. And at some point, I'm hoping to have him on here i i call them candid conversations with my Habibi because we have these amazing conversations where he shares his insight and expectations. And then what I do is I say, okay, great, I agree with you, I think the kid should be helpful. I do believe they need to be responsible. His idea is that that will happen instantaneously, right? It'll happen. Like he'll show the kids how to unload the dishwasher once, and they should know how to do it. And then my part of the of the conversation of the dialogue is, hey, that's more like a six to eight week directory. Right? So here I will my education brain on the parent expectation, and I say this is going to take more than one showing or two showings or three showings, things like learning skills to unload the dishwasher will take repetition and time because kids don't want to do it. It's not fun or exciting. Sure, can they learn faster? Absolutely. I'm not saying it's gonna always take six weeks. But in your mind, when you're thinking about teaching responsibilities, and mastering the ability to do those responsibilities, you have to think, hey, this trajectory is a really long time. I mean, I have to show my children more than once or twice, to have them do it the way I expect them to do it. And when I talk to parents about things like laundry, and dishes, they have very specific expectations. And it's actually one of the reasons that partners struggle so much with helping each other, right, there's sort of a real amazing movement happening in the world around Eva, dusky is work of fair play. But the interesting part is, certain people have really strong feelings about how laundry should be folded, for example. And one of the things I'm seeing as an educator and sort of analyzing the change the movements of change is to say, we are expecting people to make changes too quickly. We're expecting them to master skills too fast, because we're not making space for learning trajectories. And when you're thinking about learning trajectories, you don't learn how to read it in a moment. You don't learn how to write in a moment you don't learn how to do math in a moment. There's a reason that these things are built over stages and time, right? The same is true of things like folding laundry and washing dishes a certain way or being okay with them, maybe not being washed your way, or folded your way, depending right, there's some some different kinds of balance to strike there. But when we're thinking about this skill building process, we have to take into account that those things take time. And whether you're a child or a partner, those things are going to take a lot longer than one or two weeks to be done systematically in the most efficient, effective way, right? I'm one of the people who has a very specific way of folding. And it's because it sits in the drawer better, right? So I have a reason why the folding needs to be that way. So part of knowing that is teaching that but I had to be patient in the process, and say, Hey, this is not going to be perfect, we're gonna have to work on it, I'm gonna have to refold a bit for a while until everybody gets the idea of how to do it. And why it's important. Because I mean, truth be told foldings not fun, right? So when we're thinking about building these responsibilities, we want to start young with the basics and build up. So think of all of these things as sort of building. And that's where my husband and I have regular conversations where we check in and I'm like, if you want that to be a thing, if you want that to be an internalized skill, if you want that to be the go to I want my children to do this, have you committed to the movement of showing them for six, eight plus weeks? Right? To do it the way you're expecting, right? Learning how to wash dishes, it's not going to take one week or two weeks, right? And some people say to me, Well, it used to be fast. Well, yes, it did. Because discipline and corporal punishment, right, fear based punishment, is highly effective in getting people to do things. I'm not giving it there's a caveat here, I'm not saying it's acceptable, it's okay. It's not. But when you're teaching children's skills, and you're teaching them through the learning process, and not the fear based process, it is going to take you longer, right, it is going to take you longer. So one of our comparisons is to use the fear based system, because that's what we lived under right are a lot of people lived under, they lived under the fear of threats of punishment of hitting of losing things of you got to do this, or this will happen, right, that kind of stuff. So that's the model most people grew up with. So their expectation of things getting done is based on that model. But that's not how they're parenting, their parenting using the model of progression and learning and emotional validation. And those steps. In this model, the learning trajectories are more like school, they take much longer, because they're actually learning the skills, they're not doing things to please adults, they're not doing things because they're afraid of adults, they're learning to do things by mastering skills. So there's two very different things there. So the model people are using to help rationalize why things are not as fast as they should be. It's because you're not using fear based methods. And when you don't use fear based methods, you're actually teaching your children skills. And when you're actually teaching your children's skills. It's