Filter by: Products Articles
Filter by:
Do you get our FREE Magazine?

Working Character into Your Children, Part 2

December 15, 2002

What does the Bible say about working? Working is godly for God works. The Bible starts off in the second chapter of Genesis telling us about God resting from his work.
When Adam was in his original, sinless state, God put him in a garden and told him to “dress it and to keep it” (Genesis 2:15) That means work is part of our original image, our human nature. God never intended for men to be idle. After Adam sinned, God told him, in the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread” (Genesis 3:19)

Paul told the believers in Thessalonica, “Study to be quiet, and to do your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you; That ye may walk honestly toward them that are without, and that ye may have lack of nothing” (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12)
In 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13 Paul is emphatic about the need for a man to work…if any would not work, neither should he eat. “For we hear that there are some which walk among you disorderly, working not at all…” If a man does not work, it is considered to be disorderly, out of the natural order, contrary to our human nature. To sit down at a table and eat that which was earned by another man’s labor, while exempting oneself from labor, is dishonest and disorderly.

Paul said to Timothy, “But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel” (1 Timothy 5:8).
Laziness produces lust (Proverbs 13:4; 21:25-26). The lazy man always finds a reason not to work. He becomes the master of excuses and blame. “The sluggard will not plow by reason of the cold; therefore shall he beg in harvest, and have nothing” (Proverbs 20:4).
There is something repulsive and disgusting about a lazy sluggard. Everything about him is a testimony to his lack of character. His vineyard is covered with thorns and his stone wall is broken down (Proverbs 24:30-34). He has “good” excuses, but when it comes time for harvest he will expect others to share their grapes with him. If they don’t share, he will accuse them of being selfish.

Children who grow up indulged and not given meaningful, responsible work will never have enough and will charge their parents with selfishness and accuse them of being mean.
“Why can’t I have shoes like the other children?”
“Why can’t I have a thing-a-ma-jig like my friends?”
“Why can’t I have a car?”
“Why don’t you send me to college?”
And eventually, “So what are you leaving me in your will?”

teaching responsibility

Why work?

Never lose sight of why it is so important to teach our children to work. There are several very sensible reasons that have to do with success and happiness, but more importantly, work provides the tension on which character is built and maintained. One’s work ethic is a barometer of his character, but work is also the context in which character is developed. It is the battleground on which responsibility and irresponsibility compete. The way a child is caused to respond to distasteful duty determines whether he will be a sinful sloth or a saintly servant.

Character is never developed in a vacuum. When children are too young to understand or participate in the struggle between good and evil, they are nonetheless in a contest between lazy flesh and disciplined flesh. This is not a mock battle. The soul of the child is being formed. It is the same soul that will eventually have to face moral options. When a child is disciplined to win the struggle against his lazy flesh, he is much better equipped to win the coming struggle against good and evil.

If parents allow their small children to grow up in a permissive environment, being served but not caused to serve, their flesh will grow dominant and their spirits will grow lazy and self-centered. When they are eventually faced with moral choices, they will already be hedonistic hippies in their world-view. They will not have developed a will to suffer loss of fleshly fulfillment for the sake of duty. Through those early years of slothfulness and immediate gratification, they will have developed a will to be gratified without pain or self-discipline. They will expect all good things to come to them freely at no personal cost and without disciplined action.

If you are going to raise godly, responsible, disciplined children, you must begin early, before they are one year old, teaching them the rudiments of work. There is no alternative.

“It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth” (Lamentations 3:27).

It is good for the man. As a parent you can give your grown son a precious gift, but it must be given when he is still a youth. He will be a better man for having shouldered responsibility when still young.

How old should my children be when I start training them to work?

William is just eleven months old and stumbles around on chubby bowed legs. He can’t keep his mouth shut and his chin dry, so how can be expected to work? How can he carry a load in his hands when he is usually carrying one in his diaper? When you give him a command he looks at you and laughs like you were a clown that just did something terribly funny. He eats, sleeps, wakes up at the wrong time, and expects to be the center of attention. He commands the services of his four willing sisters, (seven, three and two-year-old twins), and accepts their adoration as his due. In his little circle there is not responsibility or duty—just pleasure, the want of it or the absence of it.

In seventeen years, when William is eighteen-years-old, what will he have become? Hard working young man? Lazy jerk? Punk? Dope head? Missionary? Young and rich entrepreneur? Prisoner awaiting sentencing? Owner of property? Bum?

In our present society everything is designed to make William dependent and irresponsible. The conventional wisdom that bombards his parents through the media and social pressure comes from educators and psychologists who have never experienced a normal family and never raised happy, productive children.

