My post about self sufficiency in children got me thinking about how children mature in doing tasks that benefit themselves and others.
It seems to me that there are levels of maturity, natural progression, that I see take place in children.
- Totally self centered - Babies are born being concerned solely with their own needs. When they are hungry, they cry. They do not care that you have dinner boiling over. They want their needs met immediately.
- Noticing the needs of others - A 2 year old will occasionally notice that others have tasks to complete and will want to do it, too. They consider this "helping" but it is not other-centered. If you prevent them from doing it a fit may ensue. The main objective is equal participation. "I do it, too!"
- Wanting to please others - Many children do things for others because want to make them happy. "Putting away my toys makes Mommy happy. I love Mommy and like it when she is happy with me, so I will put away my toys."
- Fulfilling expectations - This is doing what you have been told, and where many children and adults stop maturing. "I am told to take my plate to the sink when I am finished, so I always do." "The event coordinator asked us to stack the chairs, so I will do it." This is the level of children who are self sufficient. They brush their teeth and put away their clothes without being told.
- Wanting to relieve the burden of others - This is the most mature and other-centered, and what we are shown in the sacrifice Jesus made for us on the cross. This can be seen when adult children take their elderly parents into their homes, or a someone cleans out the garage of a housebound neighbor. This level of maturity doesn't wait to be told what to do, but looks around for what will bless others.
There is no way that I know to move children from one level to another, except time and encouragement. Assigning a child to do a thing, only moves him to the fourth level of fulfilling expectations. The final level is only achieved through his awareness and compassion. He must move there himself, but you can guide him.
I often talk to my children about serving others and the motivation for doing so. We talk about the examples in scripture of self sacrifice. I tell them, "A sign of maturity is that you don't wait to be told what to do. You look around and see what needs to be done."
"Jesus came not to be served, but to serve."
Talk plainly and often with your children about why we help others. Don't settle for your children doing what is expected of them. Nudge them to do good for the sake of others.