Teaching Children to Work
There is no substitute for hard work. – Thomas A. Edison
Before my husband and I had children, we talked about the kind of things we wanted to teach our children. High on our list was teaching our children to work.
The interesting thing with work is that you assume people just know how to do it. Right? You see something that needs to be done and then you do it. Wrong, that’s not how it works.
Children have to learn how to work. Unless you point out that the toys need to be picked up, children are perfectly happy to keep wading through the mess until they are up to their armpits in Legos, transformers, and stuffed animals. Even when you do ask them to pick up, a lot of times they’ll stare at you blankly as though you spoken a foreign language or melt into a puddle of crying goo.
It’s human nature to avoid doing anything unpleasant. Work can be unpleasant, but you have to learn to complete a job anyway. Even when you don’t feel like it. That’s a tough lesson.
How do you teach children to work?
I am not going to pretend that I have all the answers, but here are a few ideas that have worked with our children.
Work should be a part of their lives every day. Working is not only for special times like when guests are coming. If work is always a part of their lives, they won’t know any different.
The awesome thing about young kids is that they want to help and work with you. Take advantage of that by giving them age-appropriate tasks. You can find lists and printouts all over the internet to give you an idea of what kinds of jobs are appropriate for your child’s age.
Start with simple tasks that aren’t overwhelming and slowly add more over time. As they succeed with small tasks, they will gain confidence for the bigger ones to come.
Show Them How
Learning to work takes time. Take the time to show them how to do it. Whether it is making their bed, picking up toys, or rinsing dishes, you first have to show them how to do it. Start with something easy and gradually give them more as their skills improve.
Take putting the toys away, for example. There really isn’t a right or wrong way to do it, but kids have a hard time knowing where to start. When you teach them to break up a big job, like cleaning their room, into smaller jobs like picking up all the cars or dolls, it turns into something they can do piece by piece.
Then its time to be patient.
When my 4-year-old helps me fold laundry, I have to consciously remind myself stay calm. His job is to fold the hand towels and he does okay. I usually only have to refold half of them once he’s done. After that, he ‘helps’ me fold the rest of the laundry, which is mostly him scattering my nicely organized piles. I have to remember to take a deep breath and praise him for doing the towels that so that he feels confident in his work.
Let’s face it, it’s easier and faster to pick up the toys, do the dishes, and fold the laundry yourself. By the time you’ve asked the kids, listened to their complaints, and made them come do the job anyway, you could have been done. Resist the urge to do it yourself. Later, when they are actually good helpers, you will be so glad you did.
Show Them Again
You’re going to have to show your kids how to do the job over and over and over again. Once you think they’ve got it, give them some time before you check their work again. Inevitably their quality of work starts to slip and you have to review the key points again.
I have shown my kids how to clean the bathroom many times. The first few times after I’ve shown them how to scrub the tub, the sink, and the toilet they do a decent job. However, slowly their attention to detail starts to slip and we have to have a refresher course on the basics of bathroom cleaning, like the faucet is part of the sink and you have to clean it.
That’s okay, though, it’s normal. They’ll get it.
Children learn by example. Working together builds not only skills but relationships.
I’ll admit that sometimes it’s hard to work with my children. They whine, complain, and start messing around more than getting the job done. It’s important even if they aren’t completely focused the entire time.
They still learn through observation. They learn to work hard to accomplish goals. They learn what jobs have to be done to make a household run.
Working together builds more than skills, it builds strong family bonds.
Recently, our family experienced the power of working together through hardship.
Before we finished building our house, we had to move into a camp trailer on the property so that the kids could start school at the beginning of the school year. As it turned out, we had to work on the land development almost every night – digging trenches, hauling rocks, and pulling cables through under ground conduit.
When we were painting the exterior of our house, my husband had an accident that left his ankle dislocated with 3 broken bones, one of which was shattered. It was a rough time. The property development had to move forward despite his injury. I had a talk with my oldest two kids and explained that everyone was going to have to help even more.
It was a rough few months before we moved into our house. We worked hard as a family. I am so proud of the way our kids stepped up to the challenge. We had extended family and friends that came and helped as well, but the kids had to do more work than they’d ever done. They complained sometimes but they did it anyway.
Now when we’re all hauling firewood together and someone complains, someone else will remind them that it’s still better than when we worked before the house was finished.
Responsibility and Praise
Learning to work is learning to be responsible. Responsible for their own possessions, actions and to their family. Learning to work is putting them on the road to being a responsible adult.
The last thing I want to mention is praise. Children light up when you praise them for a job well done. Let them know how much you appreciate them. Let them know how much they are helping you and your family. Build up their confidence and they’ll be more willing to help the next time.
Teaching children to work provides the skills and knowledge they need to face difficulties and overcome challenges. They will learn the value of work as we, the parents, provide a good example and consistently help them along the way.