But I am thankful to tell you that William is not overindulged, and he is being taught to work and perform his duty as part of the family. The other day William’s family came to visit. The kids all headed to the toy boxes, which we keep on hand for just such occasions. They gave the little tot the big case full of model cars—all makes and models.When it came time to leave, the seven-year-old sister told William to pick up the cars and put them back in their allotted slots in the box. Mother could have saved a lot of time by doing it herself, or Deb could have said, “Oh, it’s alright; I will clean up after you are gone.” But these two mothers, and the little sisters as well, were wiser than that. The three-year-old picked up a car and handed it to William, assisting him in placing it in the slot. She bragged on his accomplishment and, as one of the other sisters passed another car to her, she passed it to William and together they placed it in the slot. The children had formed a relay, picking up the toys and passing them down the line until William placed them in the slots. To him it was great fun. All eyes were on him. He was getting what he wants most—everybody’s attention. Just because it was fun doesn’t mean it was not training him to work. William was learning to respond to command. He was learning to clean up his own messes.

The beautiful thing about this was that the girls not only accepted the responsibility to clean up the mess, but they automatically assumed that William should be involved. It was obvious that they were relating to him as their mother and older siblings had related to them. These two- and three-year-olds, along with the seven-year-old had not only been taught to work, but by example they had been trained to be trainers of their younger brothers and sisters. There was no friction or threats, just peace and fellowship. Everybody was having fun.

strong in spirit

Daddy couldn’t believe we’d done it

The following letter is a beautiful example of a mother with the right spirit regarding working.

“We just moved to Canada and are about to experience our first Canadian winter. On Wednesday a truck dumped 2 cords of firewood into our driveway. My husband had been working long hours and mentioned that he was not looking forward to stacking all of that wood. I’d been taught by your previous articles how to involve the children in work and how to be a helpmeet to my husband, so I decided to get as much of that wood stacked as possible. I walked out with my 6-year-old daughter, my 4-year-old son and, their 18-month-old brother, and we surveyed the ‘mountain’ of wood in our driveway. In the spirit of fun I said, “Wow, look at that MOUNTAIN of wood! We’re gonna have great fires with that! I’m gonna pay you guys to help me stack it by the side of the house. For every ten pieces you stack, I’ll give you one piece of candy.”
I really didn’t know how much they could do. Most of their labor is putting away silverware, folding towels, and sweeping the floor. This was different. They rose to the challenge. It was really fun to see them excitedly running back and forth, making a race out of who could stack the most. I was surprised at the heavy logs they could lift. “You guys are SO strong. WOW, what great workers you are!” They’d count up to ten logs then we’d make a chalk mark on the driveway. “How many do I have now, Mommy?” The mountain slowly grew smaller. In the end, my daughter carried 240 logs, my son 120, and my toddler stacked the kindling. We made a safe place for him to watch us when it got to be too dangerous having him underfoot.
I got more than 2 cords of wood stacked. I learned some things about the character of my kids. My daughter is motivated by competition. My son tires easily and needs to work on perseverance (he petered out ½ way through, not from being tired, but from laziness) and my toddler needed more training to stay inside his roped-off area.
When my husband got home that night he said, “So, they didn’t deliver the wood?” We all giggled and said, “Go look at the side of the house.” He couldn’t believe we’d done it. It was so satisfying to see all that wood stacked. They got their payment in candy corn, but I almost think they had more fun stacking the wood. My heart leaps with joy every time I picture my kids carrying those big ol’ logs “Mom, look at me!” I wish we had more work like that to do together as a family. Makes me want to move to the wilderness.”

There is so much wisdom to be gleaned from the above letter. Can you see that her children were made better by the experience? The family was blessed. The way she responded to her four-year-old son who got “lazy” when the job was only half done helped make him tougher and improved his self-image. The pride they felt when Daddy came home must have left them all with a giddy high. The children were basking in the admiration and appreciation of their father and mother. That one experience of enduring beyond the body’s will to suffer the pain of work built character in the four-year-old boy.

If that experience had ended in anger and a job half done, if the boy had been allowed to drop out because he was “too little,” he would have been weakened emotionally and spiritually, but by enduring he developed a confidence that he can go beyond the point when duty becomes boring and painful. It is impossible to imagine these children having a “bad” evening after that day’s work. They would have felt good all over.

