Learn How To Motivate Your Children With Farm Chores
One question that I get often is, “How old does my child need to be to start chores?” I may be a minority, but I believe that we often underestimate our children. Not allowing your child to do chores, and thus learn responsibility, is detrimental to their growth. Chores do not have to equal drudgery. In fact, programs like 4-H teach the benefit of “chores” whenever your child does a livestock project. Chores are not a punishment, but instead a great way to teach responsibility, and ethics.
To learn more about how livestock benefits your children, read our article!
Although adults may not remember specific events from their younger, formative years, this is when you start building a child’s character, for better or worse. We have a tendency to believe that just because a child is young, they shouldn’t help. A movement has started to keep kids away from responsibility, and underestimate them, until it is far too late to form good habits.
Know abilities by age- Along with saying that it is important to start your kids out with “chores” at an early age, you have to make sure that their tasks are age specific. Putting a child into a situation that they cannot handle, either physically or mentally, will only lead to resentment and discouragement.
Obviously, you’re not going to be sending out your toddler to feed cows alone but always keep safety in mind. If a chore has a potential to be more dangerous, like working with large or potentially aggressive stock, then keep that chore for yourself. At our farm, my son did not start helping to feed the horses until he was a lot older, and had been riding and working with them for years. By now he not only knew safety around them, but how to gauge their body language as well. When we had dairy goats, he was NEVER allowed into the pen with the bucks. The safety of your children should always be your first concern!
During these younger years, it is quite possible that you will put more effort into helping your child complete their chore than you would have invested by just doing it yourself. Do not be tempted to just “take over” as this sends a couple of negative messages to your child. One, that they should give up if something is too hard, and two, that someone will always just come and do what they struggle with.
Although not specifically homestead related, my 19-month-old loves to “help” with the laundry. He will pull it out of the dryer for me and put it in the basket, and then “carry” it to my room to fold. As I fold, he takes the items and runs them to their appropriate room. Of course, I end up carrying most of the weight of the basket, and generally moving things to where they really go but that is not the point. The point is that I do not insult his efforts or discourage him with my words. As much as I may be trying to hurry through this task myself, I have to remember that this is a vital time to begin developing these habits. Never discourage a willing attitude!
Lead by Example
One of the key points to any aspect of raising your child is to lead them by example. It does not matter if it is your attitude during a tough time, or you out working on chores with them, kids need to have you as a positive role model. No one is motivated to work when they feel that they are doing it all alone. However, by modeling good, solid work ethics to your children, you can help instill this quality in them now.
Make it simple
Sometimes kids, especially younger children simply do just forget. Do not punish them for something that is an honest mistake. Many kids, even adults, benefit from lists or charts. Make a “chore chart” for your child. You can keep this in the barn, or the house.
Another aspect of making a chore simple is to think about how to make a job easier from a child’s perspective. If your child’s task is feeding the chickens, it may be beneficial to consider a feeder that can be filled from the outside vs. one that has to be retrieved, carried out, and then carried back in with the weight of feed. Not complicating tasks helps to ensure that a child will not become discouraged or burnt out.
If all else fails…
Let’s be honest here. All children go through at least some small time of rebellion. We have free will, and children will at some point need to try and exercise that. While that is a normal stage, they have to realize that they are not free from the consequences of rebellion. Of course, I am not advocating anything extreme, but there are ways to get the point across.
My son had a pair of show chickens that he loved. He did well with them at the shows, did project books on them and took great care of them. Despite this, at one point he just went through a phase of rebellion. He didn’t want to feed them, clean their coop, water them or anything. Of course, he still wanted them though because they won him attention and awards at the shows. After several warnings, and long talks, and us caring for his birds, the behavior kept up.
From there, we contacted another 4-H student and GAVE the birds away to him. We chose to give them away so that he would not be rewarded with money from any sale of them. Although I felt like an awful mother, and he was upset, it got the point across. He has had to wait, and show that he has grown in responsibility in other areas before he was allowed to get any other animals as well. Lesson learned, and we have moved on.
From this, it is also important to say that this is normal and not something that should be brought up time and time again! After a child has learned, and made a conscious effort to grow and not repeat a behavior, we need to drop it. You can’t move forward while looking back. Do not place unnecessary guilt on your children!
With that being said, make sure your kids understand fully the consequences of their actions-or lack thereof. During this, my son was old enough to understand the problems that would occur from not feeding an animal, or having them live in a coop that was not maintained. However, you cannot necessarily expect a younger child to fully grasp this. In these cases, you need to take time to explain these correlations to your children, and then make your consequences age appropriate. If your child cannot grasp this correlation, and you get rid of their animals, all they will see is that you were “mean” to them and that they lose what they work for. For these situations, when it comes to younger children, it may be best to treat this as a learning experience, and not a time to curb rebellion.
Keep It FUN!
Motivation is key- even as adults! Do not let your child get discouraged or down. For younger children, find a reward for their efforts. Rewards do not have to be monetary, often the best rewards are simply your time. My children love spending time with the animals, and us. If they do their chores, a reward may be to brush out their mule, or to spend time outside playing. Never let your children lose their love for being outside or the animals!