Children sense our attitude. If we are reluctant to require them to work, they will likely capitalize on our hesitancy and maneuver their way out of work. Maybe we feel it’s easier to just do the work ourselves, or we are a bit perfectionistic. Maybe we don’t believe in “child labor,” or we feel childhood should be free of care and full of play. Yes, children should play. They learn about the world around them through play. Play is great. But work is great too, and if we hope to launch our eighteen-year-old into the adult world, we need to start young.
If one-year-old Johnny can strew a bucket of Duplos across the whole room, then he can learn to put those blocks back into the bucket. If he is leaving a path of destruction in his wake, and Mommy is cleaning up without his participation, then she has become his servant. He wouldn’t be able to verbalize it, but he knows it. And he will continue to expect service until the expectations of him change. It takes time and training, but if they start young, children learn that work is part of life, that they need to eventually take care of themselves. Their earliest memories must include work. Over the course of childhood, they play less and work more.
So let’s combine our example of diligence with the expectation that our children will be diligent as well. No delay, no negotiation—just do your work. That’s just the way it is. We are family. We love and serve each other, we work together, and we enjoy the benefits together. Everyone who is able-bodied contributes to the welfare of the family. Work bonds us together, and we are blessed.
Teaching our children the Christian work ethic requires planning and perseverance. As husband and wife, discuss your expectations. Prayerfully decide on a reasonable amount of work to require from each child, according to age and ability. Include rewards and discipline. Come to an agreement, so that you present a united front and your children don’t see one parent as more lenient than the other.
Implement the plan when the children are young. Explain the work and its rationale when they are old enough to understand. If your children are older and you realize that you need to change course, call a family meeting, apologize for not requiring them to work enough, and present a plan that gradually increases the workload. Display an attitude of optimism and resolve. It will be more challenging to carry out, but it’s not too late.
Work with your children and model each task. This communicates, “I’m not above doing menial labor.” Give clear instructions to prevent frustration for everyone. Convey an attitude that you expect respect, obedience, and effort. But be ready for resistance. If they quibble, calmly say, “This is what you need to do.” If they continue to resist or whine, they need to experience consequences. Simply assign more work, take away privileges, or say something like “When you are finished, you can have lunch.” Whatever your decision is, stick with it. The sooner your children realize that you mean what you say, the sooner they will obey. If you give in now, they will press you again. Don’t allow them to wriggle out of work with circular arguments or dishonesty. If you want to extinguish arguing and whining, you must make sure that the consequences of resisting work are more painful than the work itself. Be strong.