Have You Taught Your Children to Work?
AN ANSWER of Yes or No to this question may disclose a lot more about your family than you think. As parents, your answer may in large measure reflect the circumstances and environment under which you were raised. It may also reflect your present attitude toward life in general, plus your concern for the future of your children. Yes, your answer may reveal things, not only about your children, but also about you, their parents.
Take this matter of your past. Were you raised on a farm where the whole family had to work hard? Or were you brought up in a city where there seemed to be little work for young folks? Did your parents work hard to make a living? And as a child, did they make you work around the home? Or did you have a lot of time on your hands? These childhood experiences could have a profound influence on your attitude when it comes to teaching your children to work.
Similarly, the attitude that you have cultivated during your adult lifetime toward work is also an important factor. For example, if you happen to live in a country that has adopted many laborsaving devices in business and industry, this can influence your opinion of work.
Today as never before great emphasis is placed on more push buttons, more computers, more automation, with less physical and mental effort. Also desired by most people are shorter hours and less work to give more leisure time. This rather easy way of life causes some people to develop an aversion to work, even a hatred of it. If you are a victim of such thinking, then you are bound to have a negative approach toward teaching your offspring to work.
And what about the future of your children?—something most parents are very much concerned about. If you believe that a child should never have to do ‘a lick of work,’ then you will try to shield and protect your child from more than a minimum of labor and responsibility. Contrariwise, if you feel that supervised work is beneficial for children, you will search out ways of occupying their time and energy with productive activity.
Mankind’s Creator encourages us to take a positive view toward work, for in his Word, the Bible, he caused this to be written: “I have seen that there is nothing better than that the man should rejoice in his works, for that is his portion.” (Eccl. 3:22) Youth is a good time to begin to cultivate that outlook.
When to Start?
If your parents worked hard they probably gave you a good start in life by teaching you to work. And if you have not developed a lazy man’s philosophy in this machine age, you are no doubt convinced that a child should be taught to work for his own good. The question is when to begin.
Begin your program of training when the child is very young. When young he is pliable, willing and eager to learn. Upon reaching the age of three, he should have learned to put his toys away after play periods are over. At least by the time he is old enough to go to school, you should have taught him how to bathe and dress himself, and to put his room in order.
These things may seem trivial, but they teach the child to be orderly and dependable—qualities so essential to being successful in later undertakings.
So off to school your children go. But is that all there should be to their day’s work schedule? Spending about six hours in school does not completely exhaust children. This is especially so when you consider the emphasis on recesses, play periods, sports and the relaxed manner of instruction and discipline in the classroom today.
In view of this, when your children return from school it would be beneficial if they had regular, assigned chores to do. It is good to have a schedule of such chores made out ahead of time so that each child knows what is expected of him. Of course, such schedules should not be so inflexible that adjustments cannot be made when unforeseen circumstances arise. Even learning to make such spur-of-the-moment adjustments in the schedule is in itself good training for the child, for this he will frequently have to do all his adult life, is it not so?
What to Teach?
Afterschool assignments can include any number of things around the home. This depends, of course, on the kind of home in which one lives, whether on a farm or in the city, whether in a house with yard space around it or in a small apartment with no responsibilities beyond the front door.
But regardless of where you live, there are many things around a home that children can be taught to do, and to do well. To name a few: running the vacuum cleaner and mopping floors, dusting and waxing furniture, washing and ironing clothes, cleaning off the table and washing the supper dishes, also carrying out the garbage.
Every girl should know how to cook. Teach them first the elementary tasks of preparing potatoes and onions to cook. Then progressively teach them to make salads, fix various meat dishes and make tasty desserts. They should also know how to bake. Even mothers who are rather poor cooks themselves can, with the aid of cookbooks, teach their daughters to prepare good meals.
Let the daughters at an early age learn to sew on buttons and mend the holes in stockings. As they grow older, teach them to run the sewing machine by patching work clothes, making aprons and hemming up towels. Every ten-year-old girl should also be able to knit and crochet—practical arts that train the eyes and fingers.
Now, should these domestic duties be assigned only to the girls in the family? Parents who have foresight appreciate the wisdom of training their sons as well to keep the house neat and clean. Every man should be able to cook and sew when it is necessary, and they can learn the rudiments of these skills if they are included in their childhood work schedules. It is certainly shallow thinking to say that teaching boys how to cook and sew makes them effeminate. The science of seasoning and the chemistry of cooking are fields of knowledge that are attractive to manly boys. The man Jesus Christ was not only a good carpenter; he also knew how to cook, as the Bible implies at John 21:9-12.
By the same token, it is practical wisdom to teach your daughters as well as your sons how to use such common tools as the hammer, saw and paintbrush. Around every house sooner or later something needs to be repaired.
