For very little children work is play. It is an imitation of something grown-ups do, and it is the beginning of learning. Stephen is three and a half and is quite a hand at wiping the dishes. Also at dragging dish towels all over the floor. This is very trying, and the pile of dish towels to be thrown in the wash mounts rapidly when Stephen is "helping." But to rebuff him constantly (once in a while, when speed is of the essence, he must be sweetly but firmly removed) is to discourage an instinctive desire to serve, and he must not only be allowed to serve, but encouraged to serve. Christ gave us the example when He washed the feet of His Apostles, doing as a servant would do, then bidding them to follow His example. When a child is discouraged too often in his attempts to serve, the desire can easily wither away until his whole impression of the world is that it is a place where other people serve him, and his role is that of the served. Mothers are quite right when they state that little ones can be more hindrance than help; yet if home is to be a training ground for life, we are going to have to sacrifice a certain amount of efficiency and begin the training. There are too many victims of over-efficient mothers, roaming around knowing how to do nothing, to argue much with this.
It would be nice if the "work is play" stage lasted longer than it does. Children soon discover, however, that the wary in this world shy away from work, and now begins the real struggle. Little girls who loved trying to make their beds, to run the vacuum or wash the dishes, discover that these are the last things they want to do. Then we can help them by emphasizing that work is prayer. This is the highest motive for work, and the best way to use it; and while it is quite likely that we will have to remind them daily, it will help considerably, especially if we also remind them to pray for the grace to do their work well. Even so, we must not neglect to fuel this not-so-roaring fire for work with common courtesy and much gratitude. It is easy for harassed parents (I should know) to take refuge in complaints during these times. "I cannot do it all myself. You helped get it messy, now you help clean it up." And if we are convincing enough, or maybe just big enough and loud enough. we can get them to do what we want. But it will be reluctant help, probably accompanied by the private observation that Mother is, indeed, a stinker — and it will hardly make reverent prayer.
Such simple things make a difference! If the emphasis is moved from "You do it," to "I will be so grateful if you will," it is much easier; and no one can resist the glow that comes with being thanked. Sometimes we get the idea that thanks are not necessary when children have done something they were supposed to do. If we always thank them, and add to our thanks a reminder that God is praised by work well done, little by little (but it adds up) they learn to associate work with praise and prayer. Then one day it is not so necessary to them to be thanked So many times people contribute their services or their work and ask nothing in return except human appreciation, only to find that even that is not forthcoming. But if we have a right purpose in our work, knowing it can praise, be prayer, be the will of God for us at a particular moment, we can learn not to fret for lack of appreciation.
Activity Source: We and Our Children by Mary Reed Newland, Image Books, 1961