Teach your children well
I woke up to find this message taped to my coffee pot. My 17-year-old daughter prepared it for me the night before. I feel blessed. She knows how much I enjoy my quiet time (the hour before everyone else wakes up when I read my Bible and drink my coffee). So she prepares the coffee pot and sets the timer to brew a few minutes before I get up. Sometimes she writes me little notes too.
I asked my daughter later that day why she had written that note. I asked her why did she say that about responsibility. Her answer, “because if you hadn’t taught me to take responsibility, I’d be a brat!”
Once when I shared about consequences my children have for things like bad grades or disobedience a reader commented, “I don’t want to raise an obedient child I want to raise a critical thinker“…I remember hearing things like this myself while in college. Critical thinking is defined as “self-directed, self-disciplined, self-monitored, and self-corrective thinking.” Notice anything? SELF. Romans 8:8 tells us that people who are self-centered are not able to serve or please God.
As a Christian, I certainly want to please God. Also, I don’t think I can even please my children if I am solely focused on self. Can I raise my kids capable of making judgment calls without first teaching them obedience? Without a standard of right and wrong, without the balance and measure of consequences to actions, how does one think critically? How does one decide to be or not be responsible?
Children are given to parents by God to guide and teach and train. There is a reason God gave children to parents instead of having them spontaneously appear from nothing. That reason is so that the parents can teach the children well. Jesus Himself, the perfect model of faithful human thinking, engaged in constant critical thinking, judgment, obedient to the will of the Father.
That is to say before one can learn to be self-disciplined, self-monitored or self-correcting, one must LEARN what TO and what NOT TO do. If I never taught my children to obey me when I say, “don’t stand in the middle of the road” then they may not have made it to their 3rd birthday! I do not want my children to blindly obey anyone, but before they can use judgment, they must learn right from wrong.
I have always preferred a home with an open floor plan… you know, the kind where the kitchen is open to the rest of the house? The homes I have enjoyed most have been the ones that encouraged family togetherness. For me, cooking and cleaning in the kitchen is a huge part of my day and I don’t want to be partitioned off from the rest of my family while I am in there.
That is why I have always started my children learning to cook early. There are some jobs suitable for even a child who must stand on a step stool. I make sure that these tasks are age appropriate, but the goal is togetherness. Also, I want my children to be comfortable with the kitchen and the job of feeding themselves.
The basics of kitchen time are simply becoming acquainted with common kitchen items such as measuring spoons and cups, wooden spoons, spatulas, and other equipment as they are age ready to use them. Learning where things go and what they do.
As they “help” me they become familiar with our family recipes and family favorites. They learn to make simple foods such as kid-friendly sandwiches like PB&J. As they become more confident, they learn to make macaroni, tacos, brownies, bread, oatmeal and eggs and the gradually master the skill needed to feed themselves. Helpful, so they won’t have to rely on ramen or take out when they are on their own.
My favorite way to spend time in the kitchen is when we are all in there together. Lots of laughter… lots of chatting… and a job for everyone. The youngest child can gather ingredients or stir batter, while other children (7-10) empty the dishwasher, stir pasta, measure ingredients for the rice cooker, set the table. Early teens can make brownies, cupcakes or stir fries while older teens are fully capable of patting out hamburgers, making meatloaf, baking bread and much more.
One way I like to encourage this time together is by keeping the conversation light. Kitchen time is not when you want to bring up bad grades, administer “lectures” or discuss misbehaviors. I’ve made that mistake before, and it turns things sour fast.
No, it’s best to have fun in the kitchen. So we just goof off and laugh a lot. If you have a snack to nosh on, like veggie sticks, fruit or nuts it will keep the kids sticking around longer. Sometimes I will turn on some music we can dance to or just listen to in the background.
When my children were toddlers, I tried to keep a little play kitchen set or wooden food toys in the real kitchen as opposed to the playroom so that my toddlers were nearby while I was cooking and cleaning. During times when I didn’t have space for a complete play kitchen, I simply added some food-toys to one of the bottom drawers away from the stove area and let my toddlers know that this was their special place to “cook” while Mommy was cooking.
By the way, I am an advocate for family dinners. You know, where everyone sits around the table to enjoy one another’s company as long as time allows. Our best conversations happen when we are all around the family dinner table together. This is a great time to feel the heartbeat of your family and find out who is stressed, who is struggling, who’s perfectly content! The goal at our house is to keep evenings free for dinner, but lately, that doesn’t always happen, so I try to make sure that we connect at breakfast when possible.
No two parents will have the same rules, and no two parents will require their children to complete the same tasks in the same way. Just ask most married couples; many times one parent tends to do things for the kids and one parent tends to require kids to learn to do tasks on their own. That is the case in our house.
When my children are little, I pick out, purchase and care for their clothing. So it just makes sense that as I am washing, I look over the clothing for signs of wear and tear. When nice items get too small, I add them to a box I keep in the laundry room for donations. When it is full, I take it to the local homeless shelter.
When children get older, they have more of a say in what they like to wear. For example, my almost-ten-year-old son likes to wear all black as he is a ninja… so when his “ninja-clothes” are not clean, and he asks me where they are, I am starting to say, “I saw them in the dirty laundry. Would you like me to show you how to wash them?” This is using his desire to dress like the ninja he is, to learn how to care for his belongings.
I have always required my children to be part of the team when it comes to making our house run smoothly. As soon as my children can reach the knobs on the washer or reach inside to pull out clothes and pop them in the dryer, they start taking over the responsibility of keeping their clothing clean. It isn’t always easy for me because it truly is faster and easier just to do it myself.
