Tag Archives: children

Teaching Children To Work

Long ago, back before the button was invented (and I’m not talking about the kind of button that keeps your pants up), eight-year-old children would wake up before the sun and go out to milk cows. Ten-year-old children would make bread from scratch. Twelve-year-old children would saddle their horse and bring home lost sheep.

Now there is very little for an American child to do besides enjoy one leisure activity after another.

But just because we don’t live on farms anymore doesn’t mean we can’t still teach our children how to work. Scott and I encourage our children to work from a very young age. So far all of my daughters can wash dishes by hand, unload the dishwasher, make cookies from scratch, put sheets on their own bed, make simple dinners on the stove, fold and put away all their own laundry and wield a paintbrush.  My four-year-old son can water plants, wash windows, bring groceries in from the car and open the door for me when I am pushing the stroller.

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Ironically with all of this working my house still seems to be mess. But that is because we are a project family.

I was told once that the key to building confidence in children is not with compliments but with accomplishments.  We are not perfect at this, but here are some things we have learned so far:

1. Complaining is Wonderful

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. . . because that means they are doing something hard. We are not afraid of complaining. We tell them we love to hear them complain because that means they are growing. Any time a routine is changed there will be complaining, every time a tradition is changed there will be complaining. But once they get into the new routine (and if we are consistent), that will become the new tradition. Over time, every family develops a unique culture based on their traditions. In our family we are trying to build a culture of work and industry.

There are ways you can minimize the complaining, though, like this:

2. A Prepared Mind is A More Agreeable Mind

A child who knows they have to work at a certain time does better than a child who is told, all of the sudden with no warning that they must go out and weed the garden. Even though kids aren’t “busy” the way we define busy, they feel like they are busy and we still need to respect that. We’ve learned that asking them to do a job when they are in the middle of a fun game or book results in a lot of foot dragging and eye rolling. Let their minds get used to the idea first. For instance, on the way home from the grocery store tell them: “When we get home everyone needs to help unload the car.” If you wait to tell them when you’ve parked in the garage and they are walking inside the house you might be too late.

Also, this helps a ton:  IMG_3690

Every Saturday this chalkboard is filled with jobs, and in the summertime, every DAY it is filled with jobs. Sometimes they are assigned to specific people, sometimes kids can sign up for what they want. But this way they are prepared and they know there is an expectation (and sometimes a time limit!) They also know that if they finish their jobs first, mom won’t interrupt them later when they are trying having fun.

3. Meaningful Jobs

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Part of learning to work is realizing that hard work can make great things happen. Find jobs for them where there is a meaningful ending, not just moving rocks from one side of the yard to the other. Teach them the Law of the Harvest. Tackle big jobs a little bit at a time. If it is too easy they won’t feel like they’ve done something important and meaningful. If it is too hard they will get discouraged. Making the jobs an age-appropriate job is important. However, I do think children can do more than we think they can.

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Naomi’s green hair

 

4. Working Together

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My kids complained for YEARS about folding clothes. I would sequester them in a room  with a huge pile of clothes and not let them do anything until they were done. This always resulted in much fighting, and clothes folding became a detestable, unpleasant and excruciatingly long and inefficient task. Then one day I sat on the top of the gigantic pile of laundry and made them all sit in an area, far apart from each other. Then I sorted the clothes by pulling an article of clothing out  of the pile and throwing it at the owner. If I threw them the wrong thing then they could throw it at the real owner. It became quite hilarious to throw training bras at my four-year-old son who then got to throw them at his older sisters. There were clothes flying everywhere, faces were happy and we were done in twenty minutes.

I have learned that I can’t just expect my kids to work if I am lying in my hammock and pointing my finger. I have to show them how to work. In fact, teaching kids to work  means a lot of work for you. Unfortunately there is no way around this. 🙂

5. Learn To Live With This:

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Paint on carpet.

and this:

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Paint on ceiling

 

One friend of mine, whose children are all grown now, told me that children can’t do meaningful work until they are 12. I believe this is true. Kids younger than twelve are still developing their hand/eye coordination, their stamina, and their fine motor skills, and mentally they are still in a magical la-la land where standards of perfection are measured by how much pink paint can be used, not how it is used.  Rarely does their work turn out to be satisfactory. But that is not the point. They are children, not professionals. When the eggs drop on the ground remind yourself that you are not baking cookies, you are raising daughters. When paint gets on the carpet remind yourself that you are not painting a room, you are raising sons. Keep training them, keep the opportunities plentiful and don’t expect perfection. There will come a time when you won’t have to keep re-doing their work. But they won’t get to that point unless they’ve made a lot of mistakes first.

