If you have been a parent for very long, you may have noticed that most children do not naturally like hard work. Actually, I think that is true for most human beings.
Most people I know, myself included, would choose sipping sweet tea and reading a book on the front porch rocker over getting blisters digging post holes any day of the week.
Children, at least the eight children I live with, must be taught to work hard.
Little children up until about the age of 7 or 8 years old aren’t really all that helpful in the work they provide. What I mean is that many times we adults end up having to do over the work they have done. Ask a child under 7 to make up your bed, and you’ll see what I mean.
After about the age of 7 or 8 though, I have found that children who are taught to work hard can be productive and helpful members of your little miniature society, also known as a family.
We recently had to reinforce a LOT of the fencing around our chicken yard and hen house. You see, our neighbors were complaining about our free ranging chickens ranging into their flower beds, and we needed to make our fence more secure.
This was the kind of work that required a team. One person needed to cut wire ties, one person needed to heft the heavy roll of chicken wire and unroll it, and several of us held it in place and twisted the ties around the chicken wire to attach it to the existing fence.
You’ll see in the above photo that my 8 year old was cutting the pieces of wire we used to secure the chicken wire in place. (Her mouth is in motion, as usual, because she was entertaining us with a “radio drama” in the style of “Adventures in Odyssey.”)
Those wire cutters were heavy and sharp, but she willingly and confidently used them for well over 2 hours safely and with no injuries or complaints.
This project was a whole-family event. Everyone pitched in and pulled their weight. Even the 3 year old fetched us tools or gloves when we requested them.
Here are some of the ways we have taught our children to be hard workers:
Work along side your kids.
Let them see you rolling up your sleeves and digging in. Show them what a hard worker looks like.
Encourage them while you are working.
I don’t mean the kind of encouragement I hear these days that is really false praise and flattery. Don’t tell them they are doing a good job if they really aren’t. While we are working, I tell my kids things like, “Keep it up,” and “You can do it,” and “Don’t give up,” and “Look how much we have done!”
I don’t tolerate whining, and I don’t want to hear how a) hot b) cold c) tired they are. I tell them that each one of us can feel the temperature the same as they can and no one appreciates a whiner. Whining and complaining about work only make it harder for everyone.
Remind them that “many hands make light work.”
Living in a large family makes this evident daily. All 10 of us can clean out the van in no time flat, when it would take a single person much longer. The above project was a good example of this. We all knew that none of us would have been able to complete the fence on our own, but together we knocked it.
Remind them that hard work builds character.
I’m sure this is one of those statements that my children will recall when they are older, and laugh about how many times they heard it from me. They have also heard these on many occasions. “You don’t have to like it. You just have to do it,” and “It doesn’t have to be fun. It just has to be done.”
Don’t offer a reward for every job.
Now, I know this one goes against some popular parenting strategies, but I’m going to stand by it, and here’s why. Sometimes the reward for hard work is a feeling of pride and accomplishment and the result of the hard work. And nothing more.
In the real, live, grown up world, if you spend a couple of hours mowing and edging your lawn, you will end up with a nice looking yard. If you spend some time patching some damaged drywall in your living room and touching up the paint, you will have a nice looking room. No one will be handing out ten dollar bills because you worked diligently. Your reward is the result of your work and the good feeling you have inside. And that is more valuable than any sticker on a chart.
Kids need to know that sometimes work is hard and dirty and needs to be done not for a reward at the end, but just because it needs doing.
Teach them to be independent workers.
I tell my big kids, “If I have to help you help me, that is not helpful.”
They know the most helpful thing is to find something that needs doing, and just do it. If a meal has just finished, chances are dishes need to be cleared from the table, the floor needs to be swept, and food needs to be put away. Start doing!
The next most helpful thing is to ask what needs to be done and do that.
The least helpful thing is to require someone to guide you in every step.
My children know that almost nothing is more annoying to me than to find one of them idly watching everyone else work. No one likes someone who isn’t willing to work or finds excuses to get out of work and leave it to others.
If it is work time, and I see one of my children being idle, I tell them, “Pick something up! Wipe something! Get busy! Make yourself useful!”