like learning to read, it's like learning to do math, it's gonna take some time. So one of the things that sort of my husband and I regularly come back to is this idea, right, as we add layers to conversations, and it was something I built into my preschool the importance of getting things done, because over the years, people have said, I don't know how you do it all. I don't do it all. But it all has to get done. And how does it all get done? Well, in my preschool, we had to help each other. And we're talking about kids as young as 20 months to four is when they would go off to JK, those children knew how to get undressed, get dressed, clean up everything, do all the things. It was part of the group dynamic and everyone's responsibility to do things. The younger ones did less than the older ones. And everybody at some point sort of pitched in and we did the things and as they aged through the stages and whatnot, they did more so in the beginning, I would help younger kids with their snow suits, and I would slowly build up that snowsuit skill so that by the time they left me headed off to JK they did it all themselves, right. So when you think of it as a step by step process, these are sort of really important. The episode will continue after this short ad. Are you tired of losing your cool even when you are trying your hardest not to wish you could find a way to stop second guessing your decisions and tricky moments and want to do something about the cycle. of guilt and apologies you keep finding yourself in, enroll in my free on demand workshop. Why do I lose my cool even when I'm trying my hardest not to. You will learn what social emotional skills are and how they will make your daily parenting easier. You will see how the stress cycle is connected to tricky moments for you and your child. And you'll leave the workshop with a clear action plan for losing your cool less. As a former preschool owner, longtime educator and social emotional expert, I created this workshop to support parents who are trying their best to validate feelings, who are working hard to be patient and understanding and are still hitting a wall. Head to Tara gratto.ca backslash cool to enroll today and get ready to lose your cool last while handling your parenting challenges with confidence. And now back to the show. Is it easier to help your child put on their snowsuit? Is it easier to clean up things on the outside it is easier. But when you're looking at your day and tallying your overwhelm and your exhaustion, you're actually creating a system where everybody relies on you to do everything. And you can imagine there's lots of layers to this conversation, right? Today, I'm just talking about the habit of doing too much for our children. We can also talk about this in terms of technology, we can also talk about this in terms of emotional overload or emotional executive functioning problem solving for your children, all that kind of stuff. And I will be talking about those things. Today, I'm just focusing on habit building as a process as a part of making sure that you're not getting in the habit of doing too much for your children, which is a exhausting for you, and b not giving them essential life skills. And we have a lot of high schoolers out there right now, who don't know how to make food, who don't clean up properly, who don't, you know, sort of contribute to their families. And once you're in teenager brain, that is an almost impossible time to start teaching these things. Because they are not interested at all again, I said is almost. But we have to think about sort of how brains work in this process. The earlier you start building expectations, the earlier you get involved in that process, the more kids just come to expect it right you want to enter the teenage years, expecting that this is what I do for my family. This is part of my family responsibilities. And we talked about this, we talked about that being an important thing. So one of the things that sort of where I begin with this conversation is I think of them as family responsibilities. So you've heard me say that, and I never call them chores. And I don't know if that's just because I have a negative connotation with the word tour, it was never called chores in my house. Charges sounds horrible. To me, it just sounds like this like really negative, like that's a chore, which means I don't want to do it. We're family responsibilities. The responsibilities are layered with the idea that we're doing things we don't always love to do. Right in my job, I have a lot of responsibilities. Some of them I love, and some of them are not my favorite, but I still have to do them. I think that's the difference. When you're when you set it up as a responsibility, you don't have to love that you're doing it. It's something that you need to do to contribute to your family's mental well being your family's physical well being the well being of your family unit. I want to give you some examples of things that I know parents are doing for their children at different ages and stages, that we just sat back. And for those of you who are like, great, I already knew all this, I know that my kids should be able to do things, but I haven't been able to make it happen. So when I work with families, and in my transitions workshop, I talk a lot about this. One of the things about transitions, and usually rent responsibilities fall into the transitions category, because it's often a transitional moment, things like cleaning up things like getting undressed