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Teaching your kids to work

I was recently reminded in a parenting class you want to raise responsible kids not just obedient kids. Translation: when they are young they follow the rules because parents, teachers and other authorities instruct them. As they grow older we want them to keep some of those same rules because in their heart, they know it is right and responsible. That means that we/parents/teachers in authority should choose rules wisely so that it leads to responsible adults.

One of the most important gifts to give your child is the ability to work and enjoy work. This doesn’t mean that they will sing while scrubbing the toilet, most adults don’t do that but it does mean they won’t see work as a burden or a punishment but something we simply do in life and they can find satisfaction out of a job well done. A much more experienced parent close to me shared these basic rules: than me and I will pass it on. Here are some basic rules:

  1. Have your kids do real work from as early and age as possible.

  2. Change the phrase from “Help” to “Need.” Ex. Will you help me do the dishes implies that the dishes are my job, but in reality, dishes are part of what a home needs to function and everyone’s responsibility.

  3. Work with them.

  4. Teach them how to work smart and hard. Ex. Kids don’t always watch your example and demonstrating a task then setting them to work can lead to greater joy in work.

  5. Do work daily together.

  6. No such thing as their chores, simply what are you responsible for this week.

  7. Find no needs related work that they can even earn a little money for, pay them well and then make them responsible financially for some area of their life. Ex. We currently have them paying for their pet’s needs.

  8. Don’t take short cuts. Ex. Don’t do a sloppy job dusting and don’t let your kids only half pick up the room. Expect excellence so they can rise to the expectation. Children will rise or fall based on expectations so if your expectations are low so will the quality of the job be low.

  9. Work cheerfully. Ex. If they see how much you hate work or do so with a grumble, it will make them think work is a punishment and you will not give them the gift of a happy life, since all life has chores and work in it.

While these may seem like easy things to do intellectually the practice can be tiring, but I have found well worth the effort. Being intentional about our parenting always has led to better outcomes. So let me give you a few of the work type things we have implemented in our home.

  1. They set the table for dinner – we work to not remind them to set the table, and just call them for dinner so they will learn responsibility. Sometimes this means we sit down with the food with no plates and cutlery and wait till the girls figure out what is missing.

  2. Sunday work – we do some house chores together and we assign some special work that they can make money doing. The goal is always 1 hour of money-making work. The current rate based on quality is $5 for the hour. The quality has improved and we are actually getting help with our tasks now.

  3. Teaching our oldest and now youngest to unload the dishwasher. They take turns and our oldest is working on loading it now too.

  4. They both were able to get a pet of their own at 6 years of age but had to pay for it and continue to pay for the pets supplies. They both got hamsters and are responsible for the food and shavings. It took both of them awhile to earn the money.

  5. We have them help right along with real tasks, ex. last weekend we did window washing; it took about 2 hours and they didn’t get paid but worked diligently with some reminders about quality of the job.

  6. They are responsible for their daily self-care, teeth brushing, hair brushing, water bottles, making beds, tidying toys, and feeding pets etc. The goal is to not remind but ask them the question did you get all your responsibilities done? The younger is allowed more prompts than our older child. We have a printed chart to help them remember if they need to look at it, but it is in the pantry and not in the open, so we can work on their brain management, not my brain managing them.

  7. Teaching them new adult skills. They love this one because they feel so grown up and capable. On Sundays, we fold laundry together and get to watch an TV episode while folding and they are now a great big help. Also, last weekend our oldest is learning to mow the lawn; she was super excited.

  8. Explain to them why they are working and why it is important. When our children question work, we tell them it’s important to know how to do laundry or mow the lawn, because someday they will have to do it in their own home.

Work may be a 4 letter dirty word, but sometimes it is our own mindset that needs help. Say this “My kids deserve to have valuable life skills, like a good work ethic, instead of “I have to teach my kids to work.” Work ethic, life skills are a gift to them that is very precious and can be the difference between a happy life and a hard life. Give good gifts to your children!

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