This was also a maturing experience for the mother. The countenance that her success produced would have made her more attractive to her husband. As they said in the old west about women highly favored, “She’s a woman to ride the river with.” Which means, she can row her end of the boat. She will endure the rapids. She will be an asset to the trip. The husband would have been more attracted to his wife that evening, and she would have been more responsive to him, having felt her worth.

The father would have appreciated and respected his children more. He would be more patient with them as a result of that day. The sense of favor and fellowship would have been increased all around. The family was knit together through it all.

The tiles of homeschooling

My four and six-year-old love to help me clean our kitchen floors. Although this game works as well on linoleum, our kitchen floor is made of large ceramic tiles. I divide the kitchen floor into two sections. With a dry erase pen on the four year old’s section I draw numbers and letters in random order on the tiles. He has to clean each large square perfectly, thus erasing the letter or number on his square–but he has to do it in chronological order. His older sister has various words to read as she cleans each square, thus decoding a secret message (often a mini love letter) I have written to her. Sometimes we even make it a race. It’s lots of fun and sure beats nagging the kids!
Valeri Marsh
Payson, AZ

The previous letter is the way life should be lived. She said, “it sure beats nagging.” Nagging is always counterproductive. It eats away at the soul of the family like moist rot.

Can you see that this mother is enjoying her children? It would no doubt be easier for her to clean the floor herself. Imagine mother crawling around on the floor, writing on every tile, leaving coded messages. This is a woman that needs to have fifteen kids.

Consider what must be the world-view of this mother. What is the most important thing to her in the course of a day? Keeping her house clean? Absolutely not. She lives for her children. She is a builder of souls. She has a full time job, and she is determined to succeed above all else. She is a mother. That is the attitude you must have to train up your children in the way they should go.

Dear Michael and Debi Pearl,
Everything you said in the article, “Working Character Into Your Children” was TRUE! When we had children, I was committed to raising them God’s way. So I taught them to work. Mostly I was letting them help me as I was learning how to keep house, cook, etc. I never had any original ideas for what I did with them, I just read as much as I could and implemented it wherever I could. Mostly I asked God for wisdom., as it says to do in James. And so we worked together!
By the time our oldest son was nine, he could vacuum the entire house, shovel all the walks perfectly clean, take care of the dog, the cat, the hamsters, his little sisters and brother, wash dishes as well as me, wash the kitchen floor better than me, and cook some mean pancakes.
There are a lot of lists out there of who should do what, and when. Downward delegation seems to be the key to keeping the littler ones learning to work so the older ones aren’t shouldering all the work. The youngest child capable of/in need of learning how to become capable – that is the one that needs to do the task. In other words, don’t send your 17-year-old to take out the trash when your 6- & 8-year-old boys are right there.
When our oldest was almost ten, we moved from western New York to Florida. My husband left the company he had worked for almost thirteen years, and wanted to work for himself. He loves to be outdoors and wanted to start a business mowing grass. He also desired to spend time with his parents who live there, and work with our family. We sold everything and went. He started from scratch, and built a good business in the twenty months we were there. Jack, our oldest, worked right alongside him. At just ten, he was mostly the water boy for Tom, but they were together. I missed him terribly; it was an adjustment for me having him gone from the house all day. But it was Tom’s turn to have time with him.
I focused on the three girls coming up next, and their training (besides the toddler and baby.
Jack learned each tool, as he got big enough for it. First came the backpack blower (it hung down past the back of his knees!), then the edger, and by the time he was twelve he could drive the commercial mower on a big open lot. He wasn’t much of a help yet, but they were together, and this was what my husband wanted to be doing with him.
When you start, whether as toddlers or a ten year old, it isn’t EASIER to teach someone smaller! It’s so much EASIER to do it yourself and send them off to play. But it’s only as we persevere in this task of training them that we’ll ever yield any fruit.
People look at Tom today – he has a very successful, small landscaping business back here in New York, and they see what he has and the fine young man he has working for him, and they thing somehow he “lucked out.” I am here to say it has nothing to do with luck. It says in the Scripture that “It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth.” Lamentations 3:27.
My son did not always want to go off to work. But, for that matter, neither did my husband! They did it because it is what men do.
As a mother, I didn’t like to see my little boy work so hard; it was so hot out! The day was so long! The tarps full of leaves so heavy his muscles would ache! But he didn’t complain. And I knew better than to try and change my husband. I prayed more, for both of them, I trusted Jack to God, by trusting my husband’s judgment. I used to feel privately sorry for Jack. I do not feel sorry for him any longer. I am so pleased with the young man he has become! I am so thankful for what he has been saved from! He has been too busy working with his Dad to get into trouble. His Dad has control over him – he respects his mother. He appreciates the lunch his sister Rachel packs for him (unless she forgets the spoon for his yogurt!), and the hearty breakfast Chelsea fills him with before he goes (she knows he likes pancakes best); and that Hannah takes care of his laundry, and tidies his room. He thanks Thomas for getting his bird out of his cage awhile when he’s gone, and Caleb for always thinking of him (Caleb asks the lady at the bank for an extra sucker so he has something to give Jack when he gets home.)
Michael Pearl, it’s a beautiful thing to behold! You should be here to see it: Tom and Jack walk in from work, hot, dirty, hungry – the first thing Jack wants to do is hold baby Olivia! (He washed up first.) To see this 6’4” seventeen-year-old with his eight-month-old sister blesses my heart so! Work and Time. They’re like the hammer and chisel in the hands of the craftsman.
My time is up! I must end here.

