Transform Children’s Chores into Small Businesses

Give kids responsibilities that will help them thrive while learning self-reliance.

| August/September 2017

  • Joel’s grandchildren all have their own businesses. Lauryn, 9, tends to her exotic chickens.
    Photo by Shutteye Photography.
  • Travis, 13, herds the ducks he raises for his duck egg business, which he began at age 10.
    Photo by Shutteye Photography.
  • Andrew, 11, runs his own sheep business. Here, Lauryn helps him bottle-feed two orphans in his flock.
    Photo by Shutteye Photography.

“My kids dawdle. They don’t want to do the work around the farmstead that needs to be done. How do I get them on board?” You can see the yearning in the eyes of such parents, who hope their children will embrace a work ethic and a love of self-reliance and sustainability.

For adults whose recreation and entertainment is milking cows and weeding carrots — we actually find it therapeutic — our offspring’s reluctance to join in with similar gusto can often result in frustration, tension, and disagreements. If I could offer a guarantee of success in this regard, I’d probably be a full-time family coach giving seminars around the country. I’m no expert, but I do benefit from having a farm where four generations currently live, work, love, and fight. Please indulge me in giving some advice on this subject, based on my experience.

Three things that drew me into a love of chores and hard work as a child stand out vividly. First, my parents allowed and encouraged me to develop my own chicken business when I was 10 years old. When I say “my own business,” I mean I was the sole proprietor. If friends visited the farm and asked about chickens, Mom and Dad deferred to me. I can’t remember either of them explaining the chicken operation to anyone. They would come and find me to give me a platform for explaining the business. Day-to-day operations? It was sink or swim on your own, buddy. Certainly my folks were there to console me when a predator wreaked havoc. But they didn’t pick up the pieces if I overslept or failed to take care of things. I had to hustle to meet schedules. I had to fit my life around chores.

That personal ownership taught me responsibility. If I neglected a task and lost a day’s production, that cost me. I never got an allowance; all of my spending money came from the chickens. I learned how precious and difficult profitability is. Mom and Dad were shepherds for me, but I had to rustle up my own feed. I think too often we parents don’t realize how much our children can do, and how early they can do it.

I’m a firm believer that the ideal age to learn self-reliance and to start a business is somewhere between 8 and 10 years old. If you wait too long, other interests will crowd out the entrepreneurial window of opportunity. It’ll become “uncool.” Youth leadership organizations, such as 4-H Club and church youth groups, see a falloff in participation as childhood curiosity fades.

Because my chickens were my business, I had to care for them, market the eggs, order feed, and clean their quarters. If I didn’t do it, it didn’t get done — and nobody nagged me about doing it. “But I have to remind my child every day to go do their chores,” laments a parent. OK, turn your child’s chores over to them as a small business. If they don’t want to run that business, let it die. Or, pay them a caretaker’s fee. Few things fire up a youngster more than some money jingling around. Clearly identify the responsibilities and compensation for starting a small business — let them help decide what’s fair so they have ownership — and then get out of the way. They’ll either thrive or shrivel; if personal ownership and compensation won’t motivate, neither will nagging.

8/3/2017 1:03:17 PM

There are tears in my eyes and a pull on my heart as I think of all the times I brought home critters (farm animals or wildlife) climbed trees, dug in the dirt, revealed horn worms on my dads tomato plants, tended storm blown baby birds, pointed out hawks in the sky or tracks in the dirt . . . dad passed years ago, his farm history still a mystery, mom grew up in the city in a family that shunned all critters. Mom is still with us and from her townhouse in the city, she watches as I have finally acquired that farm in the country where the chickens can express their chickenness along with the cows, the dog and the cat. Five plus years ago we bought the farm - would have been sweet for dad to see, visit, share stories and sigh.



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