The Fine Art of Child Delegation

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A few weeks back I wrote a nerdy post about the 4 roles of the preceptor parent.  (I was targeting the “pharmacist-parents-with-more-than-3-children” crowd, which is our niche market.)  I had also put it out there that a dad is a teacher.

Today’s follow-up is about the fine art of delegating to your children.  Why is it a fine art?

  • Fine art takes talent.
  • Fine art takes a lot of practice. And hard work.  And time.
  • Fine art is a beautiful masterpiece!
  • Creating fine art is a messy process.

I am a little concerned that our society is trending towards children who are have every opportunity but little or no experience with responsibility.  Some families have crammed in so many activities that they don’t have time to slow down and teach their kids life skills.  Skills like laundry.  Dishes.  Hammering a nail.  Mowing the grass. Planting a garden.  Cooking.  Cleaning the floor.  You know, all that stuff that YOU have to do for THEM.  Turns out that it is actually your job to teach THEM how to do those jobs for themselves!

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I will never forget the moment when a good friend described her elementary age son’s morning routine:

  1. Wake up to his own alarm.
  2. Take a shower.
  3. Get dressed.
  4. Go downstairs.
  5. Empty the dishwasher.
  6. Eat breakfast.

This was all BEFORE the parents even joined him downstairs.  That one example opened my eyes to the fact that kids are capable of far more than I had given them credit for.  (I have a tendency to be a coddler.)  I resolved that day to more aggressively and purposefully delegate to my children.

If you’ve ever tried to delegate anything to anyone you have probably learned the hard way that it is not easy.  It is much simpler to just do it yourself.  After all, if you want something done right you do it yourself!  Right?  Well, that may or may not be true, but a parent’s responsibility is to prepare their children for success as an independent adult.  Not necessarily to get everything ‘done right’ every time.

Before you jump in, here are some practical tips, tailored to your individual personality style. Are you very particular and organized?  Or do you usually wing it?

Type A’s: Relax!

If you are usually an organized, perfectionist type then your challenge will be to chill out!  You have to realize that when you let your kids help that they will not do it perfectly.  They will not do it exactly how you would have done it!  **GASP** So, start with baby steps.  Don’t give them the fine china to wash, because they are going to break a plate or two.  A second tip is to plan ahead so that you have tons of time to work through the process slowly.  If you are cooking it is going to take 3 times longer with their ‘help,’ because they will ask questions and will be clumsy.  (I’ll bet you were clumsy the first time that you did it, too!)  Think of this teaching session as an activity or as an experience, not as a time-saver.  Practice your patience as you go, and try to simply enjoy the ride.

Laid-Back Type:  Plan Ahead!

Are you the type who likes to wing it?  You just go with the flow and improvise?  Well, you may actually need to plan ahead if you are going to teach your kids much of anything.  To use a construction project as an example, it is stressful and inefficient to keep running back and forth for more tools, or to have to figure out each step as you go.  That may be how you normally function, but you don’t normally have one or two kids trailing along behind, asking questions, getting distracted.  The more prepared you are with each step laid out, the smoother it will go.  Like delegating to anyone, it helps to know what you are going to do so that you can explain to them what you are going to do.

Regardless of your tendencies, it is usually best to have your kids help you with something that you are pretty comfortable with yourself.  If you are doing something for the first time, it can get pretty stressful for them to ask you 101 questions as you are trying to read the instructions.  Of course, if you have the patience of a monk then you can let it unfold and enjoy the experience with them, but make sure you know your own limits!

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Other random hints:

  • If you are able to give them a project that they can totally do by themselves, that is great.  But, you will need to give them instructions and expectations beforehand, direction all along the way, and feedback when they think they are done.  If sweeping the floor is an example, you shouldn’t expect for it to be spotless, but you need to let them know that they are not finished yet if there are still crumbs everywhere.
  • If the project is too big for them to do alone, you can still involve them.  In this case it helps to give them specific small tasks to complete as part of the project.
  • Don’t just expect that they will magically ‘get it’ after doing it once.  It will take repetition.
  • Take cues from their personal interests.  One of our kids loves to dust.  So that is her chore.
  • Some chores are non-negotiable, but for some projects it is oK to let them off the hook if they aren’t in the mood.  Don’t try to force it just because you read this post.  Be sensible.
  • If you have more than one kid, be proactive in giving each one a job that will keep them out of the way of the others.  Squabbling is inevitable, but if you plan ahead you can keep it to a minimum.
  • Set the ground rules early.  Explain the dangerous things (hot stove, sharp knife, breakable glass) before you start the project.  Explain that they can’t be silly or else they will not get to participate.
  • Begin with the end in mind.  Your goal is to teach them, not to have a perfect project.  Not to be efficient.
  • Be aware of their age and limitations, but don’t be afraid to stretch them.  I’ve found that the kids often surprise me with their abilities and interests and can do more than I think they can do.
  • Remember that stuff is just stuff.  My boys have ruined or lost some of my tools.  They have broken at least one plate and glass.  It’s just stuff, so reassure your kids that if they are trying their best that is all you are asking.  (If they are goofing around then it is a good teaching opportunity.  But don’t be harsh with them if they simply made a childish error or a rookie mistake. They are children.  They are rookies!)
  • Have a strategy for what to do if things get out of control or if you feel yourself starting to get stressed or angry.  “OK, great job kids! You can have ice cream while I finish this project.”  Or, “Allright, thank you very much for your help – you are really getting the hang of it.  I’m going to do the rest, so you can either go play or you can sit over there and watch me finish what we are doing.”
  • Sometimes it is ok to simply involve them, even if they are not able to actually do anything.  Like Jake mowing with me.
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Planting Grass Seed

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Jacob loves to ride the mower!

Worthwhile Investment

I encourage you to practice the fine art of child delegation. Remember that by investing in your kids you will eventually gain a large return.  Put another way, whatever you plant now you will harvest later.  I have seen evidence already that it is totally worth it!

What does your child need to learn today?  What can you teach them to do?  Do you have any success stories that you can share with our readers?

PS:  This is a way to double or triple your time – one of your most precious resources.  When you are teaching your kids to do the laundry you are spending time with them AND getting the laundry done.  Double duty. And then in the future they will be able to do their own laundry, which gives you more time to be a better parent for them.

We want to hear from you!