Delegating Work Assignments For Preschoolers

It’s Saturday morning at the Bradshaw home. Dad went early to a civic committee meeting and won’t be returning for another hour, Tom is on a Scout paper drive till noon, Sara is playing a basketball game at the stake center, and Mother is left with more than a handful. The baby is fussy, two-year-old Megan and four-year-old Zach want breakfast, and Mom promised a casserole for a funeral by noon. The dishes are piling up in the sink, the trash needs to be taken out, and the week’s clothes need to be washed. Does this kind of pace sound all too familiar? If it does, you may not be delegating responsibility to your children very effectively.

One of the supreme challenges we face as parents is training children to become responsible and able to take care of themselves and their environment. In order to do this, we need to know:

What We Expect of Children

“A lazy mother picks up after her children,” says the old adage. Young mothers often believe that picking up after their children and doing the housework themselves is the only way to establish an orderly house. “I want my children to learn how nice it is to have a well-kept home, even if I have to do the work. The problem is that I don’t seem to have time for all there is to do.” Ultimately, both the mother and the child suffer. The mother is overworked; the child is indulged. It is far better for all members of the family if each child is made responsible for doing certain tasks around the house. These, of course, need to be geared to each child’s capacity. Failure at the task will bring discouragement and resentment. To assure that no one resents his assignment, parents should see that the work is shared as equally as possible. Assignments should be challenging, but should not be beyond the capacity of the child, both in the time it takes and the degree of difficulty.

Keep in mind that two children in the same family may develop at such different rates that chores barely within the ability of one child at eight years of age may be accomplished by another as young as four. Parents must here, as in most things, be aware of each child’s strengths and limits and make assignments accordingly.

If a child knows that what is being asked is meaningful, that it will make a difference, he is much more likely to accept the assignment and complete it. And when all members have specific tasks and all work together to accomplish a job, each feels more a part of and more pride in the family.

Remember, too, that teaching children to love work involves balance. Ask any elementary school teacher how much more work she is able to obtain from children when they receive a recreation or relaxation break. Children will learn to love work as we balance it with relaxation and play.

Our Attitudes and Methods

Early in their development, children have an almost irrepressible urge to care for themselves and take part in the workings of the home. Long before they ever think of work as dull, when in fact it is still an adventure and part of life’s discoveries, children love to help. They innately desire to be a part of the workings of the home. They love to feel needed, and with enthusiasm will run to “bring Mother a diaper” or reach high on the wall to “turn off the light.”

But somewhere between the toddler’s fascination with work as play and the sophisticated junior high schooler’s disdain for work of any kind, something is lost.

Why do children exhibit early in childhood a willingness, even a need to take part in the work of the home and then when they are older and their efforts can be even more helpful, they seem less willing? The answer lies, in part, with our own attitude toward work as well as our response to our children’s earliest efforts.

One of the most serious handicaps we can impose upon our children may be the handicap of not knowing the satisfaction of a job well done. Some people regard work as drudgery, as punishment, something dull that must be done before the fun of living can begin. To others, work is rewarding, challenging, even exciting. The only difference is the attitude with which we view our labors.

President David O. McKay said, “The privilege to work is a gift, the power to work is a blessing, the love of work is success.” (David O. McKay as quoted by F. D. Richards, “The Gospel of Work,” Improvement Era, Dec. 1969, p. 101.)

Thinking of work in negative terms makes it almost impossible for us to assign tasks to our children without projecting our negative attitude, even if we don’t express it openly.

One creative mother turned what could have been a negative experience into a positive one. Her children would frequently walk into the kitchen and cry out, “Mom, I’m starved! What’s for dinner?” She wisely taught them that they would get her attention better and the food sooner by saying something like, “Hi, mom, I’m hungry for dinner. What can I do to help?”

Of course, what works in one family may not in another. Learning to manage children is as much trial and error as anything. But some helpful ideas for delegating responsibility were outlined in an article in the August 1979 Ensign. (William G. Dyer, “Why, How, and How Not to Delegate,” pp. 12–15.) Some of those ideas follow below:

Determine the assignment. The assignment may be a specific, single task, such as mailing a letter. Or it may be a project—a set of related tasks requiring several skills, like planning a family home evening or doing the grocery shopping. An older son or daughter might be assigned the responsibility for keeping the family car in good repair, while a younger one might be in charge of keeping the car cleaned out.

