Consequences and Rewards

Another element of encouraging each member of the family to share in the  workload is the basic “cause and effect” method. When children are occasionally rewarded for their diligent help, the behavior is reinforced. Likewise, when undesired behavior is punished, the behavior is avoided.

Let me give you an example of this method: Little Johnny’s job is to take the trash out every morning without being told. This morning, it is approaching 11:00 a.m. and the trash is spilling over on the floor. Little Johnny doesn’t notice this, because, well, he is little Johnny. Now you have choices. You could do the job yourself in desperation and not even mention it to him. But all that will do is guarantee more work for you in the future because you have just trained him that it pays to procrastinate. 

The second choice you have is to nag and fuss. This one probably comes most naturally for us moms who believe that enough nagging will solve any problem. Wrong. For a little boy, nagging has detrimental consequences that get worse as he gets older. No, you need a straightforward, no-fuss approach. One option might be that you call Johnny to the trash can. Point out that his lack of diligence has created a mess in the kitchen. Calmly and firmly explain that as soon as he does his trash chore, he will go outside and weed the driveway (or whatever other undesirable chore you can think of!). Actually, this is when I like to think of one of those chores I’ve been putting off (don’t tell the kids!), like straightening the Tupperware cabinet, and utilize the opportunity to get it done!  The result is that Johnny has just learned that procrastinating on a given job buys him more jobs. Tomorrow he will think twice. Now, will the one incident solve his problem forever? Doubtful! But be consistent. Remember, you are training. Training is a slow, continual process in which progress is not always readily or easily seen.

By the same token, when little Johnny happens to get up one morning and take out the trash without being reminded, pick yourself up off the floor and reward that boy!

Examples

I try to use a lot of real-life examples in my training. I look for other children, particularly those my children admire, and I point out the character qualities in them that I think are worthy of notice. However, we need to be very careful here. If worded the wrong way, it can sound like you are comparing your child to another unfavorably. A good way to encourage through another child’s traits might be something like this: “You know, I was watching _____ today, and I saw him being so helpful to his sister. He opened the door for her and helped her when she fell down. And while I was watching him, he reminded me so much of you, the way you are so helpful. Thank you for that!”  We can create role models in the lives of our children. This is perfectly okay if we are careful and tactful. It is helpful for our children to see admirable, godly traits in others.

Communicating Responsibility 

It is important that you begin, very early on, to communicate to your children their responsibility in the family. Remember, at first they don’t know what is required of them.  It will help if they have older siblings to watch, but as soon as they are old enough to pick up a toy, they are old enough to begin to understand the concept of putting things back.  Don’t get discouraged at this stage—many reminders are in order. When they are very young, under two or so, most of the training will involve putting things away with them and talking about it while you do it. “When we get things out, we put them back. Look, let’s put your toys back in the toy box. Do you want to help me?”

The greatest temptation with young children is just to do the task yourself. Try to resist that urge. Instead, say, “Susie, come here please. Are these your shoes?  Is that where your shoes belong? When you get something out, you are to put it back where it goes, not create work for someone else to do.” Eventually, with enough persistence, she will learn to put her own things away. Again, this is also another way to make her feel important. You are constantly communicating to her, “I can’t do this without you.” What a blessing for her to understand, at such a young age, your dependence on her!

Of course, some days run a lot smoother than others; that is to be expected. But let me encourage you to be diligent in the training of your children. It takes a little longer to train them properly, but in the long run, it saves immeasurable amounts of time and energy and will bring so much peace to your family. Don’t forget to daily approach your Heavenly Father for grace and strength in this immensely important task—He will sustain you by the strength of His hand! 

Kelly Crawford is a wife and homeschooling mother of seven children.  The Crawfords run a homemade skin product business. Besides being a freelance writer and songwriter, Kelly hosts a monthly “Keepers at Home” meeting to encourage other women in their high calling.  Their family Web site includes many helpful articles about getting out of debt, living on one income, homeschooling, and raising children.  You can visit them at www.heartsforfamily.com.

This article was originally published in the Jan/Feb ’08 issue of Home School Enrichment Magazine. For more information, visit http://HomeSchoolEnrichment.com