What should I do when my almost 3-year-old and 4½-year-old son and daughter offer to help me with things such as baking and washing dishes? I realise I shouldn’t be complaining because in a few years I will be begging them to help. But right now it takes me twice as long to get something done. I’m fearful that they might not be safe around things in the kitchen, such as the oven, or that they might break a glass washing dishes and get cut. Am I being overprotective, and should I just let them help out?
I would definitely let them help. When they were as young as yours, my children would have stood at the sink three hours a day washing dishes. Put their chairs backside against the cabinet, put some soapy water in the sink and let them have a go at it. Accumulate some plastic glasses, bowls and plates, and maybe a few pots and pans, and let them wash them. They will be happy to wash the same things over and over. If they reach or ask for the glass or ceramic items, simply say, “When you’re a little older, you can wash those also.”
Helping in the kitchen provides many opportunities to teach safety rules. Point out that the handles of pans and skillets must never hang over the edge. Let them stand near you when you open a pre-heated oven. They will feel the heat that spills out and, without your saying much, know to avoid it. And give them meaningful, realistic kitchen jobs every day. They can dry and put away pots and pans that are stored in reachable places. They can put napkins and silverware on the table. Increase the complexity of their assignments as their hand control increases. And, most importantly, let them know that by their actions they are contributing to the family.
Our parenting advice is given as suggestions only. We recommend you also consult your healthcare provider, and urge you to contact them immediately if your question is urgent or about a medical condition.