Candy, you bless me as well.

Take note of this mother’s attitude. Attitude is the key to everything. She is PROUD of her son. In the second paragraph she brags on all his abilities before nine and ends by saying that he could “cook a mean pancake.” Her spirit comes through her letter like early morning sun through the kitchen window. She was absorbed with leading her young son to excel in everything, and she was ready to brag and admire him for his abilities. She didn’t allow her feminine sensibilities to contradict her husband’s instincts to get his son out of the house and into the man’s world.

Can you see that a child raised in such light and discipline is going to have optimum confidence and security? He will never be a jerk or suffer from self-hate. Before he was nine, before Daddy ever took Jack to work, his mother had made a worker out of him. He was not a slave to the family. He was the man of the house at five or six. He found pleasure in doing his part at home. Her son was no different from any other. He was not born liking work. Work becomes acceptable, if not pleasant, when it is full of family fellowship.

An old-timer speaks out

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Pearl,
Your article on work is a needed message for this hour. Even among Christians, it is becoming an undesirable word. It grieves me to see teens “wasting” their could-be energy, loafing, pursuing pleasure or “easy” jobs.
Often at church, the men over 50 are the ones lugging chairs up and down stairs or doing jobs young people are very capable of. Not so our children! We won’t allow it.
Having been born before WWII, work was not an option – it was a way of life, and a good one, I might add. My parents were in the restaurant business – you helped in whatever way you could, from picking up containers left in the yard by thoughtless people to doing dishes or waiting on customers. We had to “pull together” to make a living.
I’m so glad I had such an upbringing. It kept me out of trouble and from getting a set of wrong values. I never felt “deprived” when I couldn’t go to all the games and activities the other kids did. I had a place in the family.
Today’s kids are missing out. Parents think they are protecting them and giving them what they never had (material things, really.) In reality, they are bringing up dysfunctional people. People without joy and confidence that a hard day’s work gives them.
After having children, it seemed only normal to teach them to take care of themselves and join in the family work. Hubby was a logger and we burned wood. We learned to have fun and work together. Girls as well as boys can pile and lug wood.
In household chores, there were little jobs also. As soon as they can “toddle,” they can “tote.” Little ones fetched a needed item with a “big boy” or “big girl” to help them feel appreciated. They helped put away clothes or socks. As they grew, so did their jobs, until at a young age (maybe 7) they knew more about housekeeping than the average new bride of today. Our girls could cook and keep house wisely when they married.
Oh, that we could reach the heart and mind of parents today to get hold of the value of WORK!

Well, CR has got my vote. I just wish I had invented that line “As soon as they can toddle they can tote.” I am going to use that again.

She is correct. The country as a whole has lost its perspective and thrown away its values since the Second World War. Television public schools, and industrialization have done more to destroy our values than anything else. Not because those things in themselves are evil, but they have been the vehicles by which the socialist left has been able to propagandize society. Television and public schools teach a view of human nature and society that is anti-Christian and anti-individual responsibility. Industrialization is the tool that took the fathers away from the home and left the young men exposed to the fruit of the leftists’ agenda. Children are growing up not needed and they are creating their own meaning in life. An unneeded child is an unvalued child, is a child who doesn’t value himself, is a child who doesn’t value others, is a child who has no values except pleasure. We could learn a lot by listening to the blue haired crowd.

