Learning To Lend A Hand

Mark and Lindsay Melluish on teaching children to take responsibility and to play their part

One of the things about the summertime is that for most of us there is some time off; there’s a break from the usual routine and perhaps a chance to go away on holiday for rest and refreshment. Along with that go the bank holidays, which this year have seemed even more prolific and brought the opportunity for lovely long weekends off!

Time off is a good thing. But it’s only meaningful for us when we have work or responsibilities to take a break from. I met a woman the other day whose children were now grown up and with no voluntary or church responsibilities to fulfil her she was feeling ‘at a loose end’. Perhaps she was looking for a sense of value, which had become less now that her children were flying the nest.

Everyone needs to be fulfilled and needed; not to be needed is a horrible feeling. And it’s not just adults who need that; children and teenagers need it too, and with it comes a sense of purpose and focus, and perhaps less of an inclination to get up to the kinds of things that lead them into trouble!

One of our sons has just been on a gap year and spent part of it working as a domiciliary care worker with elderly people – going to their houses, getting them washed and dressed, making their meals and giving them the care they need. It wasn’t an easy job for a teenager; getting up early, cycling miles each day from house to house, coming home late. But mostly he enjoyed it and when we talked about it, he said he’d enjoyed spending time with the elderly people, but also he had felt needed, valued and that he’d be missed when he was gone.

Little uns too

I overheard a girl telling her mother the other day that she’d like her mum to trust her more at home, give her responsibility and rely on her to carry it out. Perhaps we’ve shied away from giving our children responsibility for fear of overloading them when they have so much schoolwork from such an early age.

But given appropriately, responsibility might be a blessing for our children and young people. For a teenager to babysit for a younger sibling (or even friends’ or neighbours’ children) might be a perfect opportunity for this kind of thing. Or maybe if your neighbour goes on holiday and asks someone in your family to feed their cat, you could give that responsibility to your older child or teenager?

Little children don’t need to miss out either. Having a job in the home that is theirs as a regular responsibility such as laying the table for family meal times, putting out the recycling, feeding a family pet or even making a simple meal for the family are all things that can build a sense of being valued by others for what they can contribute to the household.

And what about encouraging them to take on a role in your church when they’re old enough? To help in the crèche or under 5s group, serve the coffee or, later, play in the worship band or sing in the choir are all things that can bring a sense of belonging and ownership. Our children that are old enough work in the children’s groups at the New Wine festival and we remember one of them announcing after their first week, ‘I’ve realised I’m helping to make New Wine happen!’

Paul talks in Romans 12 about each one using the gift God has given them. Everyone has something to offer and when we offer what we can, we feel we belong, we feel needed, we feel we have something to contribute – whatever age we are.