My toddler is an enthusiastic housekeeper. He loves vacuuming, helping with the laundry and unloading the dishwasher. I often wondered if he's just imitating and understands that this isn't actually fun. So it was reassuring to see new science suggests he's not just copying my husband and me; even though he's younger than 2 years old, our toddler is learning a good work ethic from our examples.
The new report from MIT, published in Science, found kids as young as 15 months are prone to copying a parent when they see us exerting a lot of effort—so keep that in mind the next time you're struggling through a home workout or simply failing to open a jar of pickles.
Your determination makes a bigger difference in the eyes of your kids than you may have realized!
For the study, the researchers invited some toddlers to their lab to try a new toy. It featured a large button that appeared to play music, but didn't actually function. The kids who previously watched adults struggle and work hard to get through a couple tasks were about twice as likely to keep attempting to get their toys to work.
Plus, the toy was completely different from the tasks the adults struggled with in front of the babies, so we know this isn't just a game of mimicking.
“They're not just imitating because the adult never showed button presses or trying to activate a music player," says Julia Leonard, lead study author, according to HealthDay. “Infants are watching your behavior intently and actually learning from what you do."
The benefits aren't only there when you succeed at a task in front of your children, either. “This does at least suggest that it may not be a bad thing to show your children that you are working hard to achieve your goals," says Laura Schultz, a professor of cognitive science at MIT.
According to Schulz, the lab findings suggest that we parents don't need to worry about making everything look easy—and shouldn't try to conceal the realities of striving for a goal from our kids.
Everything is not easy, so if our kids see us working hard for what we want, they'll work hard, too.
The takeaway is this: Making chores look effortless isn't going to make your kids want to do them. But seeing you scrub down the dishes in spite of the grime likely will help motivate them to work hard, too.
That's good news for me. I never was good at pretending to take enjoyment in laundry or dishes. I just have to keep doing them—and hope my toddler continues to want to help.