Practical tips for helping kids develop a sense of service and contribution.
For things around the house to run smoothly, it’s good that children participate—at their level—in the thousand and one tasks of daily life. Brigitte and François de Baudus, founders of the Family Formation Institute in France and champions of everyone helping one another in the home environment, give us tips on how parents can encourage their children to contribute constructively to family chores.
Aleteia: Why is it important for children to be involved in housework?
Brigitte and François de Baudus: Participating in housework means “teaming up” with your family, and participating in family life. Children only learn family solidarity by participating. It’s also good not to limit participation to “housework,” but to expand the possibilities of helping each other, to broaden their hearts for a sense of service.
Some people think girls are more willing to help others than boys. What do you think?
It’s unfair to classify things this way. There are more differences in temperament than there are differences between boys and girls. Personalities with a “focused” temperament will need to be warned in advance, and to be given only one task to accomplish at a time, clearly named and organized. Then, they will do it well. Temperaments with a “broad focus“ will be able to do two things at the same time, and improvise, but also can be tempted not to finish or to forget … It’s up to us parents to know our child and to adapt our requests to them.
A child’s place in the family also plays a major role. An older sibling can quickly develop a sense of responsibility and service, while his or her younger sibling’s behavior will be a response: either helpful in dealing with the tensions caused by an egocentric older sibling, or escaping because the older sibling does more spontaneous service than he or she does.
How can we get children to do service and experience the joy that comes with it?
Very early on, it’s good to ask children to help out, because they have only one wish: to show what they are capable of. What a game of skill to set the table at 5 years old, especially when the table is large! But it’s also important not to limit the service to basic housework, and to teach children to discover their own abilities: filling a tire with air, making a bouquet of flowers, preparing menus and shopping lists, planting tomatoes … The service provided in this way becomes an opportunity to increase self-confidence, to be valued—if the demands are suited to the child’s age and abilities, allowing for a successful result. Being helpful means doing a requested task, but above all, helping out of empathy.
What advice would you give parents who are teaching their children how to serve others?
Like any process of learning, acquiring a sense of service requires constancy from parents. They need to avoid monotony, and to talk as a couple about the distribution of work in the house. It’s important to set specific objectives for a particular child according to his or her current abilities. Does an older child tend to lock himself in his room to be left alone? The service requested will be an opportunity for him to open himself to the needs of others and to get out of his bubble: to go buy bread, or to play with his younger sister. The youngest kid makes trouble at dinner? Her job will be to work in the kitchen and prepare a dish herself … In the end, appreciation of the work done and discreet but effective thanks will be an important stimulus. Children need, even more than adults, to hear that they are valued for who they are.
Parenting tips that encourage effective and joyful mutual support:
- Propose a well identified and time-limited task
- Give the choice between two tasks
- Set up turns to respect justice
- Be patient and accept the child’s rhythm
- Appreciate their skills and talents
- Ensure their agreement
- Establish rituals, for example: “clear your own place setting + ten things more”
- Enroll your children in a Scouting or similar organization (where service is at the center)
- Always have something in mind for the children to do
- Express your joy at how the children have helped
- Repeat requests, and never get discouraged
- Persevere, and find or invent new ways to ask or new tasks to be assigned
(Interview by Marie Lucas)