“…A recent summary of three decades of research reveals that when it comes to raising smart children, developing their work ethic is in fact the most critical component. Whether it is success in school or in life, research indicates that innate intelligence and ability are simply not as important as a person’s level of effort.”
When I was a little girl, my mother enlisted my help with spring cleaning. As I wiped the dust from the baseboards I came to a particularly difficult smudge. I told my mom that it wouldn’t come off, and she replied, “Use some elbow grease.”
“OK!” I said enthusiastically as I jumped up and headed toward the cleaning supplies. “Where is it?”
Thus began one of my earliest lessons on how to work hard.
Most parents would agree that children are not born with a great work ethic. It is something that has to be taught. Teenagers don’t usually just hop off the couch one day and say, “I want to work. Let me mow the lawn, Dad.” Young adults who have spent all their lives doing nothing rarely wake up with the motivation to work a 40 hour week for minimum wage. Working just isn’t something that is at the top of our “want to” list in life. But it is, obviously, a necessity if we want to survive.
Proverbs 22:6closeProverbs 22:6 6 Train up a child in the way he should go;
even when he is old he will not depart from it. (ESV)
closeProverbs 22:6closeProverbs 22:6 6 Train up a child in the way he should go;
even when he is old he will not depart from it. (ESV)
6 Train up a child in the way he should go;
even when he is old he will not depart from it. (ESV)
says, “Train children in the way they should go; when they grow old, they won’t depart from it.” It’s our responsibility as parents and caregivers to help our children grow up understanding the value of hard work and learning to work hard at whatever they do. How can we do that? Here are a few suggestions.
When my husband heard me talking about chores with our three-year-old, he later questioned whether he was too young. I assured him that he was not. My husband very quickly came to agree. Young children are often eager to help