In teaching children to become diligent workers, there is much training involved. However, there comes a point in the teaching of each new task where a job becomes that child’s job. The child has been taught, and he is ready to take the diligence to the next level—responsibility.
Throughout the chore-training process, there are times in which intense training is needed to ensure that the child knows how to do the tasks that are going to be assigned. This involves a lot of working with Mom or Dad. Their modeling, instruction, patience, and encouragement will go a long way in teaching the child to complete the task fully.
So when is time to let the child go solo? How much time is too much working together? What jobs are good for the child alone, and what jobs are best done together with parents and/or older siblings?
These are tough questions, but I will leave you with these thoughts on the matter:
a. Any job that is above the child’s small or large motor skills should never be assigned as an independent job. It might look cute that an eight-year-old can trim the hedges, but it is unwise. Never give a child a job that is above his skill level, decision-making level, wisdom level, or physical capabilities.
b. A job that is too dangerous or too difficult can still be done with the parent. This is how all internships and job training later in life will take place. The parent trims the hedges, and the child gathers the droppings and bags them. During this process, the child watches the parent work safely with dangerous equipment. He watches the parent make decisions about how far to pull the cord on an electric trimmer or how deeply to cut the branches. All of these insights will help the child in the future.
c. Do all training in increments. Never assume that simply showing the child how to load the dishwasher as full as possible without over-loading makes the skill learned. Let the child watch you on the job as you explain it. Then work together on it.
d. Continue working together on jobs that are discouraging to the child. Kids can get overwhelmed with too large of messes. Stacks of dishes can be disheartening for a little dish doer. Five fold up loads instead of the normal two in one day might just seem like more of the same to us—but to a child, the mountain can feel insurmountable. These are instances in which jumping in teaches the child many additional skills—prioritizing large work loads, organization, thoroughness, and more. It also encourages the child not to give up—and that you have his back.
e. Daily jobs are good jobs to teach and then give to kids. They are repetitive. The opportunities to get better and better at them are plenty. They are predictable. The child starts to know just how long certain jobs take. They become second nature to the child. Dishes, daily laundry, trash, picking up, wiping down bathrooms, sweeping, and other daily tasks can be put into the daily chore schedule and completed without much effort when the work is divided among family members, and each child is fully equipped to complete their jobs.
f. Be sure to always work together on new tasks. This includes seasonal things and other jobs that the child might not have opportunity to do often enough to get really good at them. Gardening, yard work, spring cleaning, freezer cooking, monthly cleaning and organizing tasks are all good “work together” jobs. We did these on what we called our “big work days.” Everybody knew what that meant (and at the end of the day, we did fun family activities together!).
g. Never give a child jobs with harmful chemicals (or again, dangerous tools). Use a spray bottle with dish soap and water to teach young children to spray and wipe down surfaces. Start a child’s potato and apple peeling instruction with children’s safety knives. Another nice thing about starting with daily work for kids’ assignments is that they often just involve regular things that are less dangerous—dish soap, laundry soap, broom, spray bottle and cleaning rags, toilet brush (often no cleaner is needed for daily toilet maintenance), etc.
Balance the jobs you do together and the ones that are assigned. Always be teaching and training. And work together as a family to help build family unity. Chores are the foundation for diligence, resourcefulness, responsibility, thoroughness, and more later in life! Balance of independent work vs. working with you.