"Don’t Send a 5 Year-Old to do a 12 Year-Old’s Job"

Yesterday we spent the evening working on garden chores as a family. My twelve year-old was tilling the rows while the other five children got busy with their various sized shovels and filled the garden cart with manure. Once the cart was full, we pulled it down the rows and spread it out evenly so that my 12 year-old could go by again and till it in. Our neighbor’s 14 year-old son made some attempt at helping for about fifteen minutes before he high-tailed it home.

During those first fifteen minutes, I commented about something that I wanted my four year-old to do differently. I’m not even sure now what it was, but I didn’t consider it a big deal–just a slight correction while at the same time I encouraged him about what a great job he was doing. (He’s a hard worker with a child-sized shovel and, oddly enough, prefers standing in a pile of manure in bare feet over boots.) My neighbor’s response to my comment made me smile. Assuming that I was upset about the quality of work, he said,  

“Don’t send a 5 year-old to do a 12 year-old’s job.”

 While I concede that in one sense he has a good point (for there are some things that a younger child certainly shouldn’t attempt in comparison to an older sibling or an adult), I also had to respond with my perspective. I said, “If you let a 5 year-old work with a 12 year-old, and do as much as he is able, he might surprise you! He gains confidence to do a job that might have been considered beyond his ability. He learns how much he can contribute to the family and to the successful completion of a task. And, he’ll probably be able to do the job of a 12 year-old very well by the time he is 8 or 9.”

I don’t believe in challenging our children in a way that will frustrate them; however, I do believe in encouraging them to help alongside of older siblings or adults so that they gain valuable skills and develop a desire to serve others. I’ve seen that as we do this, our younger children are ready to take on more advanced tasks much earlier than their older siblings were. Right now, my four year-old does dishes and really wants to mop the floors, though I limit his work to smaller areas like the bathroom. (He’s still not really good with the pre-mop sweeping.)

How do introduce your younger children to household work, and what’s your general feeling about letting them “have at it” even if they’re guaranteed not to do a perfect job?

3 thoughts on “"Don’t Send a 5 Year-Old to do a 12 Year-Old’s Job"

  1. I raised five children and now live with and babysit my two youngest grandchildren, so I have had some experience with teaching children. I have always believed that one of the primary causes for the prevalence of depression and delinquency in our culture is that children are too often kept like pets, with no responsibilities and consequently little feeling of value or self esteem.

    My own children often chafed at the family responsibilities I assigned them, but as adults all have thanked me for the self-control and work ethic they learned as children. When my daughter started her own business she told me, "Whenever I am tempted to cut corners, I hear your voice saying: 'A job is not done until it is done correctly!' so I give it a little more effort."

  2. Haha, well Cindy, you know me well enough that I began twitching when I read this. 🙂 I AM doing much better at this though. I do let my "littles" wipe the table and sweep the floor. I correct some, and then just put on my shoes so I don't have to feel the missed spots underfoot. 🙂 Seriously though, it means so much to them that they are allowed to try and that I do NOT go back and fix it myself right away (no matter how badly I want to). I correct it little by little each time they attempt the task again.

    Still learning patience in all of it. 🙂

  3. @ Diana, I agree with you that many children today unfortunately do not feel "useful" in a meaningful way. Thanks for sharing your experience. (I like the quote!)

    @ Lisa, LOL, we are way too much alike! It has taken me many years to lower my standards as far as children's quality of work is concerned. 😉 Likewise, it was a process to learn how to correct a job done without being discouraging…and I still either work with a child to ensure quality OR I go back later and finish it up myself.

    It does pay off, though… My house got "kid-cleaned" in about two hours for fellowship on Sunday and this 8-1/2-month-pregnant-mama did almost nothing. Granted, I was hoping nobody looked too close but…it got done! 🙂

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