Explain clearly what is expected. One mother chastised her son for “a lumpy bed-making job” only to hear his reply, “But you never showed me how.” When we ask our children to do a job, they need a clear understanding of our expectations. They need to know how we want the job done, and what the end result should be. We can do this best by working with the child and carefully teaching him the routine.

When we make vague assignments such as “Help me” or “Someone sweep the porch,” we will rarely be pleased with the results. Not only must we explain exactly what is to be done, but who is to do it, and when it is to be done. We must be clear about deadlines: “John, please sweep the porch now; the guests will be here soon.”

This is true for ongoing job assignments as well. Help children determine how often the job must be done, whether daily, weekly, or monthly. And give a deadline, a time to have it completed. Should the task be completed before school, before breakfast, or right after school before playing? Success depends on clear understanding of and agreement on such details. This, too, is when we determine what the consequences are for failure to accomplish the task satisfactorily, if this is applicable. Parents need to make sure they are establishing an approach in which children are held accountable for assignments. If a reward is part of the arrangement, if that is applicable, specify that now.

Get a commitment. After we have given an assignment and explained what is expected, we can give our children a chance to respond—to accept the assignment and commit themselves to it.

By inviting their response, we can also discover and resolve any misunderstandings about the assignment. Furthermore, we are showing that their response matters to us and are giving them a chance to deal with any feelings of inadequacy they may have about the assignment.

Give training with love and encouragement. Loving encouragement and patient repetition are necessary to develop responsibility in young children. Learning will not always occur the first time, perhaps not even the first dozen times. Since children generally have little patience, care should be taken to give short, simple directions and simple tasks to young children and then increase the challenge as the child gains more patience and confidence.

Reporting and follow through. Temple worship teaches a divine management principle which involves reporting on an assigned task once we have accomplished or attempted to accomplish it.

An essential part of delegating responsibility is arranging a regular time for reporting progress or completion. At such a time, we review the child’s work, assess his progress, encourage him, and, if appropriate, give additional training or a new assignment. Follow through does not mean that we must continually check up on the child to see that he is doing his job. This could only be interpreted as a lack of trust.

If a child does not complete a task, the wise parent will not take over the responsibility, but will insist in a calm, firm, and supportive manner that the child complete, what he has started. When a child knows that unless he does his job, it won’t get done, he will generally assume responsibility for it.

Let go. Once we have trained a child to do a job and then delegated to him the authority to do it, the child must be free to carry out the assignment.

It is here that we as parents are given the opportunity to grow too. For many of us, letting go is the most difficult part of delegating a job. But allowing the child to learn and grow may be more important than having the lawn immaculate or the dishes spotless or the food cooked just so.

When They Don’t Respond

As children grow older, they sometimes become less willing to contribute to the family work effort. What do you do when a teenager declines to help with household chores? Consider the experience of one mother who was faced with the problem:

“I had about given up in despair, thinking that I had blown it as a mother. My sons were so tall and strong-willed that my requests of them had become ineffective. The son I was especially having trouble with just seemed to ignore me completely. If I asked him to be home by a certain time, he was invariably late. If I assigned him to do a simple chore that would take only minutes before he went out with friends, he would avoid doing it. Whenever I would ask him why, he just became defensive.

“One morning I looked at him as he ate his breakfast and my heart was full of love for him. He used to let me hug him and give him a kiss on the cheek, but he had made it clear that he had grown out of that. So that morning I simply stood in front of him and poured out my heart to him telling him how much he meant to me. I expressed that I was so glad that he didn’t use drugs or get in trouble and that he still attended church with us, everything positive that was true about his life. And when I was through, he looked at me and in a voice that contained more than the usual tenderness, he said, ‘Mom, you’re okay.’

“Subtle as it may seem, that little expression stirred a hope inside me that I had lost or at least forgotten in my concern that he wasn’t living up to all my expectations. And another thing happened. As he left that morning, I saw him take the garbage cans out to the street, something he hadn’t done in a long time.”

