4 Moms crack the whip: Teaching Children to be Diligent

4 Moms 35 Kids answer questions about big familiesRead to the bottom to see the winner of last week’s giveaway for a new copy of Large Family Logistics.

It’s Thursday again, and you’re back for more wisdom from the 4 Moms.  This week we’re talking about teaching children to be diligent.  My first tip: don’t wait until 10 PM on Wednesday night to start your Thursday morning post. Planning ahead = good. Procrastination = bad.

The fact that I was busy practicing fiddle songs with the pastor for our church’s upcoming dance is no excuse. Did you know I played the fiddle?

See? You want to know how to teach your children to be diligent, and already you’ve learned something: the mom who who is avoiding the subject has diligence issues of her own. Perhaps if I had paid more attention to my own deadline, my children would have more respect for the deadlines I set for them.

This will be my first time to provide live music for a dance. We plan to play Old Joe Clark, Devil’s Dream, Irish Washerwoman, Boil That Cabbage Down, Blackberry Blossom, and Westphalia Waltz.

I can tell you what I know, but I’ll be talking to myself as well as you.  I need to take my own advice!  We have our moments of brilliance – some members of our house more than other – and some last for days or weeks, but we have not diligently applied the principles necessary to produce diligence. We are sporadically diligent, an oxymoron if there ever was one.

I started the violin in 5th grade, just before my 10th birthday. I chose it because I was new at school and my new best friend was in violin class.  It was my last year in government school.

See? Again I wander. My mind is elsewhere, just like those of my children. Diligence requires the ability to focus on the task at hand. Other subjects may be worthy of interest but we have to stay on target.

Perry and I have a little mantra that we have our children repeat from a very young age when they are learning to follow the simplest instructions and perform the easiest chores: “What does diligent mean?” They are to reply, “It means quickly, without stopping.”  So the children know what diligence is, but the question is how we can we teach them to be diligent.

My interest quickly waned when my friend moved out of state, but my parents made me keep playing and required me to practice daily.  Over the next two years, I learned to love the violin and was immensely grateful that they hadn’t allowed me to quit.

First, we must give them the tools: We must teach them how to be diligent.

When it comes to schoolwork, one way we help our children learn diligence by removing some distractions but not all. Too many distractions certainly slow them down and frustrate them. But in a house with people – a family home – they must learn to work through a certain level of noise, activity, etc. Otherwise they are vulnerable to every distraction that comes their way.  This can be frustrating at first, but it pays off. A child doing algebra while a 4yo tornado whirls about in the next room is a beautiful sight. This skill will serve her well no matter where she finds herself in The Real World.

We began homeschooling in my second year of violin, but that didn’t stop my advancement in violin. There were 5 children in the house, 4 of them 6yo and under, but I found a quiet spot to make my noise.  I continued to practice daily, fitting it into the new daily schedule.  Unlike the first year, I required few reminders. When it came to violin, I was good, and I wanted to get better.

Another way we help them develop diligence is by giving them practice, i.e. work. Childhood should not be all play, and we should not feel guilty each time we require them to work.  The old adage says “Lazy hands are the devil’s plaything.”  All of us need work, and children are no exception.  Read the book of Proverbs if you doubt it.

When I left government school, my teacher allowed me to pay for private lessons by cleaning house for him and his wife 2 hours in exchange for each hour-long private lesson.  He even provided transportation both ways.  It wasn’t until much later that I realized what a huge favor he was doing for me.  Not only was he teaching me to play better; he was teaching me to love work. I considered it a privilege to work in exchange for more work.

Second, we must motivate them to be diligent.

Just being capable of diligence is not enough. We need motivation to use that ability, and for children the motivation must usually be external.
Motivation can be negative (the proverbial stick) and positive (the carrot). In our house, the stick often means loss of privileges or extra work. The carrot may be verbal praise, an ice cream date, or anything in between.

After more than a year of hard work and good progress, my struggling parents scraped together the money to buy me my own violin in place of the loaner from the government school.  My teacher sold them a beautiful old instrument from his father’s collection for the princely sum of $150.  It was the best Christmas I had ever known.

