Just whistle while you work… the 7 dwarves had such a great work ethic, but fairy tales don’t always come easily. Raising children who are self-disciplined, responsible, self-reliant, and who have a strong work ethic is not as simple as just whistling the day away. However, there are some things we can do as parents to help instill the value of work in our children, and we don’t need any does of magic to do it.
1. Don’t praise raw talent.
Children have different talents and abilities that help define who they are, but no one is born with a fully developed set of skills. Instead, those talents and abilities can be pursued and grown – the athlete who seems to have a natural talent as a quarterback still has to work endless hours during practice in order to hone his skills, or the architect who has a creative flair for design still had to attend school, work as an apprentice, and then finally create her own masterpieces.
Instead of praising our children’s innate abilities (those things that they seem naturally inclined to excel while doing), we should be applying focus to their growth efforts. If we praise our kids for things like intellect that are more raw tendencies, it becomes difficult for them to accept perceived failures. The fear of failure can be crippling, especially when it comes to the motivation to work as it might just be easier to stand still than risk moving forward and falling.
2. Give miniature doses of control.
When we give ownership of tasks to our kids, we tell them that we trust them, believe in them, and need them to make decisions that will improve outcomes. If your child’s responsibility is to feed the pets, don’t simply buy the food and make all of the necessary arrangements regarding the animals in the home. Take your child shopping for the pet food and let him select which one is most appropriate for your pet. Have your child arrange where the feeding dish gets placed, when the pets get fed, and the cleaning of the pet food bowls. It is also your child’s responsibility to write a note when more food is needed. These smaller doses of control can be hard to relinquish (especially if you have preferences for all of these things that you are now handing over to your child), but the lasting lessons from this true form of responsibility will be worth it.
3. Don’t rescue your kids from failure.
Just the other day my son came in from bike riding and asked his dad to help him repair the mess that his bike chain had become. Instead of just jumping up and fixing the bike, my husband asked my son what he had done to fix it, and told him to keep trying. Even though there was a look of extreme frustration on my boy’s face, my patient and practical husband told him where the tools were that he could use, asked him about what he had already tried, and then asked him what he thought he could try next. These types of conversations keep the decision-making process the responsibility of the child, and require that the child continues to provide the effort. Even though my son would have been grateful just to quickly have his dad fix the bike and ride off into the sunset, the pride and sense of accomplishment my son got from persevering and figuring it out was much more valuable.
4. Be a role model.
Our children are our mirrors – they show us all of our accomplishments and our flaws, and this is never truer than when it comes to work ethic. If you come home from work complaining and bemoaning your job, or doing the bare minimum around the house, your children will learn to loathe work and find the easiest ways out of it.
- Tell your kids why you value your job.
- Tell your kids why you like and appreciate your job.
- Talk with your kids about the value of caring for the home and the family members in the home.
- Don’t just work so that they can play – share the responsibilities in the home so that you can share the fun with the family.
5. Use chore charts.
These can help establish routines of responsibility. Schedules of chores help keep you and your kids on track, and they are great visual ways for children to feel like their contributions matter to the family. They see their name “in lights” and can earn a sense of accomplishment for the efforts they put forth.
6. Volunteer with your kids.
Working together for the good of the community is a great teaching tool for work ethic. Children learn that making efforts and contributing to society have value beyond just cleaning their bedrooms so they can have video game privileges.
Work ethic is not an innate talent or ability. It is the characteristic that is comprised of positive traits most parents want to instill in their children – self-reliance, discipline, accountability, and patience. When kids grow up believing that their efforts are needed, appreciate, and required, they have the opportunity to develop work ethics. How do you help your kids learn the value of hard work?