Upside down blankets—right side up family

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Pearl,
I have a three-year-old girl and a one-year-old boy. My main observation is that my daughter loves doing what mama does. After the meal is over, she loves to wash off the table. So I give her a dishcloth and she washes the table, sometimes the chairs, cabinets, oven door, and whatever else she thinks needs cleaning. She also loves helping with laundry. I’m working on teaching her how to separate things into separate laundry piles. I hold up the clothes and she tells me whether it goes in the white pile or the darks, jeans, towels, etc. At first, this was tedious because I had to teach her and show her which pile everything went into. I usually just said, “See, this is a white shirt. It goes in this pile.” Now I say, “Which pile does this go in?” and she grabs it puts it in the appropriate pile. She also carries the laundry piles into the laundry room. And when it is time to put them on the clothesline, she hands me the clothespins.
Of course, three-year-olds can put away toys, but they can also make beds. My daughter can pull the blankets up to the top of the bed and smooth out the majority of the wrinkles. Sometimes the blankets are upside down, but that’s OK!
Despite all this, there are times that even when the mood is cheerful, she complains and doesn’t want to. Is this a training issue or a spanking issue?
In Christ,

No, No, No. It is not a spanking issue. You have done a great job so far. It blesses me to picture your daughter putting the blanket on upside down. No doubt it is the prettiest bed ever made. There will come a day, in about twenty years, when you would give anything to see that bed made with the upside down blanket.

It is to be expected that a child will complain about work from time to time. I complain when my wife gives me too much to do. We only progress by reaching our former limits and then pressing beyond. When a child reaches the point of boredom, work becomes mentally painful; the body wants to rest and the mind wants to be engaged in more stimulating and satisfying activities. If you allow the child to set the limits, she will never grow or develop. You must gently press children to go beyond their limits, to climb higher, run faster, work longer, do a better job, endure monotony, do their duty, persevere, and triumph over their lazy flesh. There will be times when they will balk. If you ever begin giving in to their complaints, you will lose control and they will set the bar as they please, and it will get lower and lower.

Be careful that your demands are reasonable and within the child’s physical and emotional capabilities. Keep a cheerful countenance, and they will accept your authority over their tendency to laziness.

Spanking is reserved for bad attitudes that won’t go away with rebuke.

You are doing a good job. Keep it up.

Tiny home

Dear Pearls,
I would love ideas for teaching the work ethic for children ages 6, 4, and 2. We live in a very tiny home…no yard to mow, no garden, very little to clean. To empty the trash, wash dishes, make a bed, or pick up toys hardly seems like teaching them a “hard work” ethic for their future. We are preparing for the mission field as well. Also, what is the balance of play, work, and study at this age? Letting them just play seems as though they aren’t “sticking to” a task. I know they are small. I don’t want lazy children. I wasn’t taught to work as a child. It is very hard for me. I do work diligently, but I have a complaining spirit. I don’t always enjoy what I should. I hope you can address this.

Yours is a most common situation. The best years for instilling a will to work in a child is before they are five, and it must be done before they are ten. Your small house and yard will not be a great hindrance until they get older. By the time boys get twelve or thirteen, they are going to need space and opportunity to work outside the home. You can prepare them mentally while living in a small apartment. Granted, you are not going to be able to impart any skills, but you can do well instilling the proper perspective. What you want to achieve is the sense of doing one’s duty, of being a servant, part of a team, pulling together and not shirking responsibility. Teach them to keep the small home neat and clean. You might want to clean it like a hospital or military barracks. The idea is to press the child beyond his lazy zone, to cause him to develop a will to suffer duty cheerfully. This attitude instilled in the young children will translate into hard workers when the opportunity does arise to go beyond the walls.

Now as to some ideas. You could volunteer to clean the church once a week. If they have professionals doing the cleaning, volunteer to do something special, like painting or cleaning the church kitchen. Volunteer to cut the grass for someone in need, like an old couple. Go to the homeless shelter and volunteer to clean or cook. Start some kind of home project that makes money. You can contract to put screws in packages. You get paid per package, and you do it at your convenience right in your home. No, I don’t know the address for the business. I have seen the advertisements in the back of magazines and heard of people doing it.

As to your own attitude. You said you have a “complaining spirit.” You are halfway to victory by admitting it. There is a tendency in all of us to complain and drop out of the work. Don’t chasten yourself for tendencies. Life is about balance—overcoming the flesh and walking after the Spirit. Don’t look for your tendencies to go away. Just expect to do what you ought to do regardless of how you feel about it. After all, that is exactly the point in training your children to work. You are training them to do their duty regardless of their tendencies to do otherwise. Maturity is not about feeling like doing your duty. It is doing it regardless. When you consistently do your duty, in time the flesh will surrender somewhat and it won’t be so much of a struggle each time.