As they grow and mature, they should become more self-governing and motivate themselves.

In the beginning, my motivation to practice was my dad’s command.  I knew better than to defy him. Later, my own desire to succeed took over.  I found myself in tears if I couldn’t play a new piece to my teacher’s satisfaction – not because the kind old man was a harsh teacher but because I was frustrated with myself.  I knew I could do better.  I knew I must work harder.

We must remember the goal and keep it before our children’s eyes as well.

Why is it important to be diligent?  Because in all labor there is profit (Proverbs 14:23).  Whether we eat or drink or whatever we do, we must do it all to the glory of God (I Corinthians 10:31).  We must give it our very best, our all. As it turns out, that’s not a bad definition for diligence.

Many good things have come of my early lessons in violin, and not all are directly related to musical ability.  My character and work ethic were being formed in those long hours, and I am still thankful today for the pressure placed upon that little girl so many years ago.  I am also thankful for the ability to make a joyful noise unto the Lord! (Psalm 98:1)

The other moms are talking about it too:


Large Family Logistics book for moms of manyThe winning comment for a new copy of Large Family Logistics is:

My biggest problem is the clutter.

Emily, I feel your pain!  I hope this book proves helpful in your battle against the clutter monster.  I’ll email you about claiming your gift if you don’t email me first.  🙂

Please don’t forget to come back in August and join our linkup as we blog our way through Large Family Logistics.

Everyone else: if you didn’t win, I hope you’ll still order a copy of this wildly popular book so you can join us too!

Upcoming topics for 4 Moms:

  • July 21 – Tips for remaining patient when you have a houseful of kids
  • July 28 – Q&A  (please leave your questions on my last Q&A post if you want me to find them)

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About 4 Moms, including more past topics



  1. As a homeschooling mother of six, I have become accustomed to doing much more than a sane person would in a day. This is usually followed by a very unproductive day. I am wondering how to know what my limits are and how to take things off my plate, not to add something else because I suddently had time to breathe and dream about other opportunities. I want to be productive, and more importantly, I want to put first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, so as a mother of a fairly large family, what does that look like? Some would have me believe I can only serve my family but Proverbs 31 tells me otherwise. Oh, and my youngest is almost 6, oldest is 18,

  2. I’ve always thought that diligence meant giving full attention and persevering, rather than simply working ‘quickly, without stopping’.

    Glad you enjoyed the violin. I got started playing the violin at state school too and I am still grateful for my first teacher and my hired instrument. 🙂

  3. Kim! I haven’t left a comment in quite some time, but rest assured I read every post….I guess I’m just not diligent enough to comment! Ha.

    Your blog is one of my few favorites. I can identify with almost every post!! The scorpion post made me shudder. UGH!!! That’s one of the many reasons I’m thankful I live in the Pacific NW!!!

    I’d like to offer my heartfelt condolences for the death of your dad. I know it’s late, but I need to catch up!

    Thanks for being a voice out there to let me know that I’m not alone in the trenches, and thanks for the encouragement that each day is a new day and I CAN do this!!

    Take care!

  4. Jeree B says:

    Love that you call it “government school”. It really is, but I have never heard anyone call it anything but “public”.

  5. Hello Kim,
    Even though I don’t have “many” children (we’ve only one), I still struggle with teaching diligence. It is one I also struggle with. Thanks SO much for this post and some great tips on training our “Arrow”!

    Now to implementation…
    ~Mrs. R

  6. chantelle says:

    I loved hearing about your violin experience. 🙂

  7. I’m so excited to win! I had checked this book out from our church library, but it is so full of wisdom that I kept it way too long. I didn’t finish reading it before I returned it. I was afraid someone else was waiting to read it.

  8. How wonderful that the government school got you started on violin! It was great you could take advantage of that! If you had been homeschooled that year, you might never have known the joys of the violin.

    • Yes, even though my parents came to a strong conviction against government school that year, I can see how my years in that humanistic institution were a part of His plan for me.
      Of course, plenty of homescoolers learn to play musical instruments… many of my sibs play guitar with a couple of mandolins and a set of drums thrown in.

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