However, it is important I allow them this responsibility so that they can learn life skills. I start even earlier teaching them to fold wash cloths and then move up to kitchen towels and finally bath size towels. I have them assist me in moving items from the washer to the dryer, or carrying a basket of items to be folded.
I teach them to sort clothes by asking them to help me keep the dirty clothes sorted. I keep five baskets on a shelf in my laundry room labeled: whites, jeans, colors, delicates, and towels. I know some people wash everything together, tossing delicates in with towels and hope for the best… not me!
I try to make my clothing last as long as possible by washing my clothing separately. Jeans are rough and usually get much dirtier than my tank tops and more delicate clothing, so I don’t wash them together, and I don’t put most of my clothes in the dryer. My teenagers tend to throw everything in together for the most part, but at least they *know* how I have taught them and if they spend $40 on a silk shirt, they probably won’t throw it in the dryer.
They are taught the how-tos of laundry such as what temperature to wash clothing at and how much detergent to use to get the clothing clean without leaving a soap film on items. They are also aware that dry clean only clothing is not to go in the wash because it will be ruined. Of course, they make mistakes now and then, but they are learning and after a few red shirt in with white socks = pink clothing they get the idea…
Keeping a bathroom clean can be a monumental task. Especially if you have kiddos! It’s a chore that I truly dislike. I have learned little tips and tricks that have helped me not hate it quite so much.
I like to keep plants in my bathrooms to help clean the air. Also, if you tidy your bathroom as you go each day, you will always have a relatively clean bathroom. I teach my children early to clean as they go. This is one of the hardest lessons to teach children, and I admit my boys still struggle with this. I am blessed to have one bathroom in my home designated for boys only, but it hasn’t always been this way. Before we bought this house all eight of us shared one bathroom. Yes, I know with one bathroom we were still spoiled…
I try to remind myself that learning to clean behind ourselves is a process. I remind them of little things like replacing the lid on the toothpaste, rinsing out the sink, putting away hair brushes and hair holders. These small tasks all make the bathroom look cleaner. Placing hooks on the wall or back of the door will encourage children to hang up towels rather than throw them on the floor.
Using nontoxic cleaners will make it safer for your children to wipe the counters and smudges off the mirrors as they go along. Use some of the formulas from the book The Organically Clean Home to clean your bathrooms, and you will feel much better about letting your children clean up as they go.
The best way for me to relax is to keep my living spaces neat and tidy. I can’t rest if I am looking at a pile of clutter. Messes make me feel chaotic inside. I also prefer to keep my bedroom minimally furnished so that my mind is not racing when I am supposed to be resting.
Require that your children make their beds daily and you will give them the gift of having a room that looks cared for even if the rest of the room is not perfect. A made bed just gives the impression that the owner of that room cares. I don’t want to make it sound like this goes off without a hitch at my house. I do have to remind my kids daily to make their beds and sometimes, plenty of times; my teenagers go off to work or school without having made their bed.
I would like to add a side note that choosing between keeping the peace and keeping the bed made, it is better to choose the peace. While my children know why and how to maintain clean rooms, I have learned from previous experience that this is NOT the hill to die on.
Remember bedrooms are meant for sleeping. I prefer that my kids would choose not do their homework, etc. in their bedrooms. I would like them to save that space for sleeping. It doesn’t always work out that way due to limited space for interests such as art or Legos, but that is the way I prefer it. Sleep is one of the easiest things you can do to maintain your health, so I repeat, bedrooms are meant for sleeping.
In one of our previous homes, we had a huge playroom that had a sliding door. This is ideal because everyone could be in there playing and creating a fun mess, yet the door could be closed, and we could go rest in our bedrooms or even eat dinner without seeing a huge mess.
Using houseplants does a lot for cleaning the air. I also love the way plants make a home look cozy and clean. I do not use toxic air fresheners that plug into the walls, etc. but instead, opt for diffusing essential oils in my bedrooms and bathrooms. I also keep one diffuser near my front door.
We have cats so I’m always aware that they may make my home smell less than fresh. Children are capable of learning to clean up after pets. My children WANT pets. Therefore, they are expected to care for and clean up messes of the pets that they love.
The best way to teach children to care for pets is to demonstrate from the start how to feed them, groom them and clean up after them. We have taught the children how to clean the food and water bowls, litter boxes, cages and chicken pens of our animals as the pets have joined our family.
Yes, my children do grumble and complain about cleaning litter boxes, but they know it is a task that has to be done. My seven-year-old is fully capable of cleaning up behind our cats, as well as how to wash up afterwards. She also does this now without prompting because she wants me to adopt another cat from the shelter.
Can children learn to enjoy doing chores? I think so. I learned from my mistakes that when I do chores with a good attitude and let my children know that I enjoy them doing chores with me it has a much better result than when I get bent out of shape about being a servant to everyone. Colossians 3:23 “And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men.”
Know that if you are constantly working inside your home and your children are off playing without you that you are doing too much and they are doing too little. If you come home from work and do all the work while your children are glued to electronics then you are doing them a disservice. Teach the children cheerfully and let them work beside you on the task at hand; then they will be acquiring life skills that will benefit them immensely when they are on their own for the first time.
When it comes to chores we should not expect perfection in the beginning. Keep in mind that we are teaching our children. Whatever the task at hand is, you will be doing it again soon anyway as chores don’t typically “stay done” so try to resist the urge to “re-do” what your child has done.
With the exception of dishes, I try not to go behind my children and “correct” a task they have completed. With dishes, I usually say, “oops, you missed a spot” or “ewwww do you wanna eat off that?” and we laugh and they do it over. I still do the bulk of the chores and cooking, but I usually have a helper or two.