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Motivate Your Child to Help With Work

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by Mary Reed Newland, How to Raise Good Catholic Children

It would be nice if the “work is play” stage lasted longer than it does. Children soon discover, however, that the wary in this world shy away from work, and now begins the real struggle.

Little girls who loved trying to make their beds, to run the vacuum or wash the dishes, discover that these are the last things they want to do. Then we can help them by emphasizing that work is prayer. This is the highest motive for work, and the best way to use it; and while it’s quite likely that we’ll have to remind them daily, it will help considerably, especially if we also remind them to pray for the grace to do their work well.

Even so, we must not neglect to fuel this not-so-roaring fire for work with common courtesy and much gratitude. It’s easy for harassed parents (I should know) to take refuge in complaints during these times. “I can’t do it all myself. You helped get it messy; now you help clean it up.” And if we’re convincing enough, or maybe just big enough and loud enough, we can get them to do what we want. But it will be reluctant help, probably accompanied by the private observation that Mother is, indeed, a stinker, and it will hardly make reverent prayer.

Such simple things make a difference! If the emphasis is moved from “You do it,” to “I will be so grateful if you will,” it’s much easier; and noone can resist the glow that comes with being thanked.

Sometimes we get the idea that thanks are not necessary when children have done something they were supposed to do. If we always thank them, and add to our thanks a reminder that God is praised by work well done, little by little (but it adds up) they learn to associate work with praise and prayer. Then one day it isn’t so necessary to them to be thanked.

So many times people contribute their services or their work and ask nothing in return except human appreciation, only to find that even that is not forthcoming. But if we have a right purpose in our work, knowing it can praise, be prayer, be the will of God for us at a particular moment, we can learn not to fret for lack of appreciation.

Show your child how his work can help Christ carry the Cross

This whole work affair would be much easier if children were naturally tidy. But they aren’t. Life is too full, they’re too busy tasting new experiences, to bother being tidy. They enjoy tidiness, but not the making of it; so it’s a lesson learned only through constant repetition.

It’s good to point out the effect of tidiness on the whole family. For a while, the carefree life is delicious. Away with work — today we’re free! But when things reach a state where nothing can be found in its right place and there isn’t a chair left to sit on, tempers begin to fly, and peace is out the window. Then it’s time to get things in order before we fly at each other’s throats.

Children are not so easily disturbed by untidiness as are adults, but they respond to it by becoming sloppier, more careless, and eventually more quarrelsome. They can learn that disorder is not only unattractive, but sours the family disposition, and that the spirit does respond when things are put in order.

“I don’t believe it,” one of the boys said when I told him that cleaning up the chaos in his room would make him feel better. Later he came down and said, “Gee, you were right.” Another time he helped to tidy a sick child’s room “because she’ll feel better if her room is tidy.”

These little lessons in order as a symbol of peace and well-being will help them in maturity when they must recognize really grave ills in terms of spiritual disorder. But, of course, the whole idea can be abused when tidiness becomes an end in itself.

Mothers of many children are rarely, if ever, able to achieve a very lasting order in their houses while their children are young. Would that their neighbors were not quite so critical of the confusion that must be in a house where a mother knows that love comes first, and then order.

Without the love, order is a tyrant that’s quite as able to destroy the family disposition as the loving struggle to achieve order can warm it.

Even when adults understand that work is prayer, obedience to duty is beautiful, and all of it service to God, we’re still loath to do the things we like the least. These are the moments and hours of work that bear a resemblance to the Cross.

There are other crosses, like suffering, betrayal, death, loneliness; but with work, it’s the fatigue, the pain, and even in tasks we love (such as caring for the sick, or for babies) there are moments of revulsion.

Putting off such tasks can destroy one’s whole peace of mind and ruin the beauty of an entire day. Done, the whole spirit sings.

Children can be made to perform the tasks that are most hateful to them as a matter of obedience, but we can help them make strides in obedience (without even mentioning it) if we show them how to use such work as a cross.

Simon of Cyrene, carrying Christ’s Cross with Him, is a great challenge to children and helps them to see how doing what is distasteful can really be carrying a cross. Especially during Lent and Advent, these lessons in work and the Cross can be put to good use.

“It feels so good,” John has said after finally getting out in the wind and cold to water the goats. “Now doing everything else is like nothing.” Nothing but the Cross will justify watering the goats to John.

Our teaching about the really difficult jobs will bear only as much weight as our own example, however, and my reminder about using the hateful work as a cross, doing it first instead of last, is so much prattle if the children see all the time that I am postponing a smelly washing.

So honesty with our own weaknesses will help us be patient and understanding if we wish to correct the same weaknesses in our children.

What all this seems to imply, and smugly, too, is that once on the track of work-is-prayer, children will hold the vision forever. Ha! I only wish that were true. The day comes when they say they don’t feel that work is prayer at all.

It doesn’t mean that all the teaching has gone with the wind. It isn’t really lost, but as they approach adolescence, these and many of the other lessons of early childhood are apt to be crowded out of the forefront of their minds by all the things that are new and different. What’s important is that we’ve put it there.

At this point, we have to work carefully and without seeming to press them to discover where these ideas have been filed. We have to reapply them constantly, usually in a far more mature manner than we’ve dreamed, and we have to be careful to transform parental pressure (even when it’s done nicely, it’s still pressure) into more of a mutual-assistance pact.

If children continue to lag and mope and groan, or try to duck out from under, it’s time for them to learn through more exacting, but prudent, discipline.

“Boys need that self-assured belief that they can do anything to grow into men of action and achievement—but they’ll never build that confidence if Mom and Dad never give them real responsibility. We have to give important jobs to our kids, and then we have to trust them and not worry about them messing up. It would certainly be easier for us to just do the hard stuff ourselves and let our boys play, but our goal isn’t to do what’s easy. It’s to raise men.” – Chasity Akiki

A housekeeping schedule to give you some ideas and to tweak to suit your needs….(not to stress you out!)

Penal Rosaries! Penal rosaries and crucifixes have a wonderful story behind them. They were used during the times when religious objects were forbidden and it was illegal to be Catholic. Being caught with a rosary could mean imprisonment or worse. A penal rosary is a single decade with the crucifix on one end and, oftentimes, a ring on the other. When praying the penal rosary you would start with the ring on your thumb and the beads and crucifix of the rosary in your sleeve, as you moved on to the next decade you moved the ring to your next finger and so on and so forth. This allowed people to pray the rosary without the fear of being detected. Available here.

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