Most things that happen in family life can create a context to teach our children something – never more so than family chore time, the time we take to look after our belongings.
Of course when we get our kids to do chores they are learning life skills to look after their possessions – and to care for other people as well (because at some time they will be able to use these very same skills to help another person.) But as our kids learn these practical life skills there is another layer to their learning – and that is, they are learning to make character based choices as well as the practical life skill.
When my kids were young they helped with the routine, everyday type housework. They emptied the food scraps, the paper bins, looked after the dog, did the dishes, started the laundry, wiped the bathroom bench and toilets, folded the washing etc as well as looked after their own personal spaces like their bedroom and study desk.
Probably the central character choice for doing chores is initially obedience and responsibility. But if these are the only character traits we talk about when doing chores we are not only limiting our instruction, but to be honest, our kids get tired of hearing it and they shut off and don’t hear any of our reminders (regardless of how gentle and important they are!)
Here’s a list of character based choices that our kids can make, and how they relate to doing the chores around the house. Parents can use this list in their instruction, their expectations and in their praise.
Chore and Character Reference List:
Obedience – deals with the willingness to follow instructions, willingness to do it.
Diligence – deals with the ability to stick to the task
Thoroughness – deals with seeing the details but also being aware of the big picture goals
Enthusiasm – deals with the attitude, and working with energy
Orderliness – deals with training that everything has its place
Truthfulness – deals with them telling the truth when they report back to you (is it really finished?)
Initiative – deals with going the extra mile, and seeing what needs to be done without being asked
Responsibility – deals with looking after their own possessions, and respecting the possessions of others. It is also about working with the tasks that they have been given.
Dependability – deals with their consistency in doing the right thing so others can depend on them (especially mum or dad in this situation)
Character doesn’t get developed in our life, or in our kids’ lives simply by instruction, or by taking a lesson. That is only the instruction stage. Character is developed in our life by constantly making that character based choice.
- By constantly choosing to obey parents, a child becomes obedient.
- By constantly choosing orderliness, a child becomes orderly.
- By constantly choosing to do the right thing, a child becomes diligent.
So yes, we need to tell our children what character is, what it looks like, but we also need to give them opportunity to live it out – and as we do so, they start to constantly make that choice and we’ll see character grow in them, and become a part of who they are.
Character is not head-knowledge – it is a life of making wise choices based on your moral values.
Three Tips for Using Character Words when Teaching Chores
Here are my top tips for using Character words when teaching chores.
1-Decide which character trait you are going to focus on for a month. (Use the list above for targeting a particular aspect you see lacking in your family at the moment – just choose one!
2-Have a family discussion
- Teach what this character value means and why it is important.
- Discuss what this looks like in action, and in particular what it looks like while doing chores.
- Remind them the family that every day we have to make choices on how we will respond – will we respond with character?
3-Discuss the benefits of making character choices (relate to your chosen virtue specifically) and also the consequences of not choosing that character trait (this is where you think about vice – lack of moral character and what happens when that is how people act.)
4-Be consistent with Chore time – when you set a specific time for chores to be done by everyone, you are more present and aware of the choices your children are making – and therefore can encourage, correct or praise.
We must Teach more than Tell
It is all too easy to simply tell our children what to do instead of teaching them what to do, how to do it, and why it is important. This is a heart focused process. Remember: Teach don’t Tell.
Telling them is so much quicker – we say it and then we expect them to do it, for ever and ever. Lesson over. But learning something doesn’t work that way (as we know in our own life). Our children need to be taught; that means we need to break it down, explain it, show it. Then they need time to practice it – practice making the right choice, practicing doing the right thing. With practice comes making mistakes – we have to be patient and gracious during this training time.
Read more about the 4 Stages of Training to be an Effective Parent
Don’t Rush it: One Trait a Month
One of the questions that people often ask me when we are talking about intentionally teaching character traits to our kids is – how much time do we spend on each trait.
I used to like focusing on one specific trait per month and to find as many different applications throughout the week that I could. This would give us time to get it from our head to our heart to our hands. We need to teach what a character trait means (head), why it is important (heart) and how it is lived out (hands).
Living a life of character is a choice – and we need to give our children every opportunity to make those choices.
Following Instructions: Following instructions is an important life skill for kids to learn; but so much depends on us and how we give instructions.
How to Teach Character to your Kids: By being both proactive and directive you can intentionally teach your children how to respond to life and people in ways that reflect their moral values (aka – character)
Remember these 4 Training Stages to be an Effective Parent: These 4 training stages helps us to teach our children rather than just tell them. Without these 4 stages we are likely to frustrate our children.
Does your Child lack Initiative – you can do something about it! Initiative takes a child beyond obedience and helps them be truly responsible; but it often depends on how a parent encourages responsibility.
Over to you:
Do you have any tips for teaching character during chore time?