My last two posts have been about what’s called the “Mayan method”–indigenous families in Mexico that start teaching their children how to help when they are very young. One of the reporters at NPR interviewing these indigenous families said, “If hadn’t seen it with my own eyes, I wouldn’t have believed it.”
She tested the Mayan method at her own house with her 2 year old, here is an account of her experience:
“At first, the Maya method was catastrophic in my hands. Rosy and I broke dishes, flooded the kitchen floor while washing dishes and ruined a load of laundry…But over time, I figured out how to modify the Maya method to work in our tiny San Francisco apartment. And the results have been incredibly gratifying.’
“While I was folding laundry last weekend, she came up and asked, “Mom, can I help you?” (And my heart melted.)’
“So how did I turn a tantrum-fueled toddler into a chore-loving cherub (as if). To be honest, I needed to revamp the way I parent. I changed the way I interact with Rosy and the way I view her position in the family.”
“Here’s what I mean:
1. Make chores the fun activity of the day.
“I get to teach her how to cook real food in a real kitchen instead of watching her pretend to cook fake food on a fake stove in our living room.
“Instead of teaching her that “chores are for mom and play is for Rosy,” I’m showing her that chores are for the whole family.
2. Welcome the 30-pound troll trying to stop you from finishing the chore.
“When Rosy wants to help with chores, my knee-jerk reaction is to shoo her away. I want to say something like, “Can you just leave me alone for a few minutes so I can finish these darn dishes!”
“But no longer.
“Now I embrace her desire to help. I even ask her to come over. If she doesn’t come, I sometimes will pick her up — if she wants — and bring her over. (If she runs away, I let her go. A key Maya strategy is to encourage but never force.)’
3. Take your time with the chores.
” I’ve realized that Rosemary responds to requests for help about three-to five times slower than my husband and I do. Having her help takes a huge amount of patience! One time I asked her to run outside and pick me some basil for dinner. First she said, “No.” Then she screamed, “No!” Then two minutes later is she rushed out of kitchen to grab the herbs (toddler logic at its best!).’
4. Find a toddler-sized chunk of the task she can complete.
“The Maya moms made me realize that toddlers get excitement — and great pride — from the smallest contributions to housework.’
“For instance, when we take the garbage out, there is always one milk jug or soda can that doesn’t fit in the bag — or falls out when I pick up the bag. That’s a perfect way for Rosy to help. She can carry the “extra” items and open the door when my hands are full.”‘
I love how wet Rosy’s shirt is in the above picture! Those dripping sleeves scream, “Too much hassle!” It reminds me how hard this is for us, how many impediments could stop us from allowing our toddlers to work alongside us. If we can really do this–take the time, ignore the mess, don’t force our children but continually invite them to participate–we will have years where our children jump in and help without being asked. I believe this method of incorporating children into family work has been going on for hundreds of years and these indigenous families are still following this pattern because they are somewhat removed from modern life. Let us embrace these tantruming, loving, awkward, but-so-willing-to-help trolls!