Five to Nine-Year-Olds

"First Flight" by Jeffrey W. Hamilton

Responsibility Training

It is amazing how quickly our children grow. The years just fly by with wild abandon. Somewhere between the age of five and six, our children begin their formal schooling. The children have been learning up to this point. They have learned to talk, walk, dress and feed themselves. None of these accomplishments are insignificant. However, around the age of five, we begin their skill and knowledge training.

There are many options open to parents in this country for how to accomplish this training. Most people automatically assume they will send their children to public schools. This is generally the cheapest and most convenient option. However, it is not without disadvantages. The population of the schools is made of the community at large. The vast majority of the students and teachers in the schools will not hold the same ethical values that you are trying to instill in your child. It means you need to spend a lot of time countering the false notions taught in the schools. Unfortunately, many parents neglect this duty for one reason or another. They assume that they made it through the schools safely, so their children will also. However, public schools are changing over the years. They are not similar to the schools you attended. If you don't want to put the extra effort into making sure your child has proper ethical training, you should not consider public schools as an option.

Private schools are another option. Most of these schools are sponsored by various denominations. They can be costly and hard to get into. Generally, the students attending private schools have higher ethical standards. The teachers try to enforce moral standards. However, you must realize that most denominations are not accurate in their biblical teaching. Your child may be confused when you tell them that God says one thing and their teachers say something else. As with the public schools, you must plan on spending time countering the errors your child may learn in school.

The third option is homeschooling. This makes the greatest demands on the parents. It is near impossible for a family to home school unless one parent stays at home to teach the children. The cost is less than private schools but more than public schools. Since you are the teacher and your own children are the fellow students you can avoid many of the ethical problems of public schools, and avoid inaccurate Bible teaching.

No matter which option you chose, you will find that your children will begin to develop attachments to people outside of your family. They will deal with school teachers, Bible class teachers, and neighborhood children without you being there. Some parents have difficulties realizing that their children are doing things without observing what is being done. This must happen. Our goal is to raise godly children to live in this world. They won't always be by our side; we won't always be with them. You will notice that children of this age tend to develop friendships with other children of the same sex. This is normal. The interests of boys and girls differ and children rather associate with people of like interests.

Sibling rivalry is common at this age, especially between children of the opposite sex. Parents will need to take steps to keep the warfare down to friendly skirmishes.

Children of this age period grow steadily. It is not as fast as it has been since birth, nor will it be as fast as in adolescence. Generally, they gain two inches per year.

With their developing independence, they quickly develop their own ideas about what they would like to do. Often these ideas conflict with their parents' desires. Children of this age will sometimes moan and groan about the chores they must do. Not that the chores are taking them away from anything important, but it is not what they wanted to do at the moment. Again, parents must take action to keep the complaints to a minimum.

It is important that children learn responsibility for their own actions. A parent cannot watch over their children every minute of the day -- nor should a parent want to be watching for the rest of their lives. We are supposed to be training for an independent life. As Christians, each of us is accountable to God for our own actions (Romans 14:12). As parents, you need to teach your child to be accountable for his own actions. A child of this age should be able to take a fairly complex set of instructions and carry them out independently. God holds us responsible for our actions, whether God is standing over us or not (Luke 12:42-46). Children need to learn to be responsible for doing their duties, but it won't come immediately or naturally. There are too many distractions and desirable things in this world that a child must learn to ignore.

To give our children an opportunity to learn responsibility, we must give them the opportunity to fly or to fall. In Luke 19:12-16, notice that the servants who carried out their responsibilities were rewarded beyond their expectation for their good work. Money is a key part of our society and our children need to learn how to handle it responsibly. Give them an allowance after they have learned how to do simple math problems. Allow the child to decide what to spend his money on. You can advise, but the choice must be theirs. Begin to restrict your spending for the child to necessities. If a child sees a new truck that he just has to have or wants a candy bar, tell him he may have it if he has enough money to pay for it out of his own allowance. At first, they will buy everything they can, keeping the money on hand to an absolute minimum. If they run out of money, sympathize with them, but DO NOT HELP THEM OUT! Very quickly they will learn that if they want something more than a cheap toy that breaks in a week, they will have to save their allowance.

