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Teach them young

laundryThere’s always a tendency to do for our kids just because it’s easier or quicker. Shoot, even my slight OCD can hinder my ability to let my kids do something. They won’t line it up right or fill the cup enough or point the spray in the right direction…something. But I know this isn’t good for my kids’ learning of basic life skills. My impatience, lack of time or irritability with things being done “just so” can’t get in the way of my responsibility to teach my kids these skills they will need in life.


This isn’t some trendy activity that can win me parenting awards because I was enlightened enough to teach my kids how to clean countertops or fold clothes. This is stuff they need to know how to do when they live on their own or find themselves at any point in their lives in a position where they may need to know how to function as an independent being.

You know, like camp. Or college. Or a week with Grandma.

I remember talking with a friend about her child’s sporting event and how she always had to make sure her child’s Uniform was clean because her daughter wasn’t going to do it herself. This child was 13 years old!

All I could think was, “Why can’t your daughter make sure her own uniform is clean for game day?!” And that was my question to my friend. The response? “Oh, well, she would never remember.”

Ha! You what’ll make her remember to manage her own responsibilities? Telling her that it’s her responsibility and then letting it be her responsibility. Let’s break down how this should go using my friend’s daughter’s scenario (and this applies to all basic life skills learning opportunities):

  • You tell her that making sure her uniform is clean by game day is her responsibility.
  • Show her how to use the washing machine and the dryer- the detergent, measuring, what knobs to push, settings…the whole bit.
  • Then you tell her the following (or something similar):

“Henceforth, uniform cleansing is now your responsibility…with all the honors, rights and privileges appertaining thereto.” 

Now comes the important part, mom. Actually let it be her responsibility. And you know what’s going to happen, right? She’s gonna fail. And that’s ok. 

Got it? That is actually ok. It’s beautiful, really. Because that’s the lesson-learning time. The consequence, if you will. She will show her stinky tail up to the game with a dirty, wrinkly uniform. And it will be a lesson she will not soon forgot. Mark my words, it will take one time to learn this lesson. Going forward, uniform preparation will become a priority for her. 

If she asks you if she can throw her uniform in with a load you are doing, then absolutely the answer is yes (unless her uniform is completely nasty and needs a separate wash). She is preparing and she’s using her resources. Success!

If Friday night comes and you know that uniform is on the floor in her sports bag and you know that Saturday morning she needs the uniform, let it go. Sounds mean, I know, but seriously it’s fine. There are worse things than having a dirty uniform. If she’s about to get hit by a car, please tell her. But if she just didn’t do her laundry, let her go through that failure. It’s so important for her to understand how to place value on things and how to prepare accordingly. You reminding her or doing it for her will not help her long-term.

Wouldn’t you rather her have a dirty uniform at her game than her have dirty clothes for her grown-up job interview? If you bail her out of every single thing that happens to her every single time, she will learn nothing and she will be unprepared for a world that doesn’t give a fat pig’s tail that she is unprepared. 

Sounds tough, but it’s not. It’s kind of like the story of the Butterfly hatching from its cocoon. A little boy saw the butterfly struggling and seeing how exhausted the butterfly was, the little boy pulled the butterfly from its little cocoon. After the butterfly was rested and his wings were dry, the little boy noticed that the wings were misshapen and scrawny. He asked his grandfather why the butterfly looked that way.

The grandfather told him that since the butterfly didn’t have to work to free himself from the cocoon, it also didn’t have a chance to strengthen itself. So what should’ve been strong wings were instead weak and useless. The struggle and pain is there for a reason. It builds strength needed for future use. The same goes for children. Giving them everything, solving all their problems, doing everything for them does them no good. 

Teach your kids, but allow them to fail. Let your kids be disappointed. Allow your kids experience not winning. Encourage your kids to take ownership of their responsibilities and, if necessary, let your kids go to their game with a dirty uniform. 

They may smell…they may be uncomfortable, but they will learn. And they’ll be better for it.

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Teach them young


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