I recently had a conversation with my youngest sister about teaching our children to work. She mentioned to me that her seven year old did not do any chores around the house. She said that because she didn’t have that much to clean, it was easier for her to just do it herself. I laughed and said, “You don’t have your children do chores because it’s EASIER or because it’s more EFFICIENT… You do it to teach them HOW to work.”
I recalled when my oldest two boys were 4 and 5 years-old, and how we cleaned the bathroom together. Initially, I began the bathroom cleaning assignment in an attempt to teach them to improve their aim at the toilet, but it ended up being a great way to introduce them to the idea of work and responsibility. I tackled the mirrors, sink, and counter while one child did the tub and the other cleaned the toilet. I sprayed the cleaner all over the toilet, dumped a pitcher of water over it (that’s how bad their aim was), and then my 4 year-old used a towel to dry it all up. He also got to use the brush to do the inside after I had doused it with toilet bowl cleaner. For the tub I sprayed it down with Scrubbing Bubbles; and my 5 year-old climbed in, and scrubbed it down. We finished up by mopping the floor with some wet towels.
How do you teach such young children to work?
You do it by example. Teaching requires a parent to show them what to do, and to supervise while they are working.
No, this is not the easiest way to do housework, but you have to ask yourself what is more important… A clean house, or teaching your children to work and become hard workers who do not need constant supervision?
For years we cleaned bathrooms side by side. We dusted and cleaned the kitchen. Eventually they graduated to vacuuming, washing cars, organizing closets, cleaning the garage, mowing, and yard work. As they got older, they required less and less direct supervision, but I taught them the principle of ‘return and report.’
Every Saturday morning I write out the jobs on slips of paper and each person draws their chore. Then everyone goes to work. In an hour or two, my children return and report what they have accomplished. I inspect and they finish anything that they have missed. Then we spend the rest of the day doing a fun, family activity.
Sometimes teaching your children to work means that you have to sacrifice and do work that you would rather just pay someone else to do. When my oldest boys were 11 and 12, we moved out to an acreage because my husband felt that hard physical labor was good for young men to experience. On Saturdays, my husband was home to instruct; but during the summer, the burden fell on me. As a mother in my 30’s, I had to pitch mulch, dig holes, trim trees, and do all manner of jobs that I had previously considered “man’s work.” This was the only way to teach my boys. I was sore a lot, my nails were a mess, but together we learned how to take care of the property independent of my husband. Furthermore, I had lots of hours to talk to my teenagers while we worked.
When my husband died, our work habit was a great blessing to my family. Not only were we able to take care of our property ourselves, but my older boys were able to get employment outside the home to help support our family, since they had learned a fabulous work ethic and how to be hard workers.
Children do not magically grow up to be good workers. They learn it through hours of practice at home. They learn it by watching parents. My boys watched me sweat and struggle, but continue to work even when it was hard because there was a job that needed to be done. Now when they are fathers, I know that they will not give up when things are tough, because they will remember how their parents taught them to work.
What ways do you teach your children to work?
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