How do you teach your children to work?

“Successful marriages and families are established and maintained on principles of…work…” (The Family: A Proclamation to the World, paragraph 7)

The Ant Bug loves to help with house work. Wearing her own pair of yellow rubber gloves, she happily cleans the bathrooms with me–using the toilet brush is her favorite part. She likes to set the table, and after dinner she often stands at the sink with me to rinse the dishes. She gets offended if she doesn’t get to wash the tile floor with me. And she and the Sweet Bee joyfully run around screaming like banshees whenever I pull out the vacuum.

It is a myth that children don’t want to work. Most children, especially young children, love to work and often offer to help. What most children resent and resist is being asked to work alone. “Go clean your room” sounds overwhelming. “Let’s go clean your room” says something quite different. This does not mean that efforts to train children to share in the family work will be easy or will always go smoothly. What it does mean is that we can reject the popular idea that children must be prodded, enticed, or supplied with some external motivation to participate in family chores” (Bahr, see below for citation).

To date, we haven’t sat down with the Ant Bug and given her specific chores for which she is responsible. At four years old, there are definitely age appropriate chores she could do. But I haven’t been exactly sure how to go about the process of starting. A part of me worries that by giving her a list of chores to do, she’ll lose her enthusiasm for working alongside me.

So I’ve been doing some research:

Simple Mom has a great chore chart for preschoolers. Being the compulsive list-maker that I am, a chore chart is a must for me.

Marie at Make and Takes recently tackled the issue of encouraging independence in children. Her comments struck a familiar chord with me, since the Ant Bug also likes to make her own peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

I thought the following was excellent counsel, taken from Strengthening the Family: Resource Guide for Parents

Give Your Children Responsibilities
Many parents tend to overindulge their children and shield them from the responsibilities they once had to go through—experiences that helped them become capable adults. When parents dole out goods and services for their children while requiring little in return, their children lose the motivation to become self-reliant and responsible. Instead, they tend to become lazy, selfish, and self-indulgent. Elder Neal A. Maxwell of the Quorum of the Twelve taught: “Those who do too much for their children will soon find they can do nothing with their children.”

Teach your children to work alongside you, starting when they are young and have a natural desire to help. Assign your children routine chores according to their abilities. Family work activities “can become daily rituals of family love and belonging.”

Teach your children to serve others. Elder Derek A. Cuthbert of the Seventy taught, “Wise parents will provide service opportunities in the home for their children from an early age.” Teach them to do their best and to try again if they fail. (p. 34)

So…giving children opportunities to work is a good thing! (Duh). As I formulate my plans for instilling a work ethic in my children, I would love to hear from you. How do you teach your children to work?

Great Further Reading:
Kathleen Slaugh Bahr and others, “The Meaning and Blessings of Family Work,” in Strengthening Our Families: An In-Depth Look at the Proclamation on the Family, ed. David C. Dollahite (Salt Lake City:Bookcraft, 2000), 178.

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5 thoughts to “How do you teach your children to work?”

  1. Great post! I wanted to add that “Go clean your room” can sound very overwhelming, as you said. One suggestion I read – and now I’ve lost the source memory of it – is instead to say, “Pick up two toys in your room.” I know you already know this but it’s not something we always think about. Especially for young children, large tasks are daunting. What might seem trivial to us can be daunting to them.

    So I think that teaching children to work without them resenting it needs to start with small tasks and a lot of praise (at least make sure you say thank you and look in their eyes when you say it). Working together as a family also helps, especially if you can turn on some fun dancing music and work away. Starting when young is important because then work is just a part of life.

  2. We do “room rescues” throughout the day. “Room rescues” are quick clean ups that take from 3-5 minutes and about 10-15 minutes for the whole house. It is not the full cleaning that involves vacuuming, dusting, mopping, etc.; it is a room clean up where everything is picked up and put away. When Elizabeth was old enough to help even a little I encourage her to join in on the clean up. We now have a clean up song that we both sing and we do several room rescues per day together. I try to make a routine out of it and rescue the rooms after we play a game, before naptime, before daddy comes home and at bedtime. It is refreshing to have a clean space because it sure does not take long for a two-year old to clutter a room!

  3. Love your thoughts and ideas.

    I remember it being difficult to ease into the first “official” job rotation chart. I’m sure if you keep your eyes out for an opportunity you’ll figure it out when the time is right! I think we waited until we had 2 old enough to do little jobs before we started. Now, we have the 3 oldest on an assigned job chart right now (ages 13, 11, and 9). We’re really thinking it is time to add the 5-year-old. Working along side them (at least when they are learning) is the real key!

  4. Fabulous post! It helps me plan for the future with my little boys. Thanks so much for all these posts and keep them coming!:)

  5. I’m coming over from Mormon Mommy Blogs, asking for your help. I am in the running for a round trip airfare paid ticket to Connecticut, to meet a friend I became acquainted with through blogging. She is a super fun person and is holding this contest. I entered a funny story titled “Grapejuice Floaties, Now Marry Me.” The person whose story receives the most votes will win a trip to meet this generous lady, whom I’m hoping to meet. The voting ends tonight-midnight. I am ahead for now but there is a story coming up from behind out of nowhere and I would so, so, appreciate your help. Her blog is and the voting is on the sidebar on the right. “Grapejuice, Floaties” Just go there and cast a vote for me, please. Thanks so much-you’re awesome! ♥♥

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