How to Begin Training Good Workers (spoiler: Don’t say “Go clean your room”)

An adorable little freeloader enters your world. First, he creates mounds of laundry and dirty diapers. Not long after, dirty dishes begin to multiply. Then suddenly, the entire kitchen floor becomes sticky and grimy in 1.9 seconds of your back being turned. Books and knick knacks litter the floor, because your little freeloader has also become a little ten-month-old tornado.tornado1

tornado2Bath toys line the bottom of the tub. Wet clothes and towels need to be taken from the bathroom floor to the laundry hamper, but not left there for long because the laundry will get moldy in a matter of hours. You go on a mission to gather up clutter, and before long you have filled every available laundry basket with STUFF. Oh well, at least it’s gathered up and you’re not tripping on it. (The only thing is, now you have to do some laundry and can’t find an empty basket.) Your work load increases day by day and seems to double about every six months, especially when additional little freeloaders keep coming along!

At some point in the fog of your motherhood, probably when the child is about three years old, it dawns on you that he really needs to begin to exert some positive energy in the household. Hmmmm…. a chore list?  Set the table? Pick up toys? Incentives? Where to begin at getting this child to become less of a tornado and more of a helper?

Finally, when the child is four or five, the state of the household exasperates you to the point where you say, “Just go clean your room!” The child goes to the room. The child either 1.) stays in the room for 25 minutes, and when you check in, nothing has improved, in fact it is actually worse, or 2.) Stays in room for two minutes, comes out and says “I’m done!” in a triumphant voice that gives you a brief moment of hope, until you go take a look. You threaten, you bemoan. You send the child back. You create a checklist complete with pictorial representations of what needs to be done. Maybe you wait a few months, and then try again, but alas, nothing seems to have changed.

So. We obviously don’t want a freeloader who hangs around until he is on the verge of adulthood (or after). They need to learn to contribute! They need to feel needed. They need to have a valuable sense of self-esteem by completing various chores and then stepping back to see a job well done. They need to help save the sanity of their tired and overworked mother. But how do we get there from here?booksHere is one secret I have learned, and the good news is, you can start doing this when the child is even two years old. I have tried many different chore methods over my years of motherhood, but nothing begins to work as well as this simple approach. Here is the secret– Work alongside your child. Work step by step with them. They need moment-by-moment guidance. They need constant encouragement. They need to know that if they don’t stay on task, mom will promptly notice and take corrective measures.making bedTeaching them to stay on task is one of the biggest hurdles in training your freeloaders into workers. Staying on task is a skill that must be honed over the course of many years. Once finally instilled, it translates into what is known today as a “good work ethic.”

“We are going to clean this room.” Begin there, and then possibly set a timer for an appropriate amount of time relative to the child’s age.

“Nobody is allowed to get distracted until this timer goes off. If you don’t know what to do next, ask me. If I give you a job, go and do it, and then come back and ask for your next thing. If you keep working faithfully until this timer goes off, you can have a piece of gum.”

While you begin to change the bedsheets, you say, “I want you to get ten things out from under this bed.” Your eagle eye is on the child as you continue changing sheets, knowing that of course they will get distracted by finding their long lost beloved toy under the bed. You are there to urge them onward and forward. Upon completion of the under-the-bed task, you then say, “Go empty the trash can and bring it right back.” You begin to sort clothes and say, “Bring me eight empty hangers out of the closet.” You then say, “Take these dirty sheets to the laundry room, and bring the vacuum on your way back.” Next you say, “Take everything out of this dresser drawer.” While folding the clothes to put back in the drawer, you say, “Put this stack of books on the shelf, neatly.” You get the picture!under bed


Guess what is happening during these work sessions? You are training a “miniature you.” A child who will (eventually) get to the point of doing (almost) what you would do! Don’t get too excited… it takes years. Many years. But it does happen. Guess what else you are doing? You are training your child to enjoy work. You sing songs. You whistle. You say, “Don’t you love it when your bed has fresh clean sheets?” Or, “Wow! Daddy is going to be so impressed when he gets home and sees your beautiful clean room!” Or, “I love the clean smell of this dusting spray.” (Dusting spray is a win every time for the young child’s cleaning efforts. However, it must be closely controlled. Spraying is so fun and addictive.)

dustingThis system will only work if you are engaged. If you even think about picking up your phone during this work session, the whole operation will be de-railed. Resist the temptation.

This scenario plays out well in any room of the house, for any task that needs to be completed. Very little by very little, you are training them to work without you. Keep up this approach with various tasks day after day, year after year.  Along the way, getting the job done becomes more intuitive for the child, and less of a fuzzy goal that they have no idea how to begin to accomplish. As your helpers grow (in skill and in number), you end up with a small army under your direction. Your management skills grow along with the children’s abilities, and your perseverance begins to pay off! Each child grows in physical capabilities and in mental discipline under your loving, watchful, eagle eye. (Even with teenage workers, when we need to get the max amount accomplished, we ALL work together.)

We can’t micro-manage every chore activity that our children do every day. There is a place for assigning age-appropriate chores and expecting the child to be self-directed, for sure. But a parent (usually mom) working alongside the child is the way for him to begin to learn how to work, and how to work well.sweeping.editWhen my first few children were small, I began to realize that every Tuesday morning, we had piles to deal with. Something about a busy Sunday of ministry, followed by our “day off” on Monday, left piles everywhere. Piles of dishes, church clothes, shoes, pajamas, Sunday School papers, crafts, trash… Sound unpleasant? It was. Finally I realized that the piles would only be taken care of one item at a time, by me, assisted by my little helpers in training. Truth be told, Tuesdays are still the same today, except the piles disappear much more quickly than they used to. The payoff from years of investment. 🙂

You know I’m not talking about keeping a spotless house with young children under foot, right? Perfectionist tendencies zap the life right out of our mothering. I’m merely talking about a decent house, most some of the time.

Work alongside your children! And enjoy. Your faithful efforts and your eagle eye will be rewarded many times over in days to come. ♥ 

{I must give a shoutout to my photographer! Without her, this blog would NOT be possible! She’s awesome.}


3 thoughts on “How to Begin Training Good Workers (spoiler: Don’t say “Go clean your room”)

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