As to a balance between work, play, and study:

The younger children are all play, even when you are involving them in work. As they get older (three or four) they can begin to actually do something that is of value, like picking up after themselves. By the time they are five or six, they can be washing dishes and sweeping floors, but they shouldn’t be made to endure more than a few minutes unless they are having fun. By the time they are eight, they should be able to handle most of the household chores, working two hours a day, in several thirty-minute installments. By the time they are 12 they should be able to do anything you do and work half the day if need be.

These ages and times I have suggested are not at all firm. Children differ and families differ. Children can stand more labor when they are truly needed and know they are making the difference. Poor children struggling with their parents to survive, or children raised on a farm can work longer and still feel good about it. Children from affluent families know that they are not needed, and they are more prone to resent work when they know it is arbitrary, simply to teach them something. Kings and princes expect to be served. Servants expect to serve. Wealth can be a curse when raising children.

Working together

My Mom waited on us hand and foot. She has a servant’s heart and unfortunately even let her children treat her like she was their slave. Delegating a task takes near superhuman effort for her.
Now that I am married and have four little children, I am at a loss in training them to work. I am especially baffled by your comment, ‘Children should be led to work with you.’ My focus thus far has been skill training, so they can take over household tasks on their own. Am I misguided in this?

Maybe I was not clear. I am not suggesting that all individual jobs should take four hands. I was merely emphasizing that parents should not lie on the couch while their children are made to work. There should be a fellowship in work, especially with preteens. You do want your children to learn to do everything that is necessary to maintain the house, but more importantly, you are engaged in soul development. It is fine for one child to be doing the dishes while another is doing the wash and you are cleaning the floors, but you are within sight and sound of each other. You can talk, sing, laugh, and have good fellowship. My wife and daughters worked together with the coordination and speed of a first responder emergency medical team. They could rush home from church and clean a dirty house and prepare dinner for large number of people while everybody else was just getting out of the parking lot. They each did their jobs and supported the other like acrobats. They were proud of their teamwork. Now that there is only one daughter left at home, they try to get me to join the team, but I stay in the parking lot until dinner is ready.


My five-year-old dilly-dallies with a capital D. Is it effective to set the timer and spank her if she does not complete the task in the allotted time? But it simply isn’t practical to use the timer every time.

Spanking is for attitude or rebellion. When your system is not working, don’t just get a hammer and beat on it. It may be that you don’t have all the parts, or that you put one in backward. Find out where you are failing and make changes before you blame it on the children. There may come a time when a child needs a switch to get him moving, but there are other ducks that need to be gotten in a row first.

First understand that your child dallies because work is unpleasant and so she is not enthusiastic about it. And it could be that you have given her reason to believe that your position is negotiable. Have you allowed her to get out of work by slowing her pace? Have you given her less work for hope of enticing her? Have you jumped in to help her finish or made the other children assist her?

There is another thing to consider. Have you taken the fellowship out of work? Have you organized the home and work so the very thought of work has acquired a mean, negative connotation?

How do you fix your problem?

There is a principle in child training which I have stated many times. Reward negative behavior by giving the child more of what she hopes to avoid. When a child disobeys or dilly-dallies it is an attempt to avoid the pain of work. So far, she hates work more than any consequences you have given. Since it is work that she is trying to avoid, make sure she always gets more work for not working. Have a reward at the end of work. It can be rest, a snack, going out to play, anything that is stimulating and fun. If she doesn’t get through in time, she misses out on the reward and has to continue her work until it is finished satisfactorily. And then add more work to her completed job as punishment for her tardiness. Cause her to know that the best way to avoid work is to work hard and fast. The key is consistency. If you enforce consequences nineteen times but allow her to avoid work one time, she will keep dilly-dallying until that one out of twenty times comes around again. You must be consistent. If you do use the rod, don’t interrupt her work. Don’t cause her to bend over. Don’t talk to her. Don’t threaten her. Just use the rod to herd her while she works. But try reorganizing first.

Sorry, I’m busy, mother

Can I burn out my children by having them do errands, little jobs, throughout the day, always interrupting them from being engrossed in play, which they don’t care to leave?

Your children need to have time of their own, just like you do. Try to schedule the work so there is a point when they are finished for a given period of time. But they should be flexible enough to be interrupted and do household chores without complaining. Just be sensitive to their humanity. Give them the same courtesy you would expect from your employer.
But remember that they are flesh, and their laziness will seek to control them and you. Kids are good psychologists and they will use it like the devil against authority and discipline. While being understanding, don’t allow them to manipulate you with their frustration. There is a balance to be found that only someone on the job can know, and sometimes it is not clear. Ask God for wisdom.