6. Turn Up The Volume

When possible, play their favorite music or book on CD while they are doing the task. We did this while we painted these bookshelves.

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Danny was too young to paint so he got put in charge as the DJ and he was more than happy to hold the iphone and pick songs for the girls to listen to while they worked. They spent an hour joyfully painting and singing without one argument.

7. Take Photos

Take photos of great accomplishments.

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Telling them “We have to take a photo of this!” tells them they are doing something that your family values.

Also, before-and-after photos can be a very powerful way to show children that even something that seems impossible is possible!

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Before

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After

This blog post is just another method I am using to get my kids to work. I want them to see that I value what they do so much that I want to tell the world. I want them to see that other people will value their hard work as well. And you thought this post was for Facebook. 🙂

8. Help Them See The Real Reward

People bribe their kids all the time. I do it too. Babysit your brother and I’ll give you a cookie. Wash the car and I’ll give you a dollar. Practice the piano every day for the next 10 years and I’ll buy you a ferrari.

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Clean out the grout in my bathroom and you get whatever your heart desires

But you know when your child has learned the value of work when the product of their work becomes the reward. They will see that if they paint their room their reward is that they have a brand new room that they can decorate and feel happy about. I try to make sure my children realize what they’ve accomplished by having them take a moment to sit down and really appreciate what they’ve done. (My dad would literally take a chair and sit down opposite his finished project and gaze at it for hours.) I explain to them that now something exists that didn’t exist before, and that they are not just painters or organizers–they are creators, and that is a divine quality. I remind them what the project was/looked like before their hands touched it, molded it, painted it; that before they came a long this was just a pile of sticks, or a marked up dirty wall or a messy room. This takes a while for children to learn, but I believe that eventually they will learn that hard work can make their dreams come true.

9. Work = Happiness 

When I was 21 years old I came home from college for Christmas break. I had just broken off an engagement and I was sad, depressed and at rock bottom. What did my dad do? He put me to work. I spent many hours that Christmas in his shed, painting little benches for nursery children. I learned for myself that work can be a great medicine. My children don’t understand that yet, but someday, when they hit rock bottom, they will come home, I will hand them a paintbrush, and we still start working together. And then they will understand what I am talking about, and all my hard work will pay off.

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I would love to hear how you help your kids work and what projects they have done. Then I will share it with my kids. We can always use more inspiration. 🙂

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How To Be Perfect

Perfection.

There was a time, long ago, when I was perfect.

It was in high school. I had perfect grades and perfect hair. I had perfect friends who did perfect things. I was perfectly behaved. I always made my bed. I won almost every contest I entered and qualified for every scholarship I applied for. I was graceful. I was fit. I baked pies.

But then I went to college and I suddenly found myself surrounded by hundreds of other perfect people. My magic touch only worked half the time. Compared to those around me I had semi-perfect grades and I was almost graceful, and not quite fit enough. I won half the contests I entered.

And then . . .

. . . I had children.

Now I get pink eye every other week. My clothes stay clean for the first five seconds after I put them on. The last thing I won was a Relief Society cookie-baking contest in 2006.

The only clean room in my house is the front porch. I shudder every time I consider wearing my high heels. Three days ago I dropped this pizza on the floor, without one child in the room that I could blame.

Then there are days like today when I think I have everything together, everything is in place. I am showered, my kids are showered, and I get all five of them to the dentist for their appointments not only on time, but early . . .  only to find out we are there on the wrong day, and at the wrong time.

I started my adult life reasonably intelligent with more than my fair share of potential.  I work hard. I try hard. I do have goals. You would think that as life goes on I would eventually get better, not worse.

The Most Perfect Person of All

At church I teach the 14 to 18-year-old teenage girls, an age that is often obsessed with perfection. Last Sunday I brought a picture of The Most Perfect Person In The World and taped it to the chalkboard.