Set the allowance level low, so they are forced to save to get most items they are interested in purchasing. Do not give them an advance on their next allowance. They need to learn to live within their means. Sometimes, when we are out shopping, one of my children will see something he wishes to purchase, but he had left his money at home. Here, I will buy the item for him, but he must pay me back when we get home. Frequently, the child discovers he didn't have quite as much money as he thought he had. Now, you have two choices, either put up the item until he can get enough money to finish paying you back, or my favorite option is to charge them a 10% fee for the shortfall that comes out of their next allowance.

Allowances can be used in other ways as well. When a child pours a brand-new bottle of shampoo down the drain or takes a carton of ice cream to the utility room, but forgets to put it in the freezer, charge them for your extra costs.

During earlier ages, I told you to only punish willful disobedience or negligence on their part. When a child reaches the middle childhood years, this needs to be expanded. Ignorance on the child's part should no longer be an excuse for not doing something. You may choose to soften the punishment, but a child should be held responsible for learning the rules. See Luke 12:47-48. As adults, we are held responsible for following the laws of our land, whether we learned them or not.

If a child is to learn responsibility, the child must be able to make choices on their own. So give the child an opportunity to choose as frequently as you can. The trick on the parent's part is to make sure that all the choices are things the parent can live with. If the child has fallen into a rut of only eating cereal every morning and you want them to eat something else for variety, offer them a choice of pancakes or eggs and toast. When the child says, "I want cereal!", respond with "that wasn't one of the choices." The child feels a little bit better because it was his choice and you accomplish your goal. As a tip, if there is one choice that you can live with, but you would rather they not pick it, put it first in the list. Most children reject the first choice unless it is something they badly want.

Giving choices is good training for adulthood. While reading through the Scriptures, notice how many choices God gives us in our lives. He even allows us to make the wrong choice at times so that we can learn from our mistakes. Whenever a choice is made, make sure the child stays with the decision. Nothing is more frustrating than a child who constantly changes his mind. When we are at a restaurant, I let the children make their choice for meals, but once the order is placed I tell them they cannot change their minds. This has caused a few tears on occasion, but they have learned to be more thoughtful about their selection. If a child makes a bad choice, do not give in and rescue them from their decision. Let them see for themselves that it was a poor choice so they can make better ones in the future.

Encourage personal responsibility for their actions. In Proverbs 9:12, we are told that we will bear the results of our own actions. God punishes us for our own sins (Jeremiah 31:30). It is normal for people to want to blame someone else for their problems. Look at what Adam and Eve did when God confronted them with their sin in Genesis 3:12-13. Children have a natural tendency to blame each other when asked. "Who left the milk out?" "Johnnie had it out last." "I did not! Sue got a drink after me!" Sometimes the children decide it is best not to say anything at all. This can make it difficult for a parent to decide who to punish. In the cases where you can't figure out who the culprit is, admit it to the children and then announce that in this situation everyone will share the punishment. Peer pressure between the children will make sure it doesn't happen frequently. If, after announcing the punishment, someone is suddenly volunteered, then it is likely that everyone knew who the culprit was, but would not say. Thank the children for their honesty, but tell them it was too late this time and administer the punishment.

Sometimes children swing the other way and become tattlers and self-appointed judges. As a parent, you need to teach your children that the parents of the other children decide what is allowable or not. This is the way God treats us (see Romans 14:4). However, make sure that the safety of others is their personal responsibility. If they see another child doing something dangerous, then it is not tattling to get a parent to help. Make it clear to the child that he is not allowed to enforce the rules. Eventually, when they get older and we place them in charge, they will be given some limited authority. But for now, they must live with being the follower, not the leader. Children (and adults too for that matter) have a tough time learning the subtle difference between these two points. However, it is important for them to learn this lesson.