things like unpacking our bags, right things like setting the table, right? These are all transitional moments. And one of the things that I know about modern life is that we try to rush transitions because we just don't have enough time. And one of the things I encourage people to think of when it comes to responsibilities is think about building time for them, right? Just like you scheduled gymnastics, or swimming or all the things that you schedule in your life, schedule time to make the responsibilities happen. So instead of trying to get kids to get dressed in five minutes, if they can't do it, figure out how much time they actually need to get dressed. Right. And then what's your goal if your goal is five minutes, you got to start with maybe 20 minutes and then your goal is to get to the five minutes by doing this skill building process. Don't start with the five minute allotment if your kids can't get dressed in five minutes and that's something that I did all the time in my preschool was like, regularly adjust transitional needs by They had where they were where the kids were in their stages of development, what the team looked like, right in terms of who could lead and do and whatever, right, clean up, I would assign different amounts of cleanup. As kids who had been with me for a long time, cleanup took very short. In the beginning, cleanup did not take very short, right? And then how do we make this fun by singing games and singing and, you know, doing that kind of stuff? So one of the things that you need to start with is breaking down some responsibilities and saying, Okay, where am I making sure that I'm teaching my kids the skills? So from age two to three, we're talking about the stages of dressing, right? How am I supporting children learning to dress independently so that by three to four, they can do it? All? Right. So where am I starting with, I put their feet in, they pull up that kind of thing, I put their head and they put their hands in, right, so we're building that up. Cleaning up toys is something that any two plus year old can do even a bit younger than that. So the idea of like being more specific, so instead of saying we need to clean up, we need to clean up items, it's time to clean up the dinosaurs. Okay, now that we've cleaned up the dinosaurs, it's time to clean up the trucks. If cleanup is super overwhelming, it's probably because there's too many things. There's too many things available. And that's it, that actually has another impact that I'm going to talk about. And that's the idea of when you have too many choices available for children, they're actually less likely to play independently. masses. So toddlers and preschoolers and every age, make a lot of messes. How are you helping ensure that they're cleaning up their messes this idea of like they wipe first you wipe second, right? So they are involved in the process, from a really early age of understanding that when you make a mess, it's your responsibility to clean it up, and then helping support the learning journey of getting better at more effective at cleaning the mess. So you know, the two year olds not going to get all the stuff and we're not going to get upset about that. But we're going to see it as a process that by the time they're three, they're now able to really clean up a spill pretty well. Right. Things like sorting cutlery, right? Sorting is a great activity for two and three year olds to help with. So they can start putting away the cutlery. I used to have a low shelf for there for the kids that preschoolers things, so that they could actually put away their plates in the cupboard at their level. And they could put away their cups at their level. So actually created a space where I would hand them the items and they would go put them away. Right? And same things would bring after lunch or snack, it was everybody's responsibility to come bring their stuff, put it beside the sink, and everybody then I would teach them the layers of stacking and things like that. All of all about systems, right? Where are we introducing this. So those are some examples of some sort of readiness responsibilities for ages two to three. When we're into ages four to five, we're moving into getting dressed all the way with everything, all the outdoor gear, indoor gear shoes, the whole nine yards. This is one that I know a lot of parents do for their children, and they don't need to, when we come home from daycare school, we can unpack our backpack and hang it up. We are doing that at school and daycare, right. So four and five year olds are having to pack their backpacks it is their responsibilities, and teachers aren't doing it for them. So when they come home, they are fully capable of continuing that responsibility, right. And that's where we bring our lunchbox to the kitchen, for example, we bring our teacher notes to the table, we hang our backpack up. So we have everything all sort of organized. At the end of the day, we need to make sure hooks are at kid height. So they can hang up their backpack hang up there. Or if you have a cubby, whatever your system is right at kid level, because what you're doing here is you are saving yourself time. In the outset, you're going to teach for a couple of weeks and then you're going to realize that you can come home and say time to do these things. And they will go to to to to doing them and you'll be able to prepare snack not you're going to do to do them and then prepare snack and suddenly an hour has passed. Right. This is where we