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Encouraging Heroes. You can be one too.

I had an interesting conversation with a father the other day. His boys are ages 3 and 5, and the dad was telling me how much his sons love to help set the table at mealtime. Both boys are pretty passionate about it, to the point that if an adult carries a plate or cup from the kitchen to the table, a boy will likely take the item back to the kitchen and then bring it to the table himself.

The whole table-setting routine gets pretty exciting, with boys asking “What can I bring? What can I bring?WhatcanIbring???” over and over until adults set the plates and cups out for the boys to carry. I asked the dad if he’d ever considered putting the dishes in a low cupboard for the boys to be able to access on their own.

THAT suggestion was not well received. The dad didn’t believe that his boys would handle the dishes without breaking. Nor did he believe that the kids would leave the dishes alone outside of mealtime, and in general he thought my suggestion was not workable. I encouraged the dad to consider the idea.

Today one of my 5 year olds got into the refrigerator and dug out a nearly full 64-ounce container of apple juice and carried it to the table. He fetched his own cup, poured the juice, and returned the jug to the fridge all on his own.

Granted, when the older boys were 5 I didn’t offer them as much trust as I do the little guys now. In hindsight, I wish I had. Children will rise to your expectations if you give them the chance. If they’ve demonstrated the ability to do a task and are then trusted with that responsibility, they feel needed and important. Self-esteem goes up, peacefulness increases, and another step is taken toward independence.

Will they make mistakes? Sure they will. Don’t we all? I frequently worry about what kind of damage would be done if an entire jug of milk or juice would do spilled all over the dining table – the same table we use to do schoolwork. Rather than tell the kids they can’t pour their own juice I just work very hard to keep papers out of the way or at least be close at hand ready to scoop things up should a spill occur. So far, we’ve only had minor episodes.

Before my conversation with my friend I thought I was a pretty controlling parent. It’s refreshing to realize that I’ve been able to let go of some of that and allow the boys to reap the benefits of responsibility more. Part of it is the fact I have twice as many kids as the dad.

Seems like the more I grow as a parent, the more I can freely let my kids grow.

So what about you? How much do your trust your kids with responsibility? Let’s say you rated yourself on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being very trusting and 10 being very controlling. Where would you fit on the scale? Just for kicks, ask a close friend how they’d rate you.

Now, for even more fun would you consider offering your child a new job to try? Have him set the table (feel free to use plastic. We do.) or fetch wastebaskets for emptying. Maybe she can use the hose attachment on the vacuum to suck up bits of food under your dining table, or a small spray bottle of water and a rag to clean a window. How about putting clean clothes away in a drawer? Whatever you can think of to let your child be a helper.

Would you come back and let us know how it went? Inquiring minds want to know.

Earnest Parenting: help for parents who need to let their kids grow up.