Dear Mike and Debi Pearl,
I have always known that my children were capable of work, but I never really made them do much until recently. When we started homeschooling, I realized that school and play could not be the only things we did all day, so we sat down and came up with ideas. We have tried all sorts of different experiments. First, we had a chore list with different jobs for each day of the week. That lasted about 2 weeks. Too confusing. Then I tried regular daily jobs with each child, the same thing every day. That was better, but it wasn’t quite what I was hoping for. Too boring. Finally, we hit upon the perfect arrangement for our family. The children get up, get dressed, brush their teeth, and make the bed before breakfast. Breakfast is served at 7:30 am. That means the milk goes in the cereal, the oatmeal in the bowl, the eggs on the plate, or what have you, at 7:30, whether you are sitting there or not. One soggy bowl of flakes or stone cold eggs is enough to ensure promptness from now on!
After breakfast, the fun begins. For about an hour or two each morning, I am the sergeant and they are my troops. I just start giving orders off the top of my head and they go running to whatever task I come up with. It’s really a lot of fun! They do get to do some new jobs and they perfect the old standbys like doing the dishes and cleaning bathrooms. I try to have a list of little ‘projects’ they can do – like organizing a shoe closet or emptying and tidying kitchen drawers – things that aren’t urgent but could stand doing. This makes sure I am never at a loss for something to assign. They never complain about work because we are having a good time. I usually fold clothes or do some other job that can keep me in a central location so everyone can find me at all times – working right alongside of them. When we are done with our work, I give them about half an hour of free time before we start school, and boy, do they enjoy it. Thanks for reminding me why we do this. My little characters are developing character and they don’t even know it!

I can’t add anything to that. If all mothers were like you, I could go back to farming for a living.

How do I start over?
Some people think it is not work unless it is miserable. Work is miserable only to kids who were indulged until they were five or six and then made to work. Most children live their first five years as freeloaders. Their parents organize the child’s world so that they are always served and exempted from responsibility. Suddenly at five-years-old the rules change. “Pick up your dirty clothes.” “Sweep the floor.” “Carry the garbage out.” “Oh, do I have to?” “Why don’t you make Suzie do it?” They look so miserable that Mother suffers guilt and decides it is easier to do it herself. She is sure that they are not old enough to work. “It is so hard on the little fellows; wait until they are ten; then they will be able to work.” Yeah, but not willing. You have been duped, Mother. You have lost the psychological war. You are raising a sluggard. When he or she is fourteen and lies on the couch pouty and discontent with a poor self-image, remember, I warned you.

No technique
There is no technique that will be effective to achieve the things we have described unless the parent has the right attitude. You must believe that learning responsibility and work is as important as learning to walk, talk, and read. It must be a constant part of you expectations. If your child were two years old and not walking, you would be constantly concerned. If he were five and not talking, you would be seeing specialists and regularly prompting him. You must feel the same way about their learning responsibility and discipline. You should so believe in it that you would be alarmed to the point of continual concern if you have a child who fails to develop responsibility in a timely manner.

As the trainer, you must be having fun 95% of the time if the children are going to respond properly. They will accept temporary crises where you must become the dictator and rule with a rod, but you must grow beyond this as a way of life if you are to be effective.
I am not sure I can effectively convey this concept. It is something I feel in myself and see in others. Your children must be your “pride and joy.” You should be consumed with a desire to impart useful skills and discipline, and then beam with every inch of their development.

When they learn a new word or a new skill, you should be delighted. Likewise when they show maturity in self-discipline and responsibility toward duty it should make you about as happy as anything can. It is a simple calling and a source of unlimited joy. If you are successful here, no defeat or failure can erase your spirit. You must have a desire for them to mature, to become independent, to join the adults as productive.

Change your world-view

Most of my readers will admit that they need to teach their children to work. Many of you will make an effort to change things, but it will be such a struggle to remember. You will be going up against entrenched habits that are not only part of the family; they are part of your world-view. It is exhausting to maintain constant vigilance against slipping back into the old comfortable routine. It requires you to check yourself and reverse course a hundred times a day. Furthermore, even if you are superhuman in your emotions and patience, the children will sense your uncertainty and frustration. They will respond in kind, and you will fail to effect permanent change in the status quo.