maximize teaching kids essential life skills that support us. So another great sort of four to five is starting to set the table and helping the kitchen. The earlier you get kids involved in food preparation, the sooner they will start to understand the importance that food is not magic. It doesn't just appear it is a part of a process. And so you just start with little things and build up from there. I'm going to do a whole podcast on that folding things start with things like claws, kitchen towels, matching socks, underwear, those kinds of things. If you have a dishwasher, unloading parts of the dishwasher, right, but the plastics in the plastics drawer, put the cutlery away, put any food sort of if you have plates that are spent, like for your specific for your kids, they got to put those away. And then starting to teach like putting one plate at a time on the counter because they're fragile, right, and we're going to slowly put them in, then you're going to lift them to the cupboard, right, this is where you're starting to teach them how to be cautious with plates if you have breakable plates, and you don't have kid plates, right, there's lots of different ways that you can sort of do this starting to do some yard stuff, some raking some picking up, and then packing the backpack. So maybe you put the clothes in and you make it all fit because it's a bit like Tetris, but they have to add their water bottle, right, this kind of thing. So we're involving them in the process of things that are for them. And then as we head into sort of the six sevens, now we're talking about full after school cleanup, right unloading our lunchbox, putting things in the dishwasher, or the dish pit or whatever you do starting to fold more laundry, right shirts and pants, that can be quite complex, you can teach younger kids to do it. But it's, it's a little bit challenging. This is where you get more into unloading dishwashers and start maybe some basic loading and getting things sort of packing the backpack right at school, they have to pack their backpacks, so they can pack their backpacks, and unloading the groceries, things like that, right. So getting them more actively involved. And then every level is inclusive of the previous level. And then by nine to 11. They've now been in the kitchen for a couple of years, they've been helping with food, right. So now they can start making some simple meals, they can be fully responsible for their snacks and breakfast, for example, maybe now they're going to start to learn how to do laundry, take out the garbage fully load the dishwasher, learn how to you know wash some basics, in the sink, vacuuming, cleaning, changing their bedsheets, you know that's a, that's a bit tricky for younger kids. But by nine to 11, you should be able to like start to be able to do your fitted sheets and things like that now you're helping with leaves and snow and meal planning, right maybe a couple days a week. And then as you move into the middle school zone, this is where kids can be making their own lunches. So my kids are responsible for making their own lunches, and family. So throughout the pandemic, my kids are responsible for making food a couple of days a week. With back to school and those kinds of things, they'll they'll be responsible for a meal on the weekend, potentially that kind of idea. So the idea here is when we're thinking about responsibilities that are overwhelming you and become a habit that you're constantly doing for your children, the importance of these is actually a long term trajectory. It's a long term trajectory, because one of our responsibilities is helping our children build their life skills, right. And one of those life skills is being able to prepare food, being able to clean up after yourself being able to do things independently understanding that life is not just done for us that it's hot, we have to be a part of it. And that if we don't, aren't actively involved with doing these things, parents are exhausted doing all the things that kids are quite capable of. And then when they are old enough to not be home. There are some kids who are seriously lacking some essential life skills like these. So today was a sort of chat about how are we understanding that skill building is a process? How are we thinking about building that habit, so that we don't get in the habit of doing too much and end up layering on to our exhaustion. And also thinking about, hey, as a parent, one of my responsibilities is to support my child with this like life skill trajectory, and that after age nine, it gets much harder to get kids to do this, because it's not a habit for them. They're not interested in doing it, their brain development is more sort of self focused again. And their willingness to help around is not as active where young children actually love being helpful. And when you you know, frame it as a family responsibility is something that we do from a very young age, they're more apt to do it and it just that becomes their behavioral habit. And then when you have teenage pushback, and you just be like this is what we do for the family. This is part of our family responsibilities. Thanks so much for listening. Be sure to subscribe so you will be notified when future episodes launch and share this episode with friends or colleagues you think might enjoy it. For information on how to connect with me, you can check out the show notes or you can find me on Instagram at raising resilient children. Until next time, thanks again for listening