Too often, parents take on too much of the responsibility for their children's actions. If a child doesn't come home for dinner on time, don't go searching for them to make them come to dinner, nor keep a plate warm for them. When they come in after the table has been cleared, tell them they missed out, but there is always breakfast in the morning. If a child forgets to do his homework, though you reminded him to do it before going out to play, then he gets the grade that he earned. Give the children reminders, but do not nag them into doing anything (Proverbs 21:9). As a child gets older, make them responsible for their own bedtime and wake up time. Get them an alarm clock, show them how to set it, and tell them they are on their own. Come morning, when they are exhausted from only getting two hours of sleep last night, they will live with the consequences of their own actions.

Learning to be responsible for their own actions give the children the benefit of independent thinking. They will be better able to resist temptation and peer pressure if they know how to decide and weigh the consequences of their actions (I Peter 4:4-5). They will also have a fairer appreciation of their own worth (Galatians 6:3-5). Too often though, we parents do things that prevent our children from learning responsibility. Some parents take a child's responsibility on their own shoulders. For example, when your child comes home with a bad report card, do you say "We have to study harder" or "You need to buckle down"? The former statement implies you hold some responsibility for the bad grade. The later places the responsibility on the student who earned the grade. Some parents try to rescue their children from all harm. When the child fools around and misses their ride to school or some activity, do we drop everything and drive them ourselves? Do you chase after a child's bus when they forgot their homework or lunch? Rescuing a child occasionally is not harmful, but do it too often and it becomes a habit. A child doesn't need to be responsible if they can count on Mom and Dad to fix any problems they may cause. If a child forgets their lunch on a field trip, no harm will come from going without a meal and they will be less likely to walk off without their lunch the next time.

If spanking and other forms of discipline are done well in the earlier years, then the frequency of disciplining your children should decrease as they get older. You will never totally avoid disciplining, even into the teenage years. While spanking will become less favored over other choices of discipline, it should never be ruled out because "The kids are too old." I firmly believe the punishment should fit the offense and there are several offenses where spanking is the most natural form of punishment. Many things that our children do wrongly carry a natural consequence. These consequences can be used as a punishment. However, some things do not. When there are no natural consequences, then spanking should be used to deter further misbehavior. For example, spanking can be used to punish complaining, defiance, rudeness, or tantrums. God holds us accountable for every idle word that we may speak (Matthew 12:36). Children need to be taught not to be careless with their tongues.

When the rod needs to be administered, you need to make the punishment just severe enough that they will not want a repeat. As the child gets older, the switch will need to be a bit bigger and the number of swats may need to be increased. When spanking, give slow, measured licks to the bottom. The spacing of the swats makes them more effective. If the swats do not seem to be effective, rather than hitting harder, consider spanking with the pants down.

As a child gets older, you can use the loss of things and privileges that a child considers important as a form of punishment. However, you need to be careful to make sure the child knows the potential loss before the infraction, not afterward. If you announce the loss of a privilege after the problem occurs, then the punishment comes across as arbitrarily chosen. Think about our Lord. The punishment awaiting all wrongdoers is clearly spelled out far in advance. For example, you can tell a child "If your grades don't improve next quarter, TV time will be limited to one hour per day."

Making the consequences of a wrongful action be its own punishment can be entertaining for the parent. I have seen some real cleaver punishments over the years. One parent was having problems with a son and daughter fighting with each other. As punishment, she declared that they would have to do everything together for a whole weekend (except private matters, such as the use of the restrooms -- even then, one would have to wait at the door while the other was occupied). It did not totally solve the problem, but their own animosity for each other served as a strong deterrent when they got a concentrated dose of living with each other.

As we stated before, make sure your expectations of the child's behavior is within the child's capability. Nothing is more frustrating than to be given a goal that you can't possibly hope to achieve. If your child is flunking math, don't tell him he must make an "A" the next quarter. Start easy and work them up to the goal. Tell him that next quarter he must make at least a "C-", once that goal is reached then raise the target a little bit higher.

