5 survival tips for when your child wants to help

This week’s blog post is by The Paternity Test co-host Matt Boresi, who lives in the Edgewater Glen neighborhood of Chicago with his wife (“Professor Foster”) and their 4-year-old daughter, Viva, who loves to “help,” but has no interest in accomplishing anything with it.

Few sounds are more frustrating to a parent then a tiny voice saying, “I want to help!” (Or, “Me want to help,” or “I do,” or “Waaaaah ahhhhh,” depending on the age of your child.) Children may be enthusiastic about performing tasks and running errands with their parents, but they tend to lack life skills, project management ability, follow-through, focus, upper body strength, literacy, logic, patience and long attention span. They’re like us, but shorter.

Just when you’re about to start a chore–thinking they’re busy playing with plastic droids, brushing nylon pony hair or drawing on the walls–your toddlers or preschoolers appear beside you, screeching a newly developed utilitarian mantra that they simply must be useful or perish. So, you have to figure out a way to let them help. Perhaps you’re moving heavy boxes effortfully and precariously down a twisting staircase and you decide to give them an empty box to move. Thirty seconds later they are lying on their back in the middle of the landing of the staircase waving their arms in the air shouting, “I’m a stair trap, Daddy! Step by me and I’ll grab you!” (Not that this has ever happened to me.) You realize no boxes are going to get moved, and if you can get out of the situation without accidentally stomping on your child you can consider yourself fortunate.

The parenting years are some of the busiest years of our lives; there’s very little time for moving boxes, so having to abort a chore because your child has decided to become a “stair trap” can really cramp one’s style. Below are five ways to work around, with, and through your child to get the screen door patched and the beef steak pounded when you’re worried about the inefficient help of your little assistant.

Plan ahead

Ideally, run your errands on the way to and from work or when you can send your kid packing on a play date, a trip to Grandma’s or off with your partner. Take a peek at baby’s iCal and determine when you can accomplish things while they are dancing with Gymbo the Clown or off finding Dory. When did you reach an age that you became delighted to have time to clean gutters or mow grass? Oh, what a square you’ve become, but here you are.

Unfortunately, having your child out of your hair is a privilege not afforded to everyone, of course, so you might have to move on to:

Avoid the All Seeing Eye

Remember when the baby was new and the doctor said, “Sleep when the baby sleeps”? (Too bad the baby never slept and you never slept and now you’re going to live at least ten less years.) Well, work when the baby … does anything besides help you. Are they sleeping? Chores. Are they eating? Chores. Are they constipated? Everything happens for a reason, and the bowel gods want you to do chores.

Distraction, distraction, distraction

Are they sure they want to help? Wouldn’t they much rather play with Daddy’s iPad? Wouldn’t they like some ice cream? How about these new Hot Wheels? I think there’s a squirrel outside! Spider-Man is on! Maybe eat ice cream while playing hot wheels on the iPad in front of Spider-Man, just please let Daddy lift the couch up and vacuum.

Treat them like the Vice President

Find a task they can handle. A simple task. A meaningless task. Even a fake task. Just something to appease them. When President Clinton is commanding drone strikes against enemy forces, is she going to let a former Senator from Virginia help? No! She’s going to have him do a photo op with whomever sold the most Girl Scout Cookies or some kid who won a spelling bee. That’s how you deal with children, you let them feel empowered while simultaneously depot-ing them.

Never do today what you can put off for 18 years

Your child will be in college soon enough and you can play catch up then. Sure, things are going to get a little messy if you don’t deep clean anything for the better part of two decades, but it’s just going to have to be that way. And you can order out for food. Face it, your child’s “help” is much worse than no help at all, and someone is bound to get hurt. Just take a seat, or head to the playground. Lots of people live in squalor and sometimes they even get to be on cable shows.

I have to stop typing now, Viva wants to help with the blog and aalkjhgffn;fjkhr;nkgshgr;a

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