Neighborhood jobs teach kids about work

Where did you start learning about work? Chances are you had some household chores as you were growing up or maybe some neighborhood jobs such as baby sitting or cutting the grass next door. Many of those experiences taught you some valuable lessons that prepared you for other jobs you had later. But what about your children? Here are some ideas to think about as you guide your children in their first work experiences.

1.      How young is too young?
Even preschool children feel important when they have a job to do. The trick is to keep it simple and make it fun. Taking out the garbage or some other simple task can begin to build the follow- through and sense of responsibility that is so important. Using work around the house as "punishment" isn't a good idea and builds resistance to accepting more responsibility later. Praising them for remembering their "job" works much better than blaming them for forgetting (and a simple wall chart may be helpful to remind them).

2.      What skills are built from babysitting or other neighborhood jobs?
Simple jobs for neighbors are the first place children learn about an outside customer. They learn that they must get to work on time, meet their customer's standards and figure out how to negotiate a fair price for their work. They also learn that if they do a good job, they get referrals to do more work. They also begin to realize the importance of getting feedback on how they're doing.

3.      How should parents get involved?
Up until pre-teen years, the parent has been the only "customer", so working for someone else is usually a significant event for any child. Because it usually involves the neighbors, parents are often tempted to over-supervise. Not only will over-direction turn kids off, it will deprive them of learning experiences. (Just as it does for grownups!) If you feel you must supervise a job, perhaps the child isn't ready.

Often, the best role for parents is to guide and suggest. For instance, rather than standing in the neighbor's yard making sure everything is under control, why not ask questions before hand, such as: "Do you have any concerns about cutting their lawn? How will you cut around her flower garden? How much are you planning to charge her?"

4.      How can you build on their experience?
Use the opportunity to do a little coaching about work. Ask them what they did really well and what they thought they could do better next time. Ask them if they had any questions or problems. Rather than launching into a lecture, listen carefully and offer advice only if it's asked for.

If possible, relate their job to what they learn in school. As they get older you can begin to explain the different careers that use the skills and interests they have.

5.      How should they spend their money?
Years ago, when I worked with young people as a middle school counselor, I heard a lot of opinions about how kids should spend the money they earn. Some parents believe they should be forced to save for college or something special, while others feel they should be able to spend it as they wish. I believe that a big part of learning about work is getting a paycheck you can call your very own. Kids who are given the ability to spend at least some of their money as they please tend to develop better judgment about what to spend it on. It's exciting and motivating. Perhaps a balanced plan of saving a certain percentage and spending some is the best bet.

The important thing about kids at work is that they are experimenting and learning. These first experiences are shaping their attitudes and work ethic. As a parent, it's important to look for what they did right and build from there.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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