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Posted by Dr. Monica Wonnacott | March 7, 2016

Teaching Your Kids To Work

I was recently asked to teach a class to a group of women about teaching our children the value of work. In the class, I briefly held up my kids’ “chore chart” to illustrate a point I was making. I never could have imagined that I would get so many requests for a copy of the chart. It seems that everyone is struggling with the same problem we have at the Wonnacott household: “How do I teach my kid to work?”

In today’s society of excess and plenty, how do we instill a sense of value and work ethic in our kids? My husband often jokes that we need to live on a farm. Don’t tell him, (because I’m not interested in milking cows), but he’s right. Multiple studies show that children who grow up on a farm have the best work ethic. They learn to work out of necessity. So if you are on a farm, pat yourself on the back, stop reading, and consider yourself a success. As for the rest of us, what do we do?

I learned to work from a young age. My mother created the most elaborate chore chart in the world (a rotating weekly list that recycled every month). The list was so long and so involved that I thought I was the most put-upon child in America. I was quite certain that the only reason my mom had me was so I could do ALL the work (as a mother, don’t you find that hilarious). Good job, mom! At 10-years old, I had a paper route (I know, that dates me). I had to deliver 365 days a year, rain or shine. I learned commitment, interpersonal skills, money management (I had to collect the monthly payments), and how to throw a paper around a corner to a porch. But, today’s day-and-age is different than then. I would no sooner allow one of my beautiful daughters to knock on a stranger’s door and go into their house to collect money as fly to the moon. It’s too risky. So what to do?

  1. Chores. Like my mother, I created an elaborate chore chart (why stray from something that works?) At our house, we have set jobs Monday-Friday that look equal to each child on first glance, but are really modified for age/ability (e.g., the 8 year-old unloads the dishwasher, except for the silverware which the 4 year-old does daily). Our list includes things like making beds, wiping bathroom counters, clearing the dinner table, vacuuming the floor, folding and putting away laundry, cleaning the toy room, etc. Weekend jobs I hand write depending on our unique needs that week. To motivate, my children aren’t allowed their media time until all of their homework and chores are done. So, if you haven’t started, get your children doing some set chores.
  2. Work together. There are copious studies that support that the real teaching happens when parents work with their children. Giving your children a huge list and then leaving teaches them nothing. Working all the time on your own, also teaches them nothing. Do it together whenever possible. For example, at our house, laundry happens twice weekly. I turn on music and sit in the hall with my kids and fold laundry together. I am folding parent and baby laundry, while the older kids are folding their own clothes.
  3. Money jobs. Employing children is tricky. (My husband died of laughter at the previous sentence and suggested I clarify employing older children. Turns out we can’t make our toddlers get jobs). While outside employment can teach a lot of important skills and help teach children to earn money for things they want, it can also pose risks. Late hours, compromising situations, and poor influences can be some of the hazards. Before your child gets a job, know the details to ensure it is a safe situation. While my kids are too young for outside employment, they have a “money list.” It is a list of extra jobs that they can do at any time to earn money (most jobs are worth $1). Then whenever, they want anything at the store, the answer to “Can I have it?” is “Yes, with your own money.”
  4. Don’t be afraid to say “no.” It’s natural to want more for your kids than you had. But, just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Don’t be afraid to make your child earn the latest “cool thing” that they want. The old adage that they’ll appreciate it more if they have to pay for it themselves is true.

I don’t have teenagers quite yet, so I can’t comment with too much personal experience how teaching them is going. But don’t be surprised if in the near future, I buy a farm.