This boy’s joyful attitude about work is the norm for young children. He sees the connection between his work and a greater purpose.  He delights in being helpful.

As children get older, does it seem that many of them lose the joy?

Chores and work are not the same thing


It’s fair to say that chores build a child’s character and instill belonging within the family unit or classroom. Work calls forth the child’s talents, aptitudes, feelings, intelligence and traits. Work builds purpose and meaning into their life. How do we help children experience meaningful work?

Action Item #1 – Ask kids what work they like to do

Start with one of those tasks and participate with them so that you can see and hear the genuine delight expressed by the child. Your goal is to find work that brings them genuine delight.

When my foster child and I were in the car together, she noticed every homeless person we passed and frequently said softly out loud: “Oh poor thing.” As we talked about homelessness, we came up with an idea.

brown bag

We worked together to purchase nonperishable items and she filled brown bags to keep in the car so she could pass the bags out the window when she was so moved. She was excited every time she was able to deliver another bag and she told me when we needed to make more.


In another example, my family drove seven hours to take a tour of a training center for guide dogs because my preteen sister loved training her pets. My parents wanted to give her some hands-on experience and exposure to this kind of work. (As an adult she was involved with greyhound rescue.)

Action Item #2 – Guess and try something


Paul Bennett, the chief creative officer at a global design firm, traces his identity as a designer to the day when his father, Jim, a former military pilot, brought home The Golden Hands Encyclopedia of Crafts. Jim then spent the next two years sitting with his son, making macramé and knitting God’s eyes [yarn weavings], so that sensitive little kid could explore his talent and find his confidence.” 

Action Item #3 – Ask teachers, coaches, friends and family what they observe

sports stats

At parent-teacher conference, ask the teacher: What tasks is my child happiest doing? One father heard this response from his son’s teacher: Your son is always telling us sports statistics. He is happiest doing math. I wonder if his above average math skills are due in part to his passion for sports stats.”

Ask the same question periodically of extended family members. Invite trusted friends who are retired to spend time working with the child on a project of mutual interest. Many retirees stay in their own world until they are asked. When people are asked to volunteer and help out, they typically do.

Next week, three more action items for us to help children become mindful of the work they enjoy, leading toward an adult life of happiness and purpose.

Tweetable: Three action items for you – children who become mindful of the work they enjoy now have an advantage later. Click to Tweet