My seven year old is in charge of the laundry. For over a month now, she has been washing, drying, and putting it away all by herself and a few weeks ago she asked if it could be her responsibility. I explained to her exactly what that meant, and exactly what she would be required to do if she took over the laundry as her own, and she was not only agreeable, she was extremely excited about it. Both of my older children love to do “chores” and to help around the house, and as I navigate this world of parenting I’m learning a lot about raising helpful children. With that in mind, I thought it might be beneficial to document some of the things I’m learning, and open the floor for others who have had success in this area to post their thoughts, tips, and helpful advice in the comments section. For those just beginning their parenting journey, or for those looking for ways to foster a more helpful attitude in their older children, here are a few more things that we’ve discovered and found to be helpful in this area:
Children need (and want!) responsibilities.
My oldest son (who is three) loves to work. Nothing in his world is more fun for him than “helping” Mommy. If I’m cleaning, he wants to be right in the middle of it. If I’m vacuuming, he wants to pick up the toys for me. If I’m making dinner, he wants to fetch the ingredients. He always wants to participate in my activities and is constantly searching for new things he can do for me. It is my opinion that children want to be needed. I believe that a child who is not required to participate in household responsibilities soon begins to feel undervalued and unappreciated. A child who cries, “You don’t care about me!” is often a child who feels unworthy of his parents affection. Self-esteem is fostered by accomplishment, and Godly esteem is fostered by accomplishment for the benefit of others. Knowing that they are valuable, necessary participants in the family unit helps children to feel good about themselves and their ability to serve others. Girls learn what it means to be help-mates and boys learn about sacrificial love. Each becomes secure of their place in the home. Giving our children responsibilities ultimately leads to fewer behavioral problems and a strong parent-child bond, which then leads to a strong relationship with their heavenly Parent. As Michael Pearl writes: “When a three-year-old boy has the sole responsibility of keeping the wood box full of firewood so the family will stay warm, he knows he is needed. He matters to Mother and Father, and to his older brothers and sisters. That they expect something of him and are satisfied by it makes the child into a man. When he has completed his job and Mother bathes him in a look of pride and appreciation, she has tied some [heart] strings. When the kids are trained to prepare the evening meal, set the table, wash the baby, arrange the house for Daddy, and then see his satisfaction and appreciation, they have tied [heart] strings. Silly boys and frivolous girls are children without meaningful responsibilities.” I think that if we want to raise helpful, happy children who will grow up to be responsible it’s important to give them an active place in our lives, with responsibilities that will communicate to them their own value and worth.
Children need to be praised.
It wasn’t long ago when I noticed that Bunchkin seemed to be growing tired of doing the laundry. Knowing how excited she had previously been about it, I wanted to foster her feelings of accomplishment. That day I made a special effort to thank her for her hard work, and praise her for how well she was doing. I told her I didn’t know of any seven year olds who did the laundry for their parents and I expressed to her how blessed I was by her actions. Immediately, I saw a change in her attitude and demeanor. Laundry was suddenly fun again and she made a point of showing me how well she was doing. When we value our children’s achievements (no matter how small), and express our thankfulness for the things that they do, it helps them to see that their efforts are valuable to us. No one wants to work hard all day and then feel that no one has noticed. Encouragement goes a long way in making children feel that their work is valued and appreciated, and helping them to feel proud of their accomplishments*** (1).
Children need our company.
From toddlerhood, all of our children have loved to follow me around the house, wanting to be a part of my everyday activities. They want to know what I’m doing, how I’m doing it, and whether they can do it with me. I’ve noticed that the more I include them in my day-to-day activities, the happier they are. This is especially true when children are young, and it’s my opinion that if we can win the hearts of our children when they’re young, we’ll keep them as they get older. Michael Pearl also writes: “When you become your child’s favorite fan, you make yourself indispensable to him.” One of the best ways to help our children to develop a good work ethic and enjoy working is to work with them. Right now, my daughter doesn’t want my help when she’s doing the laundry. It’s a personal victory for her to get it all washed and dried and put away by herself. But I know that soon the excitement is going to fade, and the work is going to become monotonous. That’s not the time to allow her to quit, it’s the time to teach her to rise above her feelings and honor her commitments… But that doesn’t mean she has to do it alone. My children don’t usually enjoy doing the dishes, but those same children will nearly run me over with offers to help if they see me doing the dishes. None of the kids particularly like cleaning up their bedrooms, but when I’m cleaning my bedroom I’m met with four sets of eager hands waiting for me to give them a job. When I start to sense that my children are getting “burned out” on a particular chore, that’s when I step in and start to help them. That doesn’t mean I do their chores FOR them… sometimes it just means that I work in the room with them. As the girls do the dishes, I wipe the counters and we talk. As they make the beds, I fluff the pillows and we sing a silly song together. There are lots of ways I can do chores with my children without taking away their own accomplishments.
Children need to conquer new tasks.
It’s true that my kids need to rise above their own desires and learn to work regardless of how they feel. I will not give Bunchkin a new responsibility until I know she is able to commit wholeheartedly and happily to those I have given her now. But all of us have a natural desire to strive and accomplish new things, and children are no exception. Eventually, it will be time for Bunchkin to move on to another task. She will soon learn how to sort the laundry (I do that for her now) and she’ll learn how to care for special fabrics (which I currently wash myself.) Once she’s proficient in the laundry room, it will be time for her to pass that knowledge down to someone else and learn a new skill. At that time, one of her younger sisters will become responsible for doing the laundry and Bunchkin will move on to something else. I could, of course, make laundry her responsibility from now on but it seems to me that it would be much wiser for me to give her the chance to pass her knowledge along, and learn some new domestic skill. This will not only keep her from becoming bored with her chores, but will also give her the chance to prove her worth (to herself) in some new area. The advice I heard from one older mom of many was to always give a chore to the YOUNGEST child capable of handling it. In this way, each child is always learning something new and being challenged in different ways as we provide them with opportunities to stretch their horizons and learn new things.
I firmly believe that a good work ethic is one of the most important things we can foster in our children. It builds character and a strong relationship between family members. I know there is still a lot to be said on this subject, and many things I have yet to learn. Do you have any thoughts or suggestions on this subject? If so, I’d love to hear them!
In the meantime, here are two great articles on this subject that I highly recommend every parent read:
(Please note when reading these articles that my husband and I do not endorse everything the Pearls teach, nor do we agree with everything they practice. We feel that these articles bring out some excellent points regarding the importance of setting goals for our children, and working alongside them for the purpose of parent-child bonding and emotional stability. As Bill Johnson says, “we must learn to chew the meat and spit out the bones.”)
1.) ***While the importance of praise cannot be underestimated, it is vital that we understand the difference between honest praise and false esteem. A parent who gushes over an undisciplined, unruly, lazy and spoiled child is not doing that child a favor. Deep in his heart, that child knows he is not doing anything praiseworthy and that he does not deserve our affirmations. This will not build his character, it will make him resentful – of both himself and his parents. Children want to be praised for REAL accomplishments, however small they might be. Self-worth in the Kingdom of God is not based on our achievements, but on believing what God says about us. When we praise our kids for REAL accomplishments, they are able to believe the things that we say about them, and we instill in them a sense of self-worth. Children don’t want to be coddled or lied to…. and they know the difference. So we must give our children the chance to earn our affirmations (not our love!) and give them praise where praise is truly due.
Helping Hands and Willing Hearts… more on raising helpful children
“Fair” is Where They Sill Pigs … why we don’t treat our children “fairly”