On Labor Day we stop to honor the working man/woman. We all recognize the importance of work and enthrone work on this special day of the year. But the paradox is that, while we celebrate the importance of work for ourselves and others, we may forget the importance of work for our children.
As a child matures he/she tries to figure out how they fit into the scheme of things. What is their function? What is their role? The child who is given work and responsibility will tend to see himself/herself as an important and productive member of the family and eventually as an important and productive member of society. This child sees the parent as a fellow team player and will feel an obligation to "do their part."
On the other hand, the child who is sheltered from work and "cared for" by his or her family tends to cast themselves in the role of a person who is helpless and/or needy. As time goes by, this child will feel that the family, society, and/or employer "owe them a living." This child sees the parent as a servant and, if the parent does not give them what they want, the parent is stingy, mean, or uncaring.
This analysis may be an oversimplification of the importance of work in a child's life, but it illustrates the point that parents need to be aware of the importance of work in the development of their child's view of the world and the role he/she plays. Here are some tips on how parents can assist children to learn to recognize the importance of work.
§ Although it will be difficult, let the young child dress themselves as early as possible. Even if it is just the final pull on the socks or the tightening of the shoe lace, help them learn to take care of themselves. A child who feels they can take care of themselves is free to think of others. Although we normally think of work as a way of making money for ourselves, work is really a way of making life better for everyone.
§ Give your child work that they can handle. Don't get caught in the trap of feeling that because they are awkward or don't do a task the way you would do it that it is "easier to do it yourself." When the toddler pours the juice over the top of the cup the first time they attempt this task it does not mean they cannot pour juice. It just means that this was the first try and they have a mess to help clean up before they try again.
§ This same principal applies to teenagers. I am aware of a father who helped his boys obtain some cattle to raise as a project and to make some money. Because they had never raised cattle before they did not raise them as effectively and efficiently as a neighbor thought they should. This neighbor eventually complained to the father. His complaint went something like this. "What's the matter with you? You need to intervene and fix the problems that your boys have created. You know what they are doing is not the best way to raise cattle." This wise father responded with, "I'm not raising cattle. I am raising boys."
§ Pay your children to work only if it is something you would hire someone else to do. In other words, household task like dishes, house cleaning, taking out the garbage, etc. are all tasks that are a necessary part of living in a family. Family members should not be paid for performing household tasks. (Unless it is my assignment and I am willing to use my allowance to pay another family member to do my task because I am pressed for time.)
§ A child needs to learn that all family members do what is necessary to sustain the family without reimbursement. When a child feels that the their work is done so all in the family can live a better life and because family members care and love each other, work is put in its proper perspective.
§ Do not forget that work is therapeutic. Completing a task assigned and looking back at the work accomplished, results in a good feeling. There is a sense of accomplishment and importance that is obtained in no other way. In the real world of adults, one of the most traumatic things that can happen to an individual is the loss of a job. Although not as obvious, one of the most serious things that can happen to a child is to be deprived of work.
§ Give work its proper place in your home. If a child is assigned the job of setting the table, call it work. Work is not a dirty word. Be willing to roll up your sleeves and work alongside your child. Do not belittle some kinds of work. Let your child know that cleaning the toilet is just as important as making cookies. Help your child see that no job or task is below you. In this way you will prepare your child to tackle whatever tasks are necessary as he/she faces the challenges of life.
Our nation became strong because our forefathers were willing to put their shoulders to the wheel and do whatever work was necessary to make dreams become realities. We will remain strong only as long as our children continue to hold to this same belief system.