Let boys learn by building those much-needed shelves in the closet or basement, and painting them too. As their skills develop they will be able to fashion more sophisticated cabinets. Let them re-cover the kitchen chairs and reupholster the living-room furniture. In view of the prices that furniture and fixtures are selling for today you are wise if you let your children learn to build and repair them at home!
There are also many outdoor assignments of work that children can do, especially if they live on a farm, where the work is never finished. The city dweller’s opportunities may be somewhat limited, but often here are yards to be cleaned, lawns to be watered and cut, windows to be washed, houses and fences to be painted, automobiles to be washed and waxed, just to mention some. Even the child living in an apartment can often find this kind of work in the neighborhood.
If it is available, let your children have a plot of ground for a garden they can call their own. Give them the needed assistance, but let them bear the responsibility. This means they will have to decide what to plant, after which they will have to water and cultivate it, and fight the bugs, birds and predatory animals if they are to realize any fruitage from their labor. If there are crop failures the first couple of years, encourage them to learn from the mistakes and to continue to improve their skill and methods.
How to Teach Them to Work?
Many parents may feel that teaching children to work is a challenge they are not quite able to meet. Are you one who throws up the hands in a “what’s the use” attitude, simply because you have to keep telling your child to do the same things many times? Do you have to keep coaxing and begging him to do this or that?
There is an art to teaching anything, including the skill of working. Patience, understanding, kindness and love are absolutely necessary. Do not scream and threaten, and do not ridicule or belittle their inefficiency. Of course they will be awkward and clumsy at first. But, with practice on their part and helpful instruction on your part, they will improve. It is in these early stages of learning that you as the instructor need to exercise patience, tolerance and long-suffering. Remember that you too were once young, awkward and unskilled, and that only after many years have you developed efficiency and skill.
Have you ever observed a five- or six-year-old eager to help his daddy wash and wax the car, only to be chased away by the father, perhaps with an irritated “get out of the way” remark? Then when the child is twelve or fifteen the same father can’t understand why the boy rebels at being told to wash and wax the family car. Another father lets his little boy clean the hubcaps and bumpers, and as he gets older he is allowed to do the doors and fenders. Which of the two fathers are you?
This illustrates another rule of teaching: When it is possible, work together with your children to get a job done. In this way you not only set a good example; you are also able personally to supervise the work and pass along helpful suggestions to the next generation. So when the task allows for working together, do not say, ‘There’s the job, go ahead and do it,’ but rather, ‘Here’s the job, and I will help you to do it.’
It is good for you, as a teacher of children, to build in them eagerness and enthusiasm to get the job done, and done well. To do this you must explain the value and importance of each job they are assigned to do. Then they will appreciate why it is necessary to do it, and in time they will even assume responsibility to see that it is done.
But what if the job is a difficult, monotonous or tedious one? How can a child be made to feel enthusiastic about such work? Well, some jobs are like that, and they are a real challenge to one’s endurance and persistence. The child should be made to appreciate this from the very outset. Instead of trying to build up a false enthusiasm, let him view it as a challenge. Overcoming it, then, gives one a feeling of accomplishment, satisfaction.
There are other ways of helping a child to appreciate doing a rather disagreeable assignment. For example,. you might remind the child who balks at washing the supper dishes of how really fortunate he is to have had supper in the first place. There are millions of children living on the edge of starvation who would be only too happy to wash the dishes, just so they did not have to go to bed without supper. Now, your child might say he wants to trade places with these unfortunates. If so, let him go to bed a few nights without his supper until he develops appreciation for his privilege of washing the dishes.
Suppose the child objects to doing certain assignments, such as cutting the grass or washing the car, on the grounds that it is tiring and makes the muscles sore. That may be true; most work does. But does not playing a game of ball or swimming or hiking also tire one out and make the muscles sore? So, what is the difference?
The difference is one of mental attitude or viewpoint. The former carries a distasteful label known as “work”; the latter, the pleasurable designation of “sports event” or “recreation.” Why not change labels on the assignment? Why not make the work pleasurable, not an ordeal? Show them how to gain a sense of real satisfaction and enduring pleasure out of accomplishing the task. Teach them to take pride in their work.
Rewards and Benefits
Everyone looks forward to some reward upon completing a task. It may be nothing more than the satisfaction of having finished it. But rewards over and beyond the personal satisfaction are also appreciated. This is why thoughtful and considerate parents acknowledge the accomplishments of their children. It may be just a simple “Thank you, dear,” for the small things, or it may be a very special token of love for the extraordinary efforts made by their offspring in their work.
Such complimentary rewards serve as a further incentive to do the same or another assignment the next time. It is Scriptural too that you reward your children with a “Well done.”—1 Cor. 3:8; compare Luke 19:12-17.
You parents may view the teaching of your children as a greater job than doing the work yourself, and this it may very well be. But accept this teaching responsibility as your job, your work. Then discharge it well, and both you and your children will be richly rewarded. As the proverb says: “Have you beheld a man skillful in his work? Before kings is where he will station himself.”—Prov. 22:29.