My father was famous for seizing every opportunity to put his kids to work. Mending fences. Sweeping porches. Painting barns. Picking tomatoes. Whatever was handy, that’s what he had us do. And any griping, moaning, grumbling, glaring, sighing or any combination thereof would only make for more work. What’s amazing now is that my brothers and I today still talk and laugh about the great memories Dad created in our “projects” together, and how we want to make sure we raise our kids the same way.
So I don’t have any problem with putting my kids to work — and since kids are amazingly quick studies — it hasn’t taken mine long to realize: don’t gripe and it’ll end sooner! But truth is, once I get them out on the job, I want them to have fun. Interestingly, the happier they are, the better they work (and it’s a LOT more fun for me). So when I called my men off the trampoline (whining) to pull up the winter garden, I came armed with bait: a Hershey’s chocolate bar as the prize for the “big competition” later. (No, at that point, I had no idea what the competition would be — but it would be some kind of throwing or speed-picking or something that would make being in the garden fun.)
And it was fun.
Fun aside, think of the benefits of giving your kids jobs: research has repeatedly proven that kids who do have a set of chores have
- higher self-esteem
- are more responsible
- are better able to deal with frustration
- understand the concept of delayed gratification
- have a more consistent rate of success in school
On top of that, research by Marty Rossman shows that involving children in household tasks at an early age can have a positive impact later in life. In fact, says Rossman, “the best predictor of young adults’ success in their mid-20’s was that they participated in household tasks when they were three or four.”
Oh my… I’ve started late!
The interesting thing about making your kids do chores is that it gives them a chance to see themselves as important contributors to the family — and this is YOUR job: give them plenty of praise (even if it’s not done the way you’d do it!). Now they’re feeling more of a connection with the family and, in our case, with the farm itself. Their little hands in the dirt is something I want them to remember their whole lives.
Holding kids accountable for their chores also increases a sense of themselves — it actually makes them more responsible. Although research has proven this, it was not until I became a parent (aka taskmaster on occasion) that I actually saw the proof. But believe me, the toughest part is being the taskmaster…especially when they’re so darned cute.
There’s one other benefit that there’s not much research on…and that’s the sheer joy one feels when one pegs a brother squarely in the back with a rotten tomato…or squirts a hose directly at an unsuspecting sibling on a cold day…or concocts a plan with a brother (while painting a fence) to create a booby trap for another sibling. These little moments are what we call forever-memories. They’re important, because they’re about bonding.
The garden is pulled. The fences are trimmed and cleaned. Here’s the crazy thing: we had a ball. The competition ended up being a multi-faceted “Olympics”. I let the kids decide what we’d do: we had a cabbage throwing contest, followed by who could push the wheelbarrow to the wagon fastest (mom timed it on her watch), followed by a seeing who could hop on one leg the length of the garden…
And yes, the winner decided to share the chocolate bar.