Our two daughters are as different as daylight and dark. Aside from the fact that one is tanned with dark hair and the other is a fair-skinned blondie, their personalities pose a striking contrast as well.
I was reminded of that fact again today.
Before I started our noon meal, I instructed Emily to clean her side of the girls’ shared bedroom. I’d been after Emily for two days to pick up the toys, shoes, and books that littered the floor space between her side of the bed and the wall. Amy had cleaned the remainder of the bedroom the day before, but Emily still had neglected “her part” of the cleaning project.
While I worked in the kitchen, Emily popped in repeatedly, whining that she “needed help” and “couldn’t do it by herself.” In the past, our 4-year-old little miss has done everything possible to avoid cleaning up her own messes– including hiring her older sister to do the work for her!
Today, it dawned on me that we were dealing with something more than just a messy bedroom. Emily is not lazy. She loves to help fold laundry alongside me, or help cook and bake in the kitchen.
Her problem is a lack of motivation. For two days she’d found excuses for not getting in that bedroom and picking up the toys– because there was no one to do it with her. By nature, she’s not a self-starter. I’m sure her young age has something to do with the lack of motivation, but children don’t always “outgrow” personality issues. (Ever met an unmotivated adult?)
I knew if I talked Amy into helping her little sister, or if I stopped what I was doing and helped her out myself, we would be solving the problem but not really addressing the issue.
Instead, I told Emily, “Pick up five things in your bedroom, then come and tell Mommy. You’ll get a little prize if you’ve put each thing away where it belongs.”
For the next twenty or thirty minutes, Emily came and reported to me her progress. If she could tell me what five things she had picked up, and where she had put them (not under the bed!), she received a “reward” of a few chocolate chip pieces. Then I sent her back to the bedroom to pick up five more things.
Within half-an-hour, her task was finished– without any one helping her! She just needed a little motivation- a small reward at the end of a small task.
My Amy, who is 6 years old, would have pounced on the project and finished it in ten or fifteen minutes– especially if there were chocolate chips involved! But it took dividing the chore into “bite size pieces” for Emily to feel like she could tackle the mess without getting overwhelmed. It’s simply a matter of personality.
After completing her work, Emily evidently felt energized– she ended up setting the table (her part and Amy’s), then stirred the butter and honey into the bowl of steamed carrots for our lunch. During the meal, Daddy bragged on how delicious Emily’s carrots were and her little face took on a shine. I think the feeling of accomplishment that follows hard work is just as motivating to little people as it is to big people! 🙂
I’m not silly enough to think that my girls are done learning their lessons of self-motivation (or that their bedroom is going to still be clean tomorrow afternoon!). But they are learning, and that’s what matters.
As a homemaker, I realize on a daily basis just how important it is to be a self-starter.
If I waited around for someone to motivate me to cook and bake and clean and train and do the other dozen tasks that need done… well, our home would be choatic at best.
My goal is to raise daughters whose habits mirror the pattern given in Proverbs 31– women of virtue as well as motivation and initiative. Since habits start young, now is the time to plant seeds of character into their young lives.
I recommend No Greater Joy for creative ideas on child training and teaching children the value of hard work.
How are you training your children to be self-starters?
This post is linked at Works for Me Wednesday