Less Work and More Fun?

By David Engelsma

How important is it to teach children to work? As a parent, teacher and administrator I answer that question in one word: very. The surest way to make life hard for your children is to make it too easy for them. It is critical that fathers and mothers train their children to have healthy attitudes toward work.

Serious play, careless work

It seems that something has gone badly awry in many families today. We have gotten terribly serious about play and terribly casual about work. "We do not run that the earth may be more fertile. We till the earth or work in our factories and offices so that we can have time to play."’ Great sums of money are spent on developing crafts which nobody really needs and on forms of recreation which children have to be taught to like. Does it really make sense for young and not so young children to be so serious about organized sports, electronic entertainment, artificial exercise and yet leave them with little idea how to take work seriously? Is it assumed that if asked to rake a lawn they’ll do it halfheartedly? Will he sweep the garage in silent fury or will he rejoice in doing a thorough job of it? Will she scrub a sink until it shines and know herself to be a useful member of a house- hold? When young people have little idea how to even entertain themselves without a coach, expensive sports equipment or video rooms, aren’t children getting too much of the wrong attention and far too little of the right kind? Is anyone paying attention to how their children work? Do our children even know what it is to sweat and toil at real physical labor?

A counselor in a state rehabilitation center working with men who were classified as unemployable (not derelicts but nicely dressed and well-spoken) wrote after working with these men for six months,

"I found one common factor: none had learned to work while he was young. Each had a different reason; some of their families had been well-to-do, others were slightly handicapped and had never been required to work. Some grew up with no one around to care whether they worked or not. But a surprising number had good, kind mothers who wanted their home to be a cushioned retreat. Some mothers actually told them, ’You’ll have plenty of time to work when you’re older. I want you to have a happy childhood."

These mothers had little insight into what they were saying. A happy childhood where little is required? How is that possible? Children pampered in this manner are prone to be weak and spineless egotists, difficult to motivate and harder to please. And unfortunately, these attitudes accompany the children to school where they really get their "noses , bumped" where hard work is required and expected. Is it any wonder that teachers have such difficulty getting some students to do their homework? The classroom is not a very good place to begin teaching children, who have never really labored with their hands or their minds, how to work.

Living in suburbia as many of us do, it may well be difficult to avoid pampering our children surrounded as they are by all the conveniences of daily life which are available without the need to sacrifice free time or expend much energy. Yet unless we take pains to provide and involve our children in meaningful labor our very lifestyles will nurture an attitude of "less work and more fun."

Defining Work

Many of us seem to think that when children have sports practice and music lessons, that’s enough. But these are activities of a different nature that have little to do with sharing of basic responsibilities for work within a family. Family ties are strengthened when each family member feels that he or she is needed and appreciated. Teamwork needs to be developed, each member depending on the contributions and assistance of the others. A happy childhood is one where, along with leisure time, meaningful, physical work is performed as a result of assigned responsibilities. If a child is not given to understand that he has a responsibility to help make the wheels of the house run smoothly; if he is not given work that matters, why should he imagine that it matters very much whether he completes schoolwork or works willingly and cooperatively with teachers and fellow students? Such negative attitudes often develop when parents’ attention have been focused elsewhere on their own interests such as jobs, entertainment, golfing, jogging, pursuing a misguided notion of happiness which leaves out work all together. If the "quality time" a parent spends with his children is limited to entertainment rather than work, small wonder children assume nobody really likes work, Their choices in how to spend their time are taught at home by observation of parental activities and attitudes.

Rearing our children will require many sacrifices. In- stead of sacrificing so much for sports and wealth, which many do without a qualm, we may have to sacrifice sports, the pursuit of wealth, and amusements for our children. We will certainly have to sacrifice ourselves.

"Home work" instruction

Routine household chores such as making the beds, dusting, vacuuming, setting the table, emptying the trash should be part of every child’s responsibilities. Even very young children can learn to take care of their toys. It takes longer, of course, to get a child to do a job than to do the job yourself, especially if you have not given the child the opportunity to watch you do it many times before. Counselor Jean Lush states,

"Nobody requires a mother to be ‘supermom.’ But one hat all mothers should wear is that of supervisor. We shouldn’t expect to explain a job once, say ’do it’ and have the task done. Even the best children don’t work that way. When you’re with children, concentrate on hands-on instruction. Keep so close to your child that you can touch him. Children learn by conscious imitation and by unwitting imitation. Instead of saying, "go make your bed," do the task with the child. Get on one side of the bed and have your child on the other. Pull the sheet up and say, ’Look, I’ve got wrinkles on my side,’ and make a sweeping movement with the hand, pushing out the creases. The child follows with the same smoothing motion."

Give encouragement

Make a real attempt to make doing the chore fun. Don’t nag or often correct your child, especially in front of others. Work close by so that you can talk to your children, tell stories together and laugh together. Children enjoy hearing stories about your own childhood, especially the ones about the mischief you got into as a child and the correction you received. Learn how to lay encouragement on your children. Do not rob them of the attitude that they can do it. Encouragement is a tremendous motivator for young people. Encouragement also creates receptiveness for suggestions for improvement. Children also need to learn that there is a best way to do things.

Work isn’t always fun

Some tasks are tedious, grimy and cause discomfort. "This is where the need for consistency comes in. If one of the child’s daily chores is to empty all the trash cans, the parent needs to see that he gets it done. Of course, children think up clever excuses. My favorite is when the child dramatically puts his hands to his head and moans, ‘I don’t feel good, Mommy.’ She must remain nonchalant and firm. Some children will drag their feet until finally the mom says, ’Oh, forget it. I’ll do it myself. It’s sure quicker.’ The minute a mother says that, she’s lost the battle. Don’t let that happen. Teaching children to do chores is part of your basic duty, even if it means slowing down and working with the child. Believe me, the extra effort pays off.’"

We need to remember that the work habits learned early are the ones that stick throughout life. Require from your children the best they are capable of because the minute they get to school their teachers will. There’s not much allowance made for sloppiness. Bad habits are hard to break once they are acquired. And when Johnny grows up and takes his first job, quality control is going to be very important. You can be reasonably certain Johnny will start at the bottom of the work ladder. He likely will begin with "sweeping the floor" type tasks; jobs low in interest but high in demands for effort, concentration and self-discipline. It’s called "paying your dues." Climbing the ladder to the more challenging, rewarding tasks usually comes at the expense of much sweat and toil. As our children approach adulthood, it is important for them to understand this and also that the most precious achievements are those purchased with our greatest efforts.

The Lord has entrusted to us a most precious heritage in our children but also a great responsibility especially in the days in which we live. Nevertheless, if faithfully and earnestly sought, the grace of God will be found sufficient here as elsewhere. The Scriptures tell us that the curse pronounced upon Adam is not that work is the curse but rather the pain and hardship connected with labor because of the curse upon the ground. Thus, not withstanding the curse, there remain blessings resulting from work. Work and its appropriate reward are not abrogated. We must not forget that the fourth commandment contains both the commandment to work as well as to rest. A day of rest would have no meaning except as rest from labor.

Let us seek to nurture positive attitudes toward work in our children. Man, the Puritans said, has two main duties in this world: one is to serve God and the other is to work hard at a chosen calling in life whatever it may be. They took personally the majestic words of Scripture "Seest thou a man diligent in his business? he shall stand before kings" (Proverbs 22:29).