Let Kids Be Kids

Please remember, in all the new activities in the kitchen in which you engage with your kids, that kids are indeed kids.

cake with pink and purple icingThey will want to ice the cake with purple or maybe even black frosting.  They may want to eat all the cookie dough before it’s turned into cookies.  They may forget to remove the shells from the eggs before putting them into the Cuisineart. They will make a gigantic mess with virtually anything in powdered form, like powdered sugar and definitely with flour.  The food that they create may be so far from perfect as to be unrecognizable in its final form.  They will want to avoid certain foods just because of the color (brown is often thumbs down!).

Gingerbread house made by kidsThey will be proudest of their sweet creations that you wish they wouldn’t even eat.

Remember that they are kids and this is all part of the process of learning to be a member of a family, a community, and a kitchen staff.

I once provided a nesting box for our pair of parakeets. They were successful in producing 3 eggs, two of which hatched. The baby domesticated parakeets were completely helpless for weeks and could barely hold up their big heads. Outside, by chance, we also had a nest of (wild) quail in the backyard. The quail babies were up and running within an hour of hatching and the nest was completely (and permanently) empty within 24 hours of hatching 12 baby chicks.  The domesticated birds were still being hand fed by their parents for weeks while the baby quail were foraging for themselves quite happily.

What does all this mean?  If you’re going to have a big brain and learn to do complex things like singing complicated songs all day long (only darkness seemed to shut the the parakeets up), then it might take a long time to fill the brain up. And if you get the nurturing you need to get you there, you will sing a truly happy tune.

If you’ve been blessed to have a little boy who likes Legos, you can relate to stepping on and later having to pick up all those millions of little toy pieces from the floor. Like Legos, cooking brings with it great learning experiences, lots of fun, and probably a big mess, depending on what you’re making.

Our philosophy is:  Let kids be kids.

That means we accept whatever they produce.
That means we accept the ultimate responsibility for cleaning up the mess.
Sure, we show by example that cleanup is part of the job.
Sure, we ask them to help clean up.
Sure, we give them each small, specific tasks to do.
Sure, we remind them how much fun it is to cook, but also that we might not be able to do it again if they don’t help clean up.
Sure, we suggest that eating whatever we made is our reward.

But, in the end, if something goes awry, and they cannot be convinced that they need to do it your way or to help clean up, it’s healthier just to get the job done than to scream or punish.  We haven’t accomplished much if they take an aversion to cooking because of the drama that ensues at clean up time.

You may also have the “disappearing kid” in your bunch.  That is the kid who does one thing to help and then poof!— disappears from the room.  We asked our “disappearing kid” to come back over and over.  (He’s now a teen and still disappears from work tasks. However, we continually hear other parents remark at how helpful and cooperative he is in their homes!)

In Cub Scouts, we once asked each boy to describe the chores he had at home. Most of the other kids had so many jobs that I wondered how it all got done without the attendant drama; that is, endless coaxing by parents, grounding them from other activities until the work was done, daily unpleasant exchanges between parent and child, and maybe lots of screaming, etc.  The intuition was right. All the drama went on each day, making the kids and the parents miserable under the guise of teaching the kids “responsibility.”

Our son and daughter had “kid portion” jobs. That is, they had chores, but not ones that made life miserable for them. Their primary job was to learn, so studies came before chores.  When they got old enough to have a full load of high school Advanced Placement classes, they went from the dinner table to homework, while Mom and Dad cleaned up. That was not the way I was raised.

Think of it as an investment. Not one that they may ever return to you, but one that they will have learned sufficiently to return to their own kids. The cycle of life is worth the time and patience that you put in today.

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