Mention the word ‘work’ to your kids and you can clear a room faster than a frog catching a fly. Children are growing up in these days lacking the work ethic generations past have shown. If a job is ‘too hard,’ kids are more likely to give up than go the distance.
I’m not saying all kids are afraid and unwilling to work. I’ve seen many who can outdistance some teenagers in what they’re willing and able to accomplish. There are also those who dearly want to help out around the house and yard, but without proper guidance don’t know what to do or how to do it.
Guidance is they key word. One of the greatest compliments I’ve heard given to a mother, said: “She never asked us to do anything without being right there with us to help.” This particular woman had nine children, and a husband who was gone much of the time for work. She didn’t want it spread around the neighborhood that he wasn’t around and so for many years no one knew how much time she spent alone with her children. If she hadn’t taught them to work, it would have been overwhelming.
This family had a BIG garden. Every day this mother was out with her children, showing them which plants were vegetables and which were weeds, and how much water everything needed. When it was time to harvest, the family could be seen outside gathering fruits from trees and veggies from the garden. From a young age boys and girls alike helped in canning what they harvested to help them make it through the year.
For many years I was the exact opposite. I would shoo my children out of the way so I could just get the work done, whether it was cooking, cleaning, or laundry. I didn’t realize just how much my oldest wanted to work with me, not have me do it for her. Fortunately my kids have a father who’s a little more patient, and even taught me how to settle down and take the time to teach our children to work.
The best time to begin teaching a child the value of working hard is in their youth. “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6).
“Teach your young children to work, and teach them that honest labor develops dignity and self-respect. Help them to find pleasure in work and to feel the satisfaction that comes from a job well done” (Joseph B. Wirthlin, “Spiritually Strong Homes and Families,” Ensign, May 1993).
Convincing children they want to work may at times seem overwhelming. Yet there can be an amazing sense of satisfaction when they’ve accomplished the task at hand. One of our most daunting rooms to clean belongs to my boys. It’s a terrifying sight, as I’m sure those who have boys can attest. It didn’t take long for me to learn that telling them it was time to go clean their room wouldn’t get the job done, and it’s not hard to tell why. Walking through the door (when you can get the door open) and looking at the mess could make even the bravest of men cower.
Here are a few things I learned to encourage my own children to get the job done:
1. Break it up into smaller parts. Whether you’re cleaning a room, washing dishes, or raking the leaves, break the big jobs up into something smaller. If you’re working on a room, start with books, or a section of a messy room. Hand them plates first, if washing dishes. If you’re raking leaves, encourage them to start with one small section.
2. Find ways to make it a game. Set a timer and see just how much they can get done before it goes off. Sing a song. Take turns being ‘Supervisor’, and for five minutes let them be the boss.
3. Don’t be afraid to stop and play. Kids love to take play breaks. Just don’t make it too long or they’ll get off task. A mere thirty seconds can work wonders.
4. Don’t let the little things go. By that I mean make sure the job is complete. If they clean their room, make sure they check under the beds, even on top of their beds, or behind a bookshelf. Make sure books are lined up correctly, not just piled on top of each other. If you teach them to do it the right way when they’re young, they’ll continue to do so as they get older.
5. Reward them when they’re done. I’m not talking bribes. I’m talking rewards. Words to praise a good job done. Go to the park or the library. Make cookies together. Read their favorite book.
6. Most important – get in there with them. If you want them to clean their room, get in there and help. If you’re working outside, grab a rake or garbage bag and plow right in. Children learn best when guided by someone they love.
Now I can’t guarantee miracles, but you might find yourselves with some happy workers if you take a hand in helping them learn. As you continue to do this keep in mind as children get older some will want you to continue to help, others will want to try figuring things out themselves. Always be available to help when asked.
This can be a lot to ask, especially when both parents need to work, or there’s only one parent. It is not, however, impossible. If it ever feels like too much to handle, take it to your Heavenly Father. He can give you the strength you need and the opportunities required to do what is right by your children.
I promise you it will be worth the effort.