It was a lovely fall day, and the air was crisp. My husband, John, was raking leaves in the front yard. My three boys (ages 7, 5, and 3) were excited about “helping Daddy.” I looked out the window to see the boys working alongside their father as he raked. At age 3, Mark was doing his best to maneuver his child-sized rake. As the pile of leaves grew, I could see the mischief in their eyes. At first they resisted pouncing into the middle of the mound. But before long, they were squealing with laughter as they plopped and rolled with glee.
Play just comes naturally to children. Proverbs 22:15 says, “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child” (NKJV). Frolicking comes naturally, but responsibility and diligence must be taught. Though it warmed my heart to see my children having a great time on that lovely fall day, I also wanted them to grow and develop in their work ethic. I wanted them to know from experience the satisfaction of a job well done.
Very young children can be taught to work. The toddler years are the best time for one-on-one training. At this age, children are naturally cheerful about helping with chores. Any mother of a toddler can testify to the fact that toddlers are usually underfoot. Youngsters naturally copy everything their parents say and do. So, why not purchase a small toddler-sized broom and have your youngster join you as you sweep the kitchen floor? Supply him with a dust rag and allow him to rub and scrub alongside you. When making a salad or mixing the pancake batter, pull up a chair and let him watch and participate.
These early years of working together build parent-child relationships and are invaluable for training and building self-confidence. Your little disciple naturally wants to please you, and this desire will grow as he works alongside Mom or Dad. These training times are educational; as you talk through each step of your work, your little one gets a lesson in vocabulary and logical sequencing of events. Counting, organizing, and matching are just a few of the skills that a child incorporates as he learns to sort laundry and set the table.
Many opportunities arise from having your toddler in training. At times he may become frustrated with his limited abilities and may even attempt to indulge in a temper tantrum. A swift unemotional swat on the bottom with a switch, followed by a cheerful, “Don’t be angry, let’s try again,” without wordy lectures, will teach him self-control. If a swift swat or two is not effective in changing the attitude, a nap is usually in order. With toddlers it is best to administer correction quickly, rather than drawing it out with lengthy lectures or a timeout. I always preferred to keep a switch close by, so that I could swiftly and clearly correct my young ones. When correction is immediate, obedience can be immediate.
As your youngster “works” alongside you, be sure to give him adequate praise, but don’t go overboard. Then he will learn to enjoy time spent with you and learn to take pride in his work, without being dependent on an excessive amount of praise for motivation. A true work ethic comes from having an inner motivation to do something of value. Your goal is to give him an inner motivation that will continue when you are no longer watching.
Children who are never taught the value of working often feel they have nothing to contribute. This attitude is rampant in our society where children spend large blocks of time with electronic entertainment at their fingertips. It can be compared to junk food. Though children beg for it, a steady diet of junk food will hamper their growth. Though children beg to spend hours in front of the television, it can lead to laziness and a sense of worthlessness.
Children who are taught to work have a greater sense of self-worth and responsibility. They can be assigned a chore and then figure out the best process for doing the job. My sons are now 13, 11, and 9. They are very helpful around the house. Since we have moved to the country, their responsibilities have increased. In addition to their daily school activities and personal chores around the house, they daily care for our 30 chickens. They feed and water them each day and gather and clean the eggs.
A few days ago I heard my oldest son, Luke, telling his friend all about his chickens. He talked about the new baby chicks that had just hatched and about how each chicken is uniquely different. He later told me that he felt certain he was a harder worker than any other boy his age. As he spoke, I knew he felt a sense of accomplishment and self-confidence. I know he is learning more than just how to care for chickens. He is learning to be conscientious, dependable, diligent, and responsible. Those character traits will follow him into adulthood and contribute to his success.