Yep, I don’t give my son chores, teach him manners, or how to share.

You probably think that I am a shocking mother who has no interest in raising my son to be a responsible, polite, and considerate. Well, I can’t blame you for thinking that, however you would be wrong.

My son is nearing three years old, he is still quite young and has a long way to go in his development. Having researched (a lot) and always attempting to parent in a way that is conscious and deliberate, I decided it would be best to never actively teach my son my anything.

You see, babies and toddlers don’t actually need to be taught. Not in any formal way, in actually fact it can be detrimental. So I stepped back from this, often competitive, endeavor.

However, all of a sudden, my son is full of “please” and “thank yous.” He is talking to me about “sharing” and “swapping,” and has been “doing chores” for sometime but took it up a notch yesterday.

Yesterday I was doing my own chores, the usual stuff, and my son and I had just had some present time (quality play time). He came up to me asking to play again. I told him that we had just finished playing not too long ago, that I understand how much he loves to play and that I love to play with him too. I then explained that mummy also likes to have a clean house, and so I needed to keep cleaning. But, I asked him if he would like to do some cleaning too?

Yes that might sound like asking him to a chore, however, if he says “no” he is never forced. I respect his “no” and listen, as often as I can and if I must do something (change a nappy for example) I will wait until his ready, or work with him NOT fight him. But I digress.

He did want to clean, so I asked him to clean his sponges and brushes, that he had been using for painting. I partially filled the sink with some warm water and soap, and pushed his potty/step stool to the sink, and he got on with it. He thought it was fantastic. I continued my cleaning, whilst he did his. Not once did I interrupt, tell him what a “good job” he is doing, or give him any kind of praise. When he was finished he told me, and wanted to show me, which I thanked him for. However, in thanking him I was specific; “oh thank you my love, you cleaned all the sponges and brushes, now they won’t go yucky; and mummy did not have to do it which means now we can have more time for other things. Thank you.”

He then followed me with his vacuum cleaner, as I vacuumed (a common occurrence). Afterwards he hung the tea towels and hand towels on the clothes horse, as I hung the large towels. Which is actually very helpful. Hanging the small towels requires a lot of bending and my knee has been sore lately. He showed me his proud work with a huge smile on his face (they were hung perfectly; the first time he has been able to do it on his own), I mirrored his excitement saying “wow, you did it all by yourself! Does that make you feel happy and proud?” To which he giggled and clapped his hands whilst nodding his head. A big smile on both our faces, and I thanked him again.

I could not have been more proud myself. My baby boy working hard to nail a skill, achieving it, and actively taking part in maintaining the family home without any pressure or insistence. My heart could burst with love and pride.

But that is not all.

For the past week, he has been almost constantly been saying “please” and “thank you” (or “thank you mummy” *heart bursts*). Just out of nowhere, because as I mentioned I have never “taught” him manners. He would not be given something and then I say to him what I think he should say. I have never dropped a “please” or “thank you” at the end of his questions or statements, not intentionally at least. So how did this happen?

Through modelling.

If I have ever asked for or received something from him, I have always said “please” and “thank you.” More to the point I actively use my manners with others, especially my partner. You see, it isn’t just how I engage with my son that allows him to understand the impact of manners, but it is how he sees me treat others, especially my husband (his daddy) that shows him the importance of manners, and vice versa. Which has led to him doing the same. No forcing it, no “doing it for him,” never withholding something until/unless he says “please” or “thank you,” no; just modelling.

Lastly, he has begun to share.

Sharing is a very interesting one. Children don’t actually have the ability to fully understand the concept of sharing until they are school aged. This is because they are completely ego-centric until then, which is normal. At school age (6/7yrs) they begin to understand that other people not only have feelings, but feel differently to how they feel. Up until this point, small children often believe that everyone sees the world from their (the child’s) perspective. That everyone feels the same way they do. So if Jane, a 4 year old, is upset about not getting an ice-cream, then mummy must be upset that Jane didn’t get an ice-cream too and should want to rectify it.

