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How I Trained My Two Year Old To Be A Great Helper

Ask my mother and she'll tell you: I was the most obedient, most courteous, most patient of her children.

HA. HA HA.

Yeah, no. I was basically a tiny terror. I talked back, I mouthed off, I did my own thing. Once, 8-year-old me told my mother, "You should be happy I am so willful because it means I won't give in to peer pressure."

Yes, I actually said that.

Shep takes after me in a lot of ways - not just looks. He is curious and spirited, boisterous and sweet. Definitely an extrovert and doesn't know a stranger. At just two years old, so much of his personality shines through. There's too much that is just inherent to him for my to take any kind of credit. I didn't make Shep a giver, a hugger, a helper. He just came out that way.

I wish I had a magic bullet for you - a trick that makes toddlers docile and compliant. Benadryl? (I'm kidding, don't do that.) Instead, my best advice is what's helped us encourage Shep's helpful nature.

The secret is just buttloads of praise.

Now, I'm no child behavioralist, but I have a theory. Children are innately helpful. Why? Because one of the first ways they communicate and explore their world is by mimicking what they see. So, when Daddy sweeps the floor - baby wants to do it, too. Most of my "training" Shep to be helpful is just taking advantage of this natural instinct.

When Shep copies me wiping up a spill, or putting his toys into a box, I praise him. Excessively. I've even done a happy dance and called Stephen so that daddy can tell him he's doing a great job, too. Maybe this is silly to you, but we pray every night that Shep is a helpful little boy in the day to come. All of this positive reinforcement has taught him that helping is fun, helping earns praise, and helping is something everyone does. He doesn't usually question us or fight us because he knows that being helpful is in his best interest. Thankfully he's still totally unaware that it's moreso in my interest at the moment.

Such sweetness!

I tell myself that I'm setting a good precedent for him. Many of my mom friends have taught their kids to pitch in by explaining that families always help one another. To be a part of a family, you have to be considerate and take care of all the family things: the house, the food, the car, the clothes. My hope is that this care - this helpfulness - carries over into Shep's future. When I grew up, boys were not expected to pitch in with daily domestic duties. As a result, my peers who have partnered with men struggle with the frustration of carrying an uneven division of labor.

It seems simple, right? If you benefit from clean clothes, you ought to help wash them. If you benefit from delicious food, you ought to be responsible for cooking it or preserving the leftovers. But that consideration - that pitch-in-it-ness? That's intentional. While it's not rocket science, there is a bit of magic involved. That is, the magic of a child with a desire for parental praise. And I don't know the secret recipe for that innate trait - but the odds are totally in your favor.

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