When expecting your child to do chores, the more you praise, the more they will be willing to work. We do this all the time when our kids are small. When my two year old carries something for me, it’s easy and natural to tell him “Thank you! You helped Mommy with your strong muscles!” And he beams with pride and looks for something else to do. But as our kids get older, it’s easy to get lax with our praise. After all, shouldn’t kids just do what they’re told? Do they need to be patted on the head after every little task?
Of course not. But once we’ve decided that our kids should share the burden of the housework, it’s easy to expect them to perform reliably and consistently and never give them any praise. This is not the way to endear them to the thought of working.
Everyone likes to be appreciated for their work.
It’s nice to be noticed even if you would have done the work anyway. I love it when someone thanks me for making a yummy dinner. I try to thank my husband for working hard to provide for us. Showing our appreciation to others turns what might be drudgery into service.
Kids shouldn’t feel like we take their help for granted.
If I am requiring lots of help from my kids but never thanking them for that help, my kids will feel used and unappreciated. They will think they are slaves to my whims and desires. They won’t be cheerful workers; they will be unpaid indentured servants. This isn’t a happy place to live.
Recognizing a child’s work motivates him to keep working in the future.
Aren’t you motivated to work more when someone notices what you’ve done? Most likely no one is going to thank you for scrubbing the toilets or making breakfast for the 100th time this year; but if they did, wouldn’t it brighten your day just a little bit? The same will hold true for our kids. When they know someone cares that they have worked and appreciates how hard they worked, they will be more willing to do so in the future.
Be more thankful by expressing thankfulness.
It’s a self-fulfilling action. When you express your appreciation to your child, it actually makes you more thankful yourself! Ann Voskamp has built an entire following based on growing in grace and love by being thankful. What a beautiful thing that is! You yourself will be blessed by being thankful to others!
The nice thing about modeling appreciation to your kids is that you may see them give it back to you. One of the most powerful way to teach something is to model it yourself and that’s just what you’re doing when you praise your kids. You may find them thanking you for doing something for them.
The right way and the wrong way to praise your kids.
So hopefully by now I’ve convinced you to thank your child for his work. But you should also know there is a right way and a wrong way to do it. Here are the guidelines I use for praising my kids.
1. Praise specific actions
Say things like:
“Thank you for cleaning up your room.”
“It’s so nice that you noticed the toys that needed to be put away.”
“It’s so helpful to me when you do your chores without complaining.”
Identify what they did, not just a general vague praise about their work ethic. Kids need to get the message that they are not defined by their work. (ideas taken loosely from How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk, a fantastic read, by the way)
2. In conjunction with #1, don’t say praise general character qualities.
You’re so tidy.
You’re so smart.
You’re always so helpful.
When you praise character qualities, your child may feel like he could loose your praise and love when he’s not this way. Or he may not feel smart or tidy and think you are lying to him just to please him. He can easily believe your praise if you recognize what he did; he may not believe you as easily if you just recognize something more vague.
Even if he does believe you, he may start to get a big head. “Mom thinks I’m so smart.” This is not the road to serving others!
3. Let your kids hear you bragging to others about them when they think you don’t know they are there. This gives such a boost to kids (and spouses!) When a kid overhears you telling someone else how diligent she is about taking out the trash or how hard she worked on folding laundry, she will beam with pride.
4. Sometimes a hug and a “thanks for helping” is all it takes.
Your kid feels noticed and appreciated and good about the work he did.
Shouldn’t our kids learn that work is its own reward?
Surely out in the work world, no one is praising people just for doing their jobs. Of course not. But even a well-paid employee enjoys a thank you for a job well done. Also, when we praise specific actions, our kids learn to associate service with a feeling of accomplishment. They can begin to internalize these feelings and generate them themselves. At this point, work will start to be its own reward.
Can you praise too much?
You don’t have to notice every. single. task. Praising often doesn’t mean you are constantly thanking your child. Just don’t be stingy with your appreciation.
What about an allowance?
I’ll talk about allowance in a future post. There’s so much more to say about that topic!
- Praise is a great motivator.
- Kids (and spouses) don’t like to be taken for granted.
- Praise specifics not general qualities.
- Expressing thankfulness will make you more thankful.
- You don’t have to praise everything.
Since we are asking big things from our kids, it just makes sense to express our gratitude. It’s what loving families do for each other. While I don’t want you to patronize your kids, I am encouraging you to understand the affect praise has on their attitudes and yours as well.
Should we praise our kids for doing their chores?
The answer I’ll give is an emphatic yes. Chores are a part of life and gratitude should be as well.
[This article is part of the How to Teach Your Kids to Do Chores series.]