But at three, toddlers can begin to understand “turns” though not necessarily the feelings it induces. This is why I don’t believe in “teaching” because often toddlers and children a forced to learn a concept they can’t yet comprehend due to their development stage.

However, modelling without emphasis works.

When I say modelling without emphasis, I mean modelling as a part of every day life. Not modelling that is done for the sole purpose of “displaying” what a certain activity looks like; that is for the sole purpose of “showing” your child, but again just modelling through every day interaction.

Here is what I did. When ever my son would be eating, say some chips, I might ask him “can mummy have a chip, please?” and sometimes he would say “no,” which I accepted and respected. I would say “ok” and leave it (modelling respect for boundaries and his right to say “no”). If he said “yes” I would thank him for sharing. “Thank you for sharing your chips with me.” Casually, not OTT. The same with playing. If we were playing together and he was playing with a toy, I would sometime ask “may I have turn of that toy?” and again, if he said “no” that was fine, and if he said “yes” I would thank him for letting me have a turn. But this worked both ways.

And now, he is also “sharing.” He tells me throughout the day, if we swap something. If I give him something or he to me, he says “we’re sharing.” one of my favourite memories is of us, recently, at an indoor play centre. I bought us each an ice-cream. We sat down and started eating, and he wanted to try mine, a Magnum Red velvet ice-cream. He liked it, and so I asked him if he wanted to swap. So he gave me his, a Cornetto, and I gave him mine. It then became a game and we kept swapping, to which he said we were “sharing” and “we keep swapping,” full of giggles and smiles.

If he asked me for the toy back, or for some of my chips, or whatever it might be, I would say yes. If I said “yes” I would leave it at that. I would not point out that I was sharing, or now it was his turn, I would just leave it. Because modelling is all about the action and the energy (or feelings), not about the lesson. If it is about the lesson, then its is shallow and not going to be meaningful. Because toddlers and children are very sensitive to our intentions. Making these things a genuine part of everyday life, because they have value and are important to you, is what matters.  Toddlers and children, pick up on that.

I never praise him either, I don’t give rewards, I don’t “reinforce” these concepts. The reasons I don’t do this is multi-faceted and is based on the work of Alfie Kohn, and Aletha Solter. But some reasons include:

  1. Praise makes the act about the reward and not the act. If I praise my son for doing chores or give him a reward; then chores are only meaningful if he gets recognition and praise. If he “gets something out of it.” It is no longer about appreciating and valuing orderliness, cleanliness, or actively participating in family duties.
  2. Punishing him for not sharing, means he will only even share due to what ever consequences may be imposed. He is sharing out of fear, not because he cares for the other person, or values sharing. I never want to encourage any action that is out of fear, shame or guilt. These are not healthy motivators.
  3. Praise and rewards encourage a sense of dependence upon what others think. It is important to be considerate towards others. To be kind and caring, and to never hurt others intentionally or through omission. However, it is also important to have a sense of value that is not tied to others. That is not dependent on their praise. To do things because they are meaningful to you.
  4. If I give him praise and rewards, as he grows older, someone else will have praise and rewards that are far more interesting than what I have to offer. Eventually “something better” will come along. Fostering a natural value system means that “peer pressure” and “better offers” are less likely to be swaying.

There are many other reasons that I specifically don’t “teach” and offer praise and rewards to my son. One big one is that he will come to learn about (insert topic here) when he is developmentally ready. Forcing learning to occur before a baby, toddler, etc. is ready, is going to be more detrimental in the long run than it is beneficial in the short term.

They will learn. They will. We simply need to treat them the way we want them to treat the world (Robin Grille).

A child will learn respect from being respected.
A child will learn to be kind by being shown kindness.
A child will learn patience when patience is used with them.
A child will learn to treat others, the way they have been treated.

Much love,
Natalie Eve xoxo