The Most Perfect Person In The World, Exhibit A

I asked the girls to tell me what makes Barbie perfect.  Here are some things they listed:

Beautiful, perfect body, perfect hair, a million different dresses, the perfect boyfriend, a big house, lots of jewelry, lots of friends, lots of careers, etc, etc, etc.

After we talked about Barbie for a while I took down her picture and put up a picture of this person:

The Most Perfect Person In The World, Exhibit B

Then we listed all the things that made him perfect:

Humility, love, kindness, mercy, meekness, forgiveness, etc.

After listing these attributes we compared the lists. Even though both Jesus and Barbie are often described as “perfect” there was not one quality that was common between the lists. Not even one word. The closest thing was that we had described Barbie as “nice” and Jesus as “kind.”

One of the girls pointed out that our society distorts the word perfect. But after discussing that further we decided that the meaning of the word perfect was not just distorted. It had come to mean something completely opposite.

So the opposite of perfect is. . . Perfect?

Exactly.

Years and Millimeters

I took a college course on calligraphy. The word calligraphy means “beautiful writing.”

It was not an easy class. When you first begin this class you do a lot of uglygraphy.

For the class we did not use felt markers, but real nibs like this.

And real ink like this.

In calligraphy mistakes are obvious and ugly. Often we had to take out a new piece of paper only to make another mistake. There were always so many ways to mess up, so many things that could go wrong, so many ways to fail.

For instance, we had to learn several different “scripts” (fonts). Some scripts have serifs. Serifs are the teeny tiny marks at the ends of each letter.  The scripts that don’t have them are called sans serif, or without serifs. People often talk about dotting your i’s and crossing your t’s, but with the art of lettering you also need to make sure you have every serif in its proper place, with the proper angle and the proper length.  If your serifs are not parallel it can make your finished product look less like art and more like the worms drying up on a sidewalk after a rainstorm.

Plus, spelling becomes a major issue in calligraphy. You become so focused on your strokes, so aware of the amount of ink in your nib and so nervous about spattering ink on your expensive, pristine Bristol paper, that it is not uncommon to suddenly realize you left out a p in the word happiness or you suddenly can’t remember how to spell the word and. Spelling catastrophes are common and devastating.

In short, there are a million different ways to mess up. Just like life.

It is important to have guide lines to help you stay on track. These were our practice sheets.

Some scripts require even more guide lines.

The more we practiced using these guide lines the better we became. (Also like life.)

With each assignment we improved . . . kind of. But our work, even by the end of the semester, did not look anything like our teacher’s.

One day he brought in some slides of his portfolio and we gaped in awe. He was a master. His artwork was flawless. Then he told us his secret.

“Years and millimeters,” he said. “That is how you become a master calligrapher.”

Years and millimeters. Did not Christ learn that way, too?  Perhaps even someone who is perfect has to grow into their perfection, little by little, grace by grace.

A Race We All Can Win

We all come to earth with different talents that get us different places. Some people are born better at learning. Some people are born with athletic gifts. Some people are lucky enough to be born with that particular body type that is marketed to us as “attractive.” But there is a limit to how much we can change about our appearance and our raw talents.  Not all of us will compete in the Olympics, earn PhDs or win a beauty pageant. Sometimes we just can’t be faster or smarter or prettier. It is just not possible because it is not in our DNA.

But all of us can be kinder, more patient, more generous, more humble, more meek. That is the kind of perfection that each of us can improve on, and that is exactly the kind of perfection God asks of us. And it is in our DNA because we are all sons and daughters of God.

That makes the pursuit of perfection a race everyone can win because it is not about competition and all about self-mastery.  God does not compare me to others. He compares me with who I was yesterday. He doesn’t care if I am better than someone else, he cares if I am better than who I used to be.

So now that I have five children I do not win as many contests as I once did. I am not as glamorous or talented or graceful as I once was. I probably make more mistakes now than I did before.

But I will tell you that, even with the dark circles under my eyes, my stained shirt, and the crumbs in my hair, I am more forgiving, more gentle and more patient than I ever was in my 36 year history. I have decided that perfection less about the spilled milk and more about keeping my cool as I clean up the mess. I guess you could say that I am closer to perfection than ever. I have a long ways to go, of course. But I will get there. Year by year, millimeter by millimeter.

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