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Encouraging self-reliance in kids while you work

Working from home with kids around is not easy for anyone, but encouraging your children to be more self-reliant can give you both some space, says Kay Hill

Children can be very different – some can have a fierce self-will to do everything themselves (if you see a toddler wearing wellies, a tutu and a bobble hat, they are probably one of those). Others seem quite happy for you to keep cutting the crusts off their sandwiches and wiping their bottoms forever… Ideally, encourage responsibility from an early age – putting dirty clothes in the laundry basket, tidying up toys or laying the table, for example. Try to cultivate the attitude that these aren’t “chores”, they are simply part of normal life for everyone in the home.

Be patient – of course you could do it faster/better, but that’s not the point! Let your child try to complete the task and wait until they ask for help before stepping in. If they have “finished” but it’s not quite right, be encouraging – “next time, you could try doing…”

Encourage patience in your child by only getting out one toy or activity at a time rather than allowing them to butterfly between multiple things. Remember to say at the beginning (and stick to it) that the activity includes clearing up – putting away Lego, washing up paint brushes, stacking the dishwasher after baking etc.

Reward if necessary. You probably swore you would never bribe your child, but if you have a reluctant responsibility-taker you may find little else works. Avoid money unless you want them expecting to be paid for everything! Try a star chart with a reward for a fixed number of stars – perhaps choosing what’s for dinner, picking the TV for the evening or a new book.

Set the clock. With a primary school aged child it’s reasonable to expect them to be able to manage without your input for short periods (although you shouldn’t leave them unsupervised). If you get an activity out, try using a phone timer or egg timer, specifying that unless it’s an emergency you will not be available until the end of that period.

Build on success. The three-year-old who puts plates in the dishwasher and can slice a banana with a table knife becomes the 10-year-old who can peel and cut the potatoes for Sunday lunch and the 16-year-old who can rustle up a meal from scratch. By encouraging self-reliance now, you are not only buying yourself a little more uninterrupted work time, you are setting them up to be capable and responsible adults (whether they like it or not!).

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