Developing Family Teamwork
- 2008 28 Feb
“Mom, can I please clean up the kitchen for you? I want you to sit down and let us do all the work.” Does that sound like something from a fairy tale? Believe it or not, that was a quote, word for word, from my five-year-old daughter. In fact, it is something I hear from her often. Someone recently overheard her and said, “You need to write a book and tell people how you get your kids to do that!” Well, maybe not a book, but I thought it might be helpful to jot down what we have found to be effective ways to incorporate a spirit of teamwork among the members of our family.
First, however, the disclaimer. We are a normal family, with normal children who often exhibit selfish, sinful behaviors. We do not have perfect children, or anything close to it. However, we do constantly strive to produce in our family the spirit of teamwork, unity, and togetherness. The family is the basic cell of a society, and we believe that if unity is not cemented there, the results are an entire nation of self-seeking, self-absorbed, frightening individuals (sound familiar?). The very essence of a healthy family, and thus a healthy society, is a group of people who ultimately look toward the needs of others to see how they can be of use in serving someone else. That is what makes people healthy, strong, and happy. And that is one of our goals in the training of our children.
This article assumes that the children in your home are basically obedient and honoring to their parents. If the foundations are not laid, the builder cannot build! But having established this basic principle, we can now move on to the nuts and bolts of training your children to be helpful!
The father must set forth the vision and then begin to implement it into the family. However, since it is typically the mother who is at home more hours of the day with the children, much of the tactile training falls on her. Her attitude, words, and determination are essential to the proper training of her children. The first thing Mom needs to grasp is this vision of family teamwork. After all, “Where there is no vision, the people perish” (Prov. 29:18). You must imagine what can and should be among the children in your home. Contrary to what the culture tries to convince us of, children are not supposed to be lazy, self-absorbed, or constantly entertained. We must gain a biblical perspective on what should be expected of our children.
We all know (even though it can be hard for us to practice) that a child given no responsibility, left to indulge himself all hours of the day, is an unhappy child, not to mention a useless citizen. There is a balance to living, especially in the life of a child. Of course there should be time to play, to romp, to discover, to pursue enjoyments; but those things must be balanced with a sense of service to the family, which will later transfer to a sense of service to all their community. Children need to acquire the mentality that each one looks after the other; that it is good to share the load of responsibility; that we are all dependent on each other. This is a biblical doctrine that is contradictory to the humanistic thinking of our culture. The first step is that father and mother must both fully understand and embrace this vision of family teamwork.
Besides embracing the vision of “teamship” among the family members, your attitude is crucial to the atmosphere of the home, which permeates the attitudes of your children and their willingness to work cheerfully. If we moms do our tasks grudgingly, we cannot expect one bit more from our children. At the heart of this willingness to work is gratitude. Gratitude for everything. If I am tempted to grumble about all the dishes that need to be washed, instead I say (out loud so my children can hear), “I am so thankful for all these dirty dishes.” Then I ask my children, “Do you know why I’m thankful?” And by now, one of them always says, “Because it means we had plenty to eat!” Perspective is everything. There are always things to be thankful for. If you are in the habit of grumbling, STOP! Of course we all fall victim to the “mully-grubs” from time to time, but try not to let that sour attitude hang around for very long. Begin to verbalize thankfulness, and soon your heart will feel it. There are few things more wonderful to pass on to our children than the gift of thankfulness. It is a life-changing attitude!
I often point out to my children, after hearing some tragic news story or event, how blessed we are. Even when we go through hard times ourselves, there is still so much that we can thank the Lord for. It really does make a huge impact on the temperament of the home. Make the words of Paul your mott “I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content” (Phil. 4:11).
The Power of Words
The words that we speak to our children will largely impact the kind of children they will become and the character they will develop. The Bible tells us that “Death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Prov. 18:21). Words are a very powerful tool in shaping our children. As parents, we can either use our words to build our children up or to tear them down. We can help move them down the right road or push them down the wrong road.
Let me give you an example of a typical comment you may hear in our home. First, I stop what I’m doing, kneel down so I can look directly into the child’s eyes, and say something like, “I just saw you pick up the toys that you got out. Do you know what a blessing that is to me? When you help like that, your little sisters and brothers see you, and then they want to help, too. What you just did was so responsible and diligent. I am so proud of the way you are a part of this team.” Now, some may think that I’m going a little overboard. But overboard about what? About instilling the importance of diligence? Children love the genuine praise of their parents. You can see them beam as you praise them. (Of course, we should make sure most of our praise focuses on character and not on outward appearance, achievement, or some trait they cannot control.) This is a very important step in encouraging helpfulness. I attribute these “praise moments” as the most influential part of training my children to be helpful.
What about a child who struggles with being a “team member”? These children need extra amounts of praise, and sometimes discipline for their lack of cooperation. I try to look especially hard for small steps in the right direction and then just make a really big deal about it. You will be amazed at the difference it makes!
Another thing that works well, as you praise their efforts, is to point them out to the other children and later to their dad. Sometimes I stop and say, “Everybody come look at ______. She is doing such a great job washing dishes!” And then I may turn to the child and say, “I am so glad God gave you to us—you are a gift!”
A point to be made about the power of words is that you can completely change a person’s habits by speaking about him the way you wish he was. Not lying, mind you, but taking every tiny opportunity to speak in a positive direction. Sometimes, if a child is struggling with completing tasks in a timely manner, I will just say one day, “Wow, you are so fast! You really got that job done in a timely manner!” This instantly sparks the desire in that child to be more efficient in the future.
It’s all about expressing through various ways that your children are valuable, that they are an important part of your family, that they are significant. Everyone wants to feel like his existence is meaningful, and it is our job as parents to communicate that. The tendency is to wait until they are older to communicate such things, but that is a mistake. We must begin at a very early age expressing our deepest appreciation and love to them. I think, tragically, this is one of the missing elements of modern families. Because each member is involved in his or her own pursuits, there is little time for the members to feel like they belong together, working toward a common goal. They all have different friends, different schedules, different interests—is it any wonder so many families are struggling with rebellious, angry children?
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!
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.
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 http://www.generationcedar.com/main/.
This article was originally published in the Jan/Feb ’08 issue of Home School Enrichment Magazine. For more information, visit http://HomeSchoolEnrichment.com