Training Children to Help

Do you have any little people in your life—sons, daughters, nieces, nephews, grandchildren or neighbors? Children can make the world so much sweeter and brighter! But let’s face it; they can also make our homes quite a bit more disheveled! Currently, being in the throes of raising five children has helped me to appreciate how incredibly fast an otherwise clean home can become a complete jumble in a few, short minutes.

Assessing how I ought to confront such messes has also helped to give me perspective on what it means to really afford my offspring the best childhood possible. My children spend considerable lengths of time each day climbing trees, playing dress-up and pretending to be bank-tellers, cowboys, and ladies-in-waiting. While striving to give them the richest and most joyful upbringing possible, at times in my parenting, I have also found myself making countless beds, sweeping endless crumbs, and completing unceasing floor pick-ups without much assistance and concluded that this just didn’t seem right.

After all, Proverbs 22:6 states that we are to, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” Adults are to train up children in the way they should go and when they are old they will not depart from it. It finally struck me that all training for life really does begin during one’s youth. Embracing this promise, I decided to make a change.

I remember the day I made the determination to teach my firstborn how to clean her own room, rather than to continue to do the task myself. The aforementioned room wasn’t particularly out of control, so I knew her little four or five-year old self was capable of tidying it with some assistance. Although I could have accomplished the goal in a matter of minutes, I, instead, sat on her bed and began directing her to pick up each article of clothing and every out-of-place toy and to put them into their designated locations—one by one. There was nothing particularly lovely about this process. I thought my daughter was capable of figuring out which clothes were dirty and which were clean on her own. I also assessed that she should have been able to determine which items belonged on the bookshelf and which belonged in the toy bin. It seemed, however, in the moment that she was actually quite clueless about these things and so I wound up uncharacteristically and painstakingly giving her my undivided attention and instructed her how to put away each of her belongings. A task that would have taken me 5-10 minutes to complete took closer to 40 minutes that day. It turns out, long-term, that the extra 30 minutes I sat on the bed was worth every extra second spent.

That afternoon I felt as though I had wasted just a little bit of my limited time. The end result was a less-than perfectly made bed, clothes that were not quite so neatly folded and so on. Within a short period of time, though, I realized that my daughter now knew where her things belonged and so I could direct her to pick up her room and to put her clean clothes away and, eventually, the job would get done!

I know this isn’t rocket science for some, but I now observe many parents idolizing a busy schedule or preferring the perfectly made bed and cleaned room (accomplished by whichever is the more particular parent) than valuing the life skills involved with training a child to clean up after him or herself, thereby helping to aid the overall family duties in some way. If I catch myself being overly lenient in this arena I self reflect on whether I’m choosing the most expeditious path or whether I’m encouraging my children to become conscientious, helpful adults, roommates and spouses one day. After all, for each task they never learn to do for themselves, I am putting the ownership on them, or another, to teach them down the road.

Photo by Tom Quandt @knipsiknips

The beauty of this whole learning process for me has been to see how naturally children aspire to be contributing members of their families, churches and schools. When given the chance, so many young ones will jump to help another when the opportunity presents. I’ve learned that I simply need to find the time and the patience required to facilitate these opportunities.

Photo by Kelly Sikkema @kellysikkema

All of this applies very directly to my hospitality endeavors. We do a lot of hosting around these parts and I recognize that my children are always watching me. I can let them tinker around with a toy for just a little bit longer, meanwhile watching me sweep the floor or set the table before company arrives. Or I can give them life skills and involve them in the practice of welcoming another family into our home by giving them age-appropriate tasks so that they feel that they’ve been a part of the process.

My 7, 9 and 12 year old daughters can now do much to help me in the food-prep aspect of hosting. The oldest now regularly walks into the kitchen, when all of her schoolwork is done, to ask me if she can bake something for an event coming up. I can let her pull up a recipe and walk away now knowing that something delicious will come out of the oven within the hour. This is the same child I had to point out clothing food spills and dirt stains to and direct each item in question toward the laundry basket or clothes drawer, depending on what was appropriate. She now seeks out myriad ways to assist others because she finds inherent rewards in doing so.

This is my way of saying, take heart. The little ones in your life are honestly looking for responsibility and direction, whether they know it or not. They want to be given a part of the family duties and they’ll find intrinsic rewards in being allowed to complete some of those tasks on their own. I’ve witnessed that it is possible to simultaneously give children a magical upbringing and also one that requires them to learn to recognize the needs of those around them and to do something about it.

While the Psalm 22:6 passage charges me to train up my children in the way they should go, I take heart and comfort in the biblical promise found in Galatians 6:9, that says, “and let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.”


  1. So good sis! I love how clearly you communicate the heart matters! God is so good, and I’m so thankful that He has given us His word of truth in this world full of lies! I will be sharing this with friends, & I’m so thankful you are virtually encouraging many mamas!

    1. Thank you for the encouragement, Hailey! You are a wonderful, intentional mother. I’ve so enjoyed watching you train up your precious children.