Teaching our Children to Work

My freshman year in college, I had a roommate who never had to do any work in her house growing up. Didn’t make a bed, cook a meal, clean a bathroom, or help with yard work. At first I though she was soooooo lucky. I wished I never had to do those things. UNTIL the day our apartment didn’t pass cleaning check because she didin’t know how to clean a bathroom, and I had to go home a day late for Christmas break, because we all had to stay and clean it.

Or the day that she caught our apartment on fire because she didn’t know how to do anything in the kitchen and put plastic wrap in the oven. As soon as I had my stuff evacuated, I called my parents and thanked them for all the work I “got” to do growing up. I thanked them, and thanked them, and thanked them.

One of the best gifts we can give our children is a work ethic. This can be hard to do in a society that teaches us that work is miserable, and that we should try to avoid work. In fact society preaches that the luckiest people are those that have everything they want and don’t have to work at all. I know first hand, that is not true.

As parents we have a divine obligation to teach our children to work. We don’t want them to think that work is bad.

So…what can we do? First we can question allowances.

When we train children to work by paying them, we reinforce self interest. It might get the job done in the short term, but it can have negative consequences in the long run. Instead of motivating children, it can turn into parents and children trying to out manipulate one another. Rather than “motivate” children we should open their eyes to the needs that naturally surround them.

We don’t give allowances in our home.

The reasoning: Our children are expected to contribute to the maintenance of our home. They take care of regular responsibilities. They make their beds, clean their rooms, hang up their clothes, put their toys away, etc. I try to teach them to “see” what needs to be done. When they walk past a toy on the floor, I want them to see that the toy is out of place and pick it up and put it away. Not because they get 20 cents or because it is written on a chart, but because they are fulfilling a need.

Another reason we don’t give allowances for regular around the house chores is to avoid developing the mentality that “I only make my bed, so that I can get something in return.” I want them to make their bed so that their room looks nice, to take responsibility for their belongings, so there is order in our home, because it helps our family as we try to keep things clean. If I want a work ethic to be instilled in them, it has to be for the right reasons so it will last throughout their lives. When I do the laundry every day, no one is standing there to give me 2 dollars. I do it for my family, so they have clean clothes, and to keep our house in order.
I do like finding change in pockets. :)

Tips for getting kids to work
There are some things that we can do in our homes to help children not only learn how to work, but also enjoy working.

Don’t Speak Ill of Work: This is a hard one
If we say we don’t like laundry, if we sigh and scoff when we have to help kids clean, or do the dishes, our children will pick up on that, and they will develop the same mentality. They will think that household work is miserable. We have to be very careful about the words we say when it comes to work. Working hard to say positive things about work will do much in helping our children to have a good attitude about work.

Work With Your Children:
Children like to work. Most children, especially young children, love to work and offer to help. What most children resist and resent is being asked to work alone. “Go clean up your toys in the basement” sounds overwhelming. “Let’s go clean up your toys in the basement” sound completely different. Be willing to work side by side with your children. You will love the results. You will also see that things get done faster. It is also a great time to teach them.

Make Work Fun:
Our kids match the socks and then get to throw them into the laundry basket across the room like a “hoop”. They love laundry day because we “play basketball”. Weeding is also turned into a game. We race to pull the weeds, we shoot hoops with the weeds into the trash bags. We play guessing games as we learn the names of the plants. Sometimes there is complaining, every day is not perfect, not even close, but we press on. When work is fun, there is less complaining.

Teach children to serve others:
This is two fold. First, Provide opportunities for your children to serve others outside your family. Service projects teach children to work. Second, Family life itself is filled with needs. We want to teach our children to see needs and be willing to step up and fulfill those needs. Teach children that it is their moral duty to respond to the needs of others. Mowing the lawn and taking out the trash are needs that need to be tended to when the trash is full and the lawn is overgrown, not when we “feel” like doing it.

Be patient and show love:
Accept the fact that when children work, they do things at a slower pace than we do. Be patient. Don’t make them feel like they are not fast enough, or good enough.

Don’t force or manipulate children to work. Set expectations. Make consequences clear. Then be patient, of good cheer, and show an increase of love. Children will come around.

How do you teach your children to work?


  1. 1
    Cynthia Brooks says:

    I really had not given the coinciding allowance and chores a negative thought. I honestly thought about giving my kids a set amount of money per chore but never executed the plan mainly because before this year we were pretty poor with cash. We were on foodstamps at the time as well. Now that my husband has a good job, we have extra money that could be disposable and we could do the money for chores. Though, I think I like your philosophy even if learning to clean up after themselves comes slowly. I’m guilty of saying” Arghh I just cleaned that. Stop doing that. I don’t like to clean all the time.” Basically I can get grumpy of course. Loved your article! Gives me something to think about with my 9 yr, 4 yr, and 2 yr old girls.

  2. 2

    Great post!! Very convicting. I love cooking and baking, but HATE cleaning, and have let my husband know this in my daughter’s presence. I need to work on this advice, “Don’t Speak Ill of Work.” Today, I had my daughter stand on a stool next to me, while I washed dishes. She’s almost 16 months old, so she couldn’t help too much. I think it’s important to have your children see you doing work. Hopefully, I’ll get better.

  3. 3

    Great post! I plan on instilling rewarding hard work in my daughter when she gets a little older (she’s only 20 months right now). I’d love to have extra help around the house, especially with laundry. (;

  4. 4

    I had my daughters help do things around the house, including folding their own laundry once they were old enough. That way when they got out on their own they didn’t look like a deer in the headlights! It’s very important to teach our children how to be self sufficient.

  5. 5

    We are lucky that my hubby and I grew up with a good work ethic and that work wasn’t something bad. I hope that we can teach our little one the same thing too. We’ve started with a chart and it seems to be working well. It is a visual way to keep track of what is accomplished. Thank you for sharing more ideas too. I can’t wait to try them.

  6. 6

    My son takes after my husband and wants to do anything and everything he does. He loves helping daddy work and fix things. I am hoping that will continue as he gets older. Right now he thinks it is so fun to help mommy dig in the garden or help daddy load the wood box. I don’t know if I will give him allowances for these things he should be doing: cleaning his own stuff, helping around the house, etc. But I have thought that maybe extra things: helping clean out the garage, clean out the fridge, etc I would let him make some money from those things

  7. 7

    It’s just my son and I. He’s always known that if it’s to be done, it’s up to us to get it done. When I was working, he was responsible for more. Now that I’m home more than he is by a landslide, I certainly do the vast majority of the work around the house.

    His work now is school, homework and the swim team. It keeps him pretty busy. But don’t worry…he sure does know how to clean a bathroom or cook enough that he won’t go hungry or start a fire!

  8. 8
    Sari Berry says:

    These are great tips. I did a lot of work growing up which I hated, but my husband was raised with his mother doing everything. Once we got married I really appreciated what my parents had done in teaching me to be responsible and now I will train our sons not to expect that a wife/mother does everything around the house.

  9. 9
    Jessica Parks Wiese says:

    Did we have the same college roommate? Mine got everything paid for, and her mom would come up and clean her room for her a couple times a month. We are now in our 30’s and they still pay for a lot of things. I don’t understand it. I plan to help our kids, but I fully expect that they will be self sufficient as well. We won’t always be here. :)

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