Continued from Part 6……(Click here to begin at Part 1)

Sixth, we must introduce responsibility.

Far too often, I have seen parents try to spite each other through the children. For example, fathers may think bodily noises are funny and encourage the behavior, while a mother is trying to teach proper etiquette and discourage it. One parent may feel a child should be well-rounded in chores, while another feels boys should have one type and girls another. So, the first step here is for parents to have a serious discussion and come to a mutual agreement regarding childhood behaviors and responsibilities. Without this step, children will wind up confused, and could easily lose respect for one or both parents as they mature. Even more frustrating for a parent is when a child learns that the parents are on different “pages,” and, as a result, they will “play” the parents against one another. It is crucial that parents agree on what is brought before the children BEFORE it is brought before them. This is important not only for well-being and development of the child, but also to maintain the relationship between the parents.

Once you have come to an agreement, it is time to assign responsibilities to the children. While there is no right or wrong way to do this, the Bible makes it very clear that children are then capable of handling responsibility. We cannot expect to allow our “children to be children” now, and have them just awaken one day when they turn 21 and expect them to become responsible adults. Responsibility, like anything else, must be taught. The best time to teach is during the impressionable years of childhood—the younger, the better. II Kings 22 tells the story of Josiah, who became king at the young age of 8 years old. While he was thrown into kingship, he had been prepared for it well before then. Samuel and Psalms are filled with stories of David, a shepherd boy who tended his father’s sheep for years before becoming king. David’s father, Jesse, did not just put David with a bunch of sheep one day and say, “OK, take care of ‘em!” There was bound to have been a training process. Jesus himself was teaching in the synagogue as a 12 year old. So, where do you begin?

After coming to an agreement with S regarding what we expected of our children, I began to research chores that could be assigned to the ages and maturity levels of my children. If you have already encouraged obedience in your home, then you have a head start. Obedience teaches self-discipline and self-control, which will encourage responsible children. If not, encouraging obedience must be your first step, though you can utilize chores to help with obedience training.

For toddlers, you can’t have a “sit-down and explain” session like you can with older children. We simply begin encouraging them as necessary to do little things. As he learns to obey, you can then ask his assistance in holding doors open, closing cabinets, feeding a baby, taking things out of the dishwasher, picking up toys, etc. My toddlers even loved to “help” with the laundry (they would usually just take a garment, roll it in their hands a few times, and throw it on top of a nice, neat pile!). This can be a very difficult time of training, and I must admit, it is an area in which I struggle. Teaching toddlers through the preschool years can take a great deal of patience and overlooking inperfections. I am a perfectionist when I clean, so it has really been a struggle for me. It is so much easier to put the children out of the kitchen or just do the laundry alone and ensure it is done the way I like it, than to deal with finding dirty dishes in my cabinet when a child puts away the wrong thing, or having wrinkled clothes that weren’t properly folded. I must look at my childrens’ future to get through each session, and continually remind myself that NOW is the time to teach them to enjoy helping. I have found my children LOVE to help most at the toddler age. They love being like mommy, and pleasing us. What a great opportunity to encourage that attitude! If I never let them help now, it will only make the lessons that come later more difficult.

For older children (preschool through teen years) there is a wonderful system I use called Managers of Their Chores with ChorePacks to help implement the chores. This system, when used correctly, helps prevent the parent from nagging, constantly hovering over the child, and simply involves periodic inspection to ensure chores are being done properly (based on age). Thanks to this system, my 3 year old gets up in the morning, goes potty, gets dressed, puts her clothes in the hamper/drawer, picks up toys, makes her bed, straightens her shelves, and even brushes her teeth—all before coming to breakfast, which is the first time I see her in the morning. Granted, none of it is done to perfection, and in fact, it looks like a 3 year old did it all alone! The point, however, is that my daughter is always so proud to have completed her chorepack all by herself. She is learning to take pride in her work, learning that doing her best is always important, and learning that she is an active member of our family, with jobs like everyone else. My 4 year old has similar chores in the morning, in addition to stripping his bed on laundry day. Later in the day, he takes out trash, vacuums my kitchen, and cleans the table off. Again, the point is not how perfectly everything is done, or even what chores are assigned, rather, we are trying to give our children an understanding of the joy that can be found in having responsibility. We also want our children to understand that it takes teamwork and compromise to make a home run smoothly.

When you keep the proper perspective in mind, it helps you overlook the imperfections left when younger children do chores. It also becomes easier to see rewards when you look at the big picture. For example, I may not have a perfectly tidy home, but because my children have chores they perform throughout the day, guests could stop by at almost any time, and I wouldn’t be humiliated by the way my house looks. The kitchen might be messy, but overall, the house is presentable. As parents of 4 children under 5, keeping this “big picture” in mind helps a great deal! So pray, research, discuss with your spouse, and develop some responsibilities and behaviors you desire to implement.