For a child to learn responsibility, he must be given responsibilities. People living in a house are expected to contribute to the operation of the household. There are many chores available for any child. Even a five-year-old can set the dinner table if someone will set the plates and silverware in a place where he can reach. Each child can take their own dishes from the table at the end of a meal and help clear the table when everyone is done. Older children can be taught how to load a dishwasher and to put the clean dishes away in their proper places.

Children can help with the laundry. Young children can put their own clothes into their drawers. Every child should learn to put their dirty clothes into the clothes' hamper and not to scatter them on the floor of their room. Make it a rule that if clothes are not in the hamper, they don't get washed. For some kids, this can provide some motivation, though I know several boys who won't care. Older children can be taught to fold their own clothes. Later, they can learn to sort clothes, load a washer, and transfer wet clothes to the dryer.

Don't overlook yard work. Most children can rake leaves and grass clippings. If you are into gardening, give an area to each child that is all their own. They can plant and weed their own garden. As they watch their work sprout and develop, they learn the excitement of accomplishing something on their own. Older children can help with shoveling snow, spreading fertilizer, and using a lawnmower with supervision.

If a child is old enough to get out toys for himself, then he is old enough to put them away when he is done with them. Make it a rule that toys left out at the end of the day are lost for a time. If they can't keep track of their own toys, they have too many toys. Return a collected toy as a reward. It will be like a brand new present again. Children can also dust the furniture within their reach. Older children can sweep, mop, and run a vacuum cleaner. Inspect their work before they are done. If it doesn't meet your standards, show them what is wrong and have them repeat the chore.

Caring for pets is another way to learn responsibility for someone else. Make the child responsible for feeding and watering their pets. To ensure proper care, make the child's own meal dependent on their animal being feed. If a child refuses to care for their pet, they should lose the right to retain the animal. Don't assume the responsibility for the child. Older children should learn how to wash and groom their pets.

Remember, our goal is to get our children prepared for living on their own one day. Chores are not ways to get slave labor out of our children. They are opportunities to teach our children how to live on their own one day.

Something to Remember

The child who has everything done for him, everything given to him, and nothing required of him is a deprived child.

Larry Christenson

That's a Home

A home is more than just a house, it's more than roof and walls;
It's more than just a place to rest whenever darkness falls.
A home, you'll find, is more than all the boards, the paint, the glass . . .
It's where you'll find some happiness and blessings come to pass.

A home is more than just a house that's built of brick and stone;
It's more than structure beautiful that man may call his own.
Indeed a home is more than laths where plaster has been spread;
It's where your plans are laid and where the Bible's always read.

A home is where there's living, it's where your dreams come true;
It's where the door is open wide for friends to enter through.
Oh, yes, it's where there's fellowship, where hopes will never cease,
A home is more than just a house . . . it's where your soul's at peace.

Fred Toothaker

Age Appropriate Tasks

Below are some suggested tasks that would be appropriate to begin introducing your child to doing. Every child will not be able all these tasks at this age. Some judgment is required on your part as to when your child is mature enough to handle these particular chores.

  • Bathe self
  • Clean the bathroom
  • Clean and straighten closet and chest drawers
  • Polish shoes
  • Fold laundry
  • Hang out clothing to dry
  • Separate dirty clothing into appropriate piles for washing
  • Dust
  • Set the table
  • Bring the food to the table
  • Clean spots off walls
  • Feed pets
  • Clean mirrors
  • Clean TV screen
  • Clean bathtub, shower, and sink
  • Know the differences between cleansers and when they should be used.
  • Empty dishwasher and put away dry dishes
  • Clean combs and brushes
  • Mop floors
  • Use a vacuum cleaner
  • Clean up after pets
  • Take phone messages
  • Use a broom and dust pan
  • Water plants
  • Weed the garden
  • Put away groceries
  • Make simple meals (sandwiches, beverages, cook canned soup, boil an egg)
  • Oil a bicycle
  • Check out books at the library
  • Clean the interior of a car

Your Questions

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