Our expectations often seem of paramount importance to us as we struggle for control in our families. But the scriptures are transparently clear that control is to be obtained only “by gentleness, and meekness, and by love unfeigned.” (D&C 121:41.)

“Thank you, I appreciated your doing that. It helped so much” is simple language, but if sincerely expressed can be more effective than any number of sophisticated management techniques.

Forming the helping habit is an effort that requires coordination and unity of purpose between father and mother. This is well illustrated by another account:

Greg’s mother had repeatedly asked him to complete his job assignments, but at fifteen he was demonstrating his independence. Greg’s father confronted him firmly but affectionately about his Sunday pants lying in a heap on the floor of his room, since picking up his clothes was one of his chores. To this Greg’s reasoned response was, “Why should anybody care about where I keep my pants but me? It’s my own business.”

His father agreed that it was Greg’s business and added, “If you are insisting on the right to keep those pants in a heap, you must also take the responsibility for seeing that they are kept clean and ready for church and special occasions.” The next time his mother passed the room the pants were hanging in the closet.

Teaching children to accept responsibilities in the family and enjoy work takes days, weeks, months, and years of vigilance and affection. But our children need to be held accountable in an atmosphere of love and trust. They need to see us work, work beside us, and learn to work alone. Preparing children for responsible adulthood is an important parental responsibility.

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Over the years, I’ve learned the hard way that doing the job alone just doesn’t work. I should’ve listened to Three Dog Night. They tried to teach me that “one is the loneliest number that you’ll ever do,” but I just wouldn’t listen.

Moses also learned the hard way about doing the job alone. In Exodus 18, we’re told about how Moses did everything in ministry by himself, and it caused problems on the job. It was tough on the people, Moses, and his family. Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, gave him wise advice and counsel. Simply put…he told Moses to delegate or die.

That’s good advice for us children’s ministers, too! When you do things that others can do, you keep from doing things that only you can do. And when you do the things in ministry that only you can do, that’s when you hear “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

I know what you’re thinking. My volunteers can’t teach a class or do children’s ministry as well as I can. That may be true, but there was a time in your life when you couldn’t minister as well as you can now. Someone allowed you to get better by doing hands-on ministry. And we must give our volunteers the same chance we were given to learn by doing.

With these things in mind, take a look at 15 master delegation tips that’ll help you develop your volunteers through action.

1. Identify what you need to be doing. There’s a right way and a wrong way to delegate ministry to others. Delegation isn’t finding someone who’s willing and then dumping part of your ministry responsibilities on him. There are some projects that are easier to delegate than others. There are other projects that you should never delegate — and still others that if you do delegate, proceed with caution.

I’d recommend that you cautiously delegate the handling of difficult decisions to others. Jethro warned Moses of this very thing in Exodus 18:21-22: “But select capable men from all the people — men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain — and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. Have them serve as judges for the people at all times, but have them bring every difficult case to you; the simple cases they can decide themselves. That will make your load lighter, because they will share it with you.”

Also, you can’t delegate the responsibility of building relationships with your key workers. This is a job you must do. Vision setting, evaluation or fruit inspection, and the success of your children’s ministry are responsibilities only you as the leader should have.

2. Identify things others can do, and let them do those things. Once you delegate jobs, ensure that the responsible people are properly trained and coached. Next, identify areas where you could use a capable worker. Don’t just assign a task; empower a person to do the task well.

Some of the responsibilities I’ve chosen to delegate are teaching and care-giving responsibilities, such as hospital visitation, some counseling, home visits, and follow-up. You can also delegate some of the oversight of children’s ministry. Phone calls and the returning of messages are projects that can be delegated to others.

3. Qualify all workers. Jethro gave Moses requirements for workers in Exodus 18:21: “But select capable men from all the people.” A major rule of delegation is to qualify who you delegate responsibility to. Are they capable and able? If not, then help them become capable and able.

4. Define exactly what you want done. Everyone needs a job description. Especially volunteers! Give them checklists to show what you want them to do and to show you what was done.

Remember to always do what’s best for the children and not only what’s best for adults. Rotation doesn’t build volunteers through action. In verse 22 of Exodus 18, the judges were to serve at all times. This wasn’t a once-a-month job; it was an all-the-time commitment.