There is a way that is painless and permanent. You must change your world-view. You need a conversion of perspective. You have been thinking in terms of what you can get done most efficiently in the shortest amount of time. You are motivated moment by moment to follow the path of least resistance. You must change mantles. You can no longer be a one-person dynamo of efficiency. Resign from all of life’s callings. You are now a father or mother whose sole purpose in life is to produce beautiful sons and daughters of God.

There must be two changes; the first one is absolutely critical. Change your perspective and then you can change your lifestyle. With a new attitude toward the children and toward what must be accomplished in a given period of time. Arrange your lifestyle so the children are needed and are effectively engaged in responsible work.

Children will resent being used, but they will grow when they feel needed. Both states may involve the same work. They may drag and complain in either case. They will need encouragement and sometimes threats or consequences. Either way they will grow weary and want to sit down, just as you do. But the end result will be totally different in the child that feels needed and the one that feels used.

She says it best
There are so many wonderful, instructive things in the following letter. I will just let this mother speak for herself.

Dear Mike and Debi,
As I finished Debi’s last article on joy, my children were bringing birdseed into the house, hoping the sparrows that come on the back porch will follow it and walk right into the house. So, what’s birdseed all over the floor? We all know how to vacuum.
I loved your article on work. How encouraging. I have been reflecting on how much we have instilled in our children and am inspired to do even better. Sometimes I get frustrated or resentful at a lazy or selfish response. Then I take my attitude by the reins and say, “Get over it, self. I have much more practice at being selfish than they do, so why get upset?” So I smile and expect obedience, since I am the mom. It is so insidious to think we have no authority. Authority is a smile and a tone of voice, the rod, or another chore. I still have to remind myself.
I have had failures, but also a lot of success in teaching my children to work. Failures because it is so important to me, and I get afraid and intense; successes because it is so important to me, that I keep praying and trying.
When my oldest was as young as 3 years old, we memorized Ecclesiastes 3: “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:” Then my children knew that in our family there is a time to work and a time to play. When they forget and get selfish, I remind them of what kind of time it is and that if it is work time, we work as a team and everybody helps.
There are times when they complain or are not in the mood. But mood is so easy to change. With the Lord’s help, I can keep my attitude right and the next minute they will be not only cleaning the breakfast table, but also sweeping the whole room and mopping the floors.
They love to surprise me, with cleaning a room, making a meal, setting the table…that means I have some of my few precious glasses from our wedding broken. Our 4-year-old boy was trying to set the table with the prettiest glassware…so what’s a glass compared to a boy’s life? I kept my disappointment to myself.
One day our 6- and 4-year-olds decided to surprise us with lunch. I was not allowed in the kitchen. So as we are eating “oat balls,” I asked them what they used to make them. They said, “Oh, we used the leftover oatmeal that was sitting on the counter.” (I have gotten it out of the fridge and planned to heat it up because it was a bit old.) I did not say anything to spoil their accomplishments. I did not ask for seconds, either, and I just prayed we would stay healthy. We made it.
Now as I send in this order, I could go on as I reflect on all my efforts of the past five years, but I don’t have time. We are going through the children’s bedroom. There are lots of surprises that a flashlight can reveal under and behind a bed. They are having fun! This may become an all day job…
By the way, I enjoyed the Bible study on Esther, did it with my daughters; it was enlightning for all of us. We love you and appreciate your ministry so much.


Leave a Reply

3 comments on “Working Character into Your Children, Part 2”

  1. I started out searching for an article on simplifying when we live in the midst of town. What I found was the answer to our every day household dilemmas. All I read in this article can apply in some manner to our home life over the last 5 years of starting a family, and I cannot wait to wake up tomorrow and start working with my children by my side. As the oldest girl perfectionist it’s going to be a real challenge for me, but I know without a doubt this is what we’ve been missing. Working together, instead of me stressing and telling the kids to go play so mommy can clean. My daughters knowing how much I love just to be with them and teaching them is worth so much more than a pristine home.Thank you for putting into words what I could not define, Sarah C. Mother of Bella 5, Leila 3, and Liam 9 months

  2. I so appreciate this article! I want work to be a way of life for our children (ages 4,3 and 18mo). We start early and try to make it fun. They pick up after themselves and have a couple of chores they are responsible for. However I don’t understand what you mean when you say that they shouldn’t work more than a few minutes at that age unless they are enjoying it. But also you mention that working through the pain of not wanting to will build character and pride for what they accomplished. We deal with whining, bad attitudes and dilly dallying toward the work about 1/4 of the time and we’ve been using spankings for their disobedience. I feel if I let them quit their chore once it’s no longer fun would be training that they don’t have to finish anything. I would like your thoughts on what I’m missing.