A Little Child Labor Goes A Long Way

A Little Child Labor Goes A Long Way


Most parents are aware of the importance of building confidence and self-esteem in their children. How to do it effectively? One way is to listen when they talk and then respond, to let them know you take their ideas seriously. Ask their opinions at times. Spend uninterrupted time with them to show you enjoy their company.

Building self-esteem often involves a lot of “Good jobs.” We praise children for just about anything they do, from drawing a squiggle to pumping a swing, to jumping off a hay bale. Sometimes the “good jobs” become so automatic and routine that they lose effect. 

One great way to build a child’s self-esteem is to let him or her contribute to the family welfare. Children quickly realize that what they are doing is valued and helpful. How? Through chores – a somewhat out of fashion custom that should regain its place in family life. When a child does a job that helps the family, he feels good about himself intrinsically, whether or not he receives a heaping of praise. A simple “thank you” is enough.

Setting the table is a wonderful job for a young child. Besides the satisfaction of helping, the child gets a lesson in one-to-one correspondence, an early math skill. One napkin, one fork, one plate, one spoon for each place. Similarly, clearing the table after dinner works well, as long as the plates aren’t too valuable. 

Some other safe jobs for young children are folding towels and napkins, feeding pets, sponging the table and counters, sweeping the floor, and helping with gardening. They can do these things because they do similar jobs in nursery school classes. You will be surprised how quickly committed to helping they become. Any child will feel good about being a contributing (and therefore important and responsible) member of the family. Self-esteem will blossom automatically from within.

Marianne Riess is the former head of the Putnam Indian Field School in Greenwich, CT. She has 40 years experience in working with young children.