5. Train and teach those you recruit. You must model to others how you want it done. Classes are good, but hands-on training is better. Christians are the only people I know who confuse the word “training” with verbal instruction. Almost every secular job that offers training does so by verbal communication in addition to hands-on training and mentoring. You don’t have to be the only model. I use my master teachers and coordinators to help me train and equip others. Everyone should be helping in the training and equipping process.

6. Push authority down. It’s extremely important that you always delegate authority along with responsibility. One of the dumbest sayings I know is “The buck stops here.” There are many places for the buck to stop when you give authority to others. Those you delegate to can only carry out the tasks you desire with proper authority.

7. Put your heart into the level of leadership under you. People can’t represent you well if they don’t have your heart. And you can’t put your heart into your volunteer leaders without making a commitment to spend time with them. Take someone with you whenever you can. Be quick to pass on what you know to someone else. Allow those around you to ask questions. Establish excellent lines of communication. Take advantage of every communication tool available. I use meetings, memos, newsletters, faxes, and emails.

8. Establish accountability. Teach your volunteers how authority works. Help them understand the chain of command. I love flow charts; they’re the simplest way to show others structure and authority. Weekly reports are a must to help you follow up on what others are doing. Remember, people don’t do what you expect; they do what you inspect!

9. Support and encourage those who help you. It’s imperative that you build a support structure around your volunteers. This might sound wild, but the best way I know to show others you believe in them is by releasing them to do the work of the ministry. Ephesians 4:11-12 says, “It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.”

10. Dare to confront those who are doing it wrong. When you see things that need to be done differently, gently confront people. Don’t wait for things to become a problem. Be on the offense and deal with things as they come up. What if volunteers quit? Why be negative? If they quit, they quit. But what if they change and become super leaders?

11. Make corrections and changes when necessary. Every service can be better than the previous one if you make changes and corrections each week. I make a list each Sunday and then spend my week correcting that list. The next week, I get to make a new list.

12. Don’t let your volunteers get in a rut. Don’t keep doing the same old stuff in ministry. Watch out for complacency and familiarity. Keep volunteers excited by doing new things. Each week I look for things I can suggest to my volunteers: Hey, have you tried this? Keep things different. Different is good!

13. Always set the pace; be the leader.Be the kind of person you’d like to work for. Dare to lead no matter what. Give your volunteers an example to follow and a model worth imitating.

14. Don’t fret about what you don’t have. Concentrate on what you have. So many children’s ministers I know always talk about how many workers they don’t have instead of thanking God for the workers they do have. Commit yourself to help your volunteers grow into the next level as leaders.

Lead who’ll follow. If all you have to lead are kids, start with the kids. It doesn’t matter how many workers you need; start where you are. Jesus needed 12 disciples, but he didn’t recruit all 12 at the same time. He recruited them in ones and twos. If you have a few faithful teenagers, lead them. If you have only a few key adults, lead them. When you pour yourself into improving the abilities of those around you, God will give you more. You see, when you do small things well, God will make you a ruler over more. But the starting point is always right where you are.

15. As you experience success, don’t forget about the things you did that caused you to gain success.Don’t quit doing what has worked for you. My pastor, Willie George, tells us, “Dance with the one who brought you to the dance.”

As your ministry grows, keep a closeness among the workers. We’re a big church with a small-church closeness. Ask others about things you’ve done in the past that they enjoyed or that they miss. I now have people on my staff who were kids in my children’s ministry. I love to ask them, “What were the things I did or activities we had that stand out in your mind?” I’m finding that things that’ve worked in the past will work again. Also I’ve learned that the little things we do in ministry really count the most. I try to encourage my workers to never abandon the things they’re doing that are working.

• • •

Delegation is not an option for those who want to succeed in ministry, but to succeed, you must take inventory of where you are. Start small and go from there. I try to train my team one worker at a time. Ask yourself and your volunteers, “What do I need to do differently? What volunteers do you see potential in?” Commit to coach volunteers and let them learn by doing.

Jim Wideman is a children’s pastor and popular speaker. To learn more about Jim’s leadership insights, check out


Delegate or Die: 15 Tips to Delegate to and Develop Your Volunteers

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