Kids, skills, and the long run

Last night, The Kid approached me with urgency.

“Mom! You have to do laundry!”

Turns out, he was down to one clean pair of shorts.

I do the laundry, but it’s his job to stay on top of it and let me know when he’s running low on socks, underwear, short, or pants. (He has a bazillion shirts and doesn’t run low on those.)

“Also, Mom, my laundry basket is SO FULL!”

This morning, I asked him to sort his laundry. Socks and underwear in one place, everything else in another.

His laundry holder is a netted thing hanging on the back of his bedroom door. It has a zipper down one side so it doesn’t need to be taken down to be emptied. (Also, it has a backboard that lights up when you hit it.)

He unzipped it, pulled everything out onto the floor, and began to sort. Each item had a sound effect as it hit its basket. He took a minute for each sock to make sure it was not bunched up inside itself (inside- or rightside-out doesn’t matter). Forgot the sound effect for one, so he took it back out and put it back in with sound.

The whole process took a really long time. By “really long,” I just mean “longer than it would have taken me to do it” … maybe exponentially.

But it gives him a chore that is well within his capability, gives him responsibility for his own stuff, and takes some off my plate.

It doesn’t matter that it took seven minutes instead of two.

When he was little, he “helped” in the kitchen. He had a wavy chopper and could help with even the hardest of vegetables, as long as they weren’t thicker than the knife was tall.

It took way longer to make dinner when he helped, and I often had to fix some of his cuttings.

Fast forward four or five years and I have a kid who is legitimately helpful in the kitchen and can comfortably and safely use a small serrated knife.

He won’t do onions. (I don’t blame him.) And the one time he did a jalapeƱo, it ended badly. But the other day, he asked to help dice celery. (“Help? You can do it!” And I moved on to other things.)

As he learns new skills (measuring spices is big right now), he’s not great at them, and they take way longer than it would take me to just do it myself.

That’s how we are with skills. They take time to learn. We mess up. We need help sometimes, whether from another person, a book, the internet. We get better as we go until we reach a point where we’re content with our competence or just not willing to work any harder.

Let kids do stuff. Without hurrying or intervening constantly. That’s how they learn.

They need basic skills at home. How to take care of their stuff. How to cook. How to clean. How to do basic maintenance.

But it takes patience, because it’s both tedious to watch and takes years for payoff.

Do it anyway.

While we’re at it, if your spouse is learning a new skill around the house, give them the same grace. Maybe more, because it’s more vulnerable as an adult to be in that position.

When you know better, do better” is much easier when the people around you let you do better. At all ages.

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