Responsible Children Part 3: The stages of kids' readiness to work

posted by: By Mary Ann Wilcox


By Mary Ann Wilcox


A child's readiness to work is dependent upon his age, his past experiences, his level of skill development, his emotional stability and his physical growth. Often, children are ready physically to handle certain skills but are emotionally incapable of handling the magnitude of the responsibility. In this case a parent needs to break the job into small parts, work with the child until his confidence is strong and use lots of praise and encouragement.

Just because a child is unwilling to work doesn’t mean that he is always incapable. Sometimes the work is too hard, sometimes the work is not challenging enough, and sometimes the child is just lazy or wants to get out of work. For instance, if an older child does not like to babysit a younger sibling, he will do a lousy job in hopes that you will not ask him to do it again.

Analyze the child and determine what is interfering with his productivity. If lack of physical coordination is the problem, wait to teach the skill. If emotional insecurity is the problem, work carefully and slowly with the child on a step-by-step basis. If laziness is the problem, set deadlines and provide incentives and consequences for his actions.

Let's look at a child's physical, emotional and intellectual development at each age. Then we can determine what work assignments can be given. Keep in mind that these age groups are not fixed. A child may have these characteristics either earlier or later than indicated. Also be mindful of the fact that if skills are missed during the prime teaching age, they can still be taught at a later date. However, it could be more difficult, the child might rebel, or the process might be slower or faster.

Birth – 1 year old: Birth is a great change for a new little being and the first major transition in the baby's life. In the womb its every need was met immediately; he was close to his mom and in a very secure place. During the first month, the new baby is experiencing discomfort for the first time, a much enlarged environment, sounds, lights, people — lots of very strange things. This new environment is very frightening, insecure and frustrating.

This is an important time to help the child make the transition as smoothly as possible. To do this, meet the baby's needs immediately (if possible). A baby cries more and develops a crying pattern if needs are not met immediately. Hold and cuddle him as much as possible, talk to him, wrap him tightly, help the other children get to know him too. Get to know his little personality, love him and enjoy him.

After a couple of months, it is time to start developing routines with the baby. Setting feeding times, bathing and bedtimes helps a child learn that he is a part of an organized world. He will develop a deeper feeling of security as he learns that his needs will be met and that there is order and structure in the world around him.

From six months to 1 year is the age where a child is finding out about his environment through his senses — touch, taste, sound, smell, sight. He is into everything and will most likely chew up, suck on, or even destroy those things with which he has contact. (Even the things that are most precious to you.) Safety locks would be helpful in keeping little hands out of cupboards and drawers when supervision is not available.

1-2 years old: A child in this age group is ready and willing to help on a voluntary basis. Capitalize on this willingness — it is inconsistent to refuse to let a child help at 2 and then require it at age 10. This is also the first stage of rebellion, so let him help you when he desires and don't force it. Otherwise, you will find yourself involved in a power struggle that you can only win by physical force. His concept of work is doing something fun with a parent, especially if it involves water. Because of the child's concept of work it is not damaging to redo a job that the child has performed.

2-5 years old: A child transitions from a baby to a child when he is ready to sleep in a regular bed. A child in this age group is ready to develop good personal habits of cleanliness and hygiene. It is important that you supervise everything the child does during this period so good habits will be developed. The child's favorite saying at this age is, “I want to do it myself.”

5-11 years old: These are the years that children develop skills. This is the greatest physical training period that you will have as a parent. During this period, a child should learn how to perform tasks properly, how to do a job, when and how quickly it should be done, and the level of perfection that is expected in each task.

This is also an excellent time for children to develop other coordination skills. At this age, their coordination is at a peek, they have little fear, and little ego at stake. Music lessons and sports activities should be encouraged. Children will start very few new activities after the age of 12.

It is just as important that a child understands what is expected in extracurricular activities as it is in work performed at home. He should be made to make a commitment for a season so that the benefits of the activity can be manifested. A child should not be allowed to quit because it is not convenient or becomes difficult. A one-year commitment will allow a child to cover one or more growth plateaus and find out if he has an interest or talent for that activity. Quitting destroys a child's self-esteem and makes him fearful of difficult tasks. Children need to complete the growth process:

Fun – Initially, most adventures are fun and exciting. Simple tasks are presented first and the child feels instant success.

Work – The second phase is very difficult and requires hard work, long suffering, and often pain. During this phase a child is developing the physical and mental readiness for the next upsurge of learning. This is the phase where most children want to quit.

Thrill – The third phase is a spurt of quick development, ease in performance, and a high level of success.

Working through the growth process builds character, self-reliance and self-confidence. It makes a child more willing to accept new challenges.

11-14 years old: This is the third point of transition for a child. It is a very trying time in a teenager's life. He is searching for his personal identity, peer pressure is great, many physical changes are taking place and he is struggling for independence. An understanding parent who takes the time to help him fulfill his obligations to his family, friends, church, school and self can help make this transition smooth. The child’s responsibility is to establish balance in his life and to learn the principles of personal organization.

14-19 years old: These are the years of family service and responsibility to others. By this time a child should be able to take over any facet of home responsibility successfully and with confidence. A child at this age should be able to accept an assignment and complete it from the planning stages to finished product without supervision (in most cases). A child in this age group should learn to find a balance between home, church, school, and personal responsibility. He should be given the opportunity to meet these demands in his own time frame.

Understanding the stages of development that a child goes through will eliminate a lot of frustration on the part of both parent and child. Knowing how to parent at each of these stages will assure that the child develops a good work ethic and your relationship with the child is positive and cooperative.



For more information on these topics, check out my book, “Teaching Children to Work,” available at

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