From the time my daughter Bethany, who has Down syndrome, could move about, I gave her chores to do. I’d sit her on the kitchen counter, and we’d sort silverware. She loved to help set the dining table. And we would make a game of carrying the clean laundry from the dryer to the living room and throwing it in a pile so we could fold it.
Did it slow me down? Absolutely. But it was worth teaching Bethany the value of work — that it can be fun, satisfying and rewarding. I also wanted her to understand how important her contributions are to our family.
The value of work
Work is crucial to a person’s well-being and sense of purpose. It produces dignity, self-confidence and satisfaction — all things we want in abundance for our children. If we exempt kids from work because they are “special,” we may unintentionally send the message that they are somehow incapable or helpless. And children who love to be productive are more likely to carry these traits into adulthood.
When I first started assigning chores to Bethany, I felt uncertain. Part of me wanted to make her life easier, and I wasn’t sure how much she understood or what she’d be able to accomplish.
But I also didn’t want to compound Bethany’s disability by denying her opportunities to work. To my surprise, I discovered that she flourished with the challenge of doing chores.
Lead the way
When asking Bethany to take on a new assignment, I modeled the chore first. Then I worked with her and explained the reason for the task as well as how to do it. I included lots of praise and encouragement. I made games of our chores and provided rewards. I eventually added an allowance.
As Bethany got older, I gave her new responsibilities. Now 15, she cleans her bedroom, does her own laundry, cooks two meals a week, helps with the grocery shopping, unloads the dishwasher and pitches in with home projects.
Our whole family is proud of Bethany. We love watching her navigate life with purpose and a positive attitude. I’ve talked with other parents who seem shocked that our daughter is able to “do so much.”
God doesn’t expect His children to do the impossible, and neither should we. But He does have plans for our children with special needs, and those plans include learning the value of work — and gaining confidence in themselves along the way.
Cindy Barclay writes for parents of children with special needs.