I recently had one of those “A Ha!” moments – my children were not born with a responsibility gene in place. Yes, I will actually have to teach & train responsibility into my children! (as well as all those other school-y type subjects...) First let's start with the "whys" we have to:
- Responsibility builds character qualities and attitudes that we want them to have as adults. How does it look when you see an adult with a bad attitude at their job? Co-workers that constantly complain when asked to do a task? Grown- ups that never take responsibility? We all know examples of these types – you don’t want to raise your children to be one do you? If our child has been handling responsibility and chores with a good attitude since they were young children, I think we have a much greater chance of having teenagers with a good attitudes as well. When my firstborn was just a little guy, I remember telling him – “We don’t whine in the house”, to which he replied “Can we go outside and whine, then?” I am beginning to see the fruit of having trained my young children’s good attitudes showing up in the character of my teenagers!
- Responsibility teaches good stewardship. A steward is someone who takes care of something that doesn’t belong to them. We don’t really own anything, God does. You don’t want to have to explain to God what you did (or didn’t do) with the blessings entrusted to you, do you – nope – neither do I. Teaching our children how to manage responsibility teaches them to be good stewards of what they have been blessed with.
- Responsibility gives your children value as part of your family team. If we do everything for them, we send a subtle message that they are not capable of doing it for themselves. We handicap them for their futures. When we had our first child, we made all the rookie mistakes – we did everything for him – feeding, dressing, cleaning up his toys. We just were so in love with this amazing creature – we wanted to make his life wonderful and easy. Well – that worked well for the first year, or two… But, a three year old that can’t feed himself or lays on the floor waiting for you to get him dressed – isn’t quite so attractive! How about a five year old that can’t (or won’t) pick up their own toys…do YOU really want to keep working that hard for that long? Don’t miss the opportunity to catch their enthusiasm while they’re little – it’ll pay off later. In 401 Ways to get your Child to Work at Home by Bonnie McCullough and Susan Monson - they say –“By the time your child is 18 – they have spent 32,234 hours with you.” A little perspective here – a bachelor’s degree only takes 2,000 hours – you get 16x more teachable time with your children!
- Responsibility for them - helps make YOU more productive. Sure it takes longer to teach them – at first. But, it’s an investment that pays off. You can get more done with their help. My kiddos were helping carry in groceries the other day, and I heard one of them say “I feel sorry for those families with just a couple of kids, it must take them forever to get all the groceries in the house!” But, seriously – you can accomplish much more with your team.
On to the nuts and bolts – I bet you’re thinking…I know I should be teaching them but, how?!
- Start with your own attitude first! Do you have an overwhelmed feeling all the time – is it too hard, too much, I can’t do it… Memorize - Phillipians 4:13 – I can do all thing through Christ who gives me strenth. Consciously - Make the choice to overcome instead of being overwhelmed. Get the strength you need from God – you can do this! God chose you as the teacher of your children, he didn’t make a mistake, it wasn’t accidental. He wanted you for the job! Next, find some books, resources, friends, mentors to help you. Learn the skills you need! I came to motherhood completely unprepared for it –I’m glad that on the job training is the most effective way to learn!
- Imagine your child as a grown up (scary…but – realize – no matter how much you don’t want them to - they are going to grow up, no matter what you think). Start with your end goal in mind… What do you want them to know how to do? What character qualities do you want them to have? What life skills are they going to need to succeed? Make a list you can to refer back to. You can find lots of helpful resources to help you. Life Skills for Kids by Christine Field and Cleaning House by Kay Wyma - are two of my all-time favorites – filled with practical advice and how to’s.
- Start early! Even very young children can do something – make them part of the team! My house rule, the chore goes to the youngest child that can do it. If your little one can hold a wipe – they can wipe the table, or the baseboards, or the windowsills (they get really dusty!!). By 4-5 years old they can help set the table, water plants, help prepare foods, rake the yard, sweep, put away clothes, sort dirty clothes, load the dishwasher, empty small trashcans. And – it just keeps getting better! By the time they are teenagers – you really could be sitting around eating those bon-bons… My husband’s happiest day was when the first born stepped into the responsibility of lawn mowing – “I won’t have to mow again for the next 20 years!” was his exact comment!
- Find a chore system that works for your family. I created a master list of chores that the children could do. Then, I assigned each chore to a specific child, remember – the youngest able to do it – gets the chore. I like variety – so I made different chores for each day of the week. A list works for your readers, and pictures for your non-readers (we put ours on cards and laminated them for fun). A piece of advice – make it easy for your children to help… We keep our kid plates/cups in a lower cupboard – so that they can help unload dishwasher and put dishes away (no glass items!) Get child friendly cleaning tools – cleaning wipes, spray bottles (my littles just love spray bottles!), a dustpan and small broom and lots of paper towels. If you have older children, you can pair them together to teach a younger child the chore. If your children are all young – let them be chore buddies - Encourage them to work together.
- Be consistent! Here’s one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever gotten – you have to INSPECT what you EXPECT. So, if you want to train them to take responsibility – YOU have to take responsibility to make sure they are completing their chores. That means following through on what you ask them to do. Consistency in this early on establishes the routines that work over the long run! We have a little saying that has helped – “Do it right away, all the way, the happy way”.
You will need to train them (I looked for the instruction manual in the diaper bag – it wasn’t there!) Be patient, and retrain them again. They will eventually catch on, and they may even surprise you. Come to think of it, isn’t that how God is training us? Really – this whole topic is more about training our hearts while training their hearts! In fact, the best thing you can do to train them responsibility–is to have that very character trait on display in yourself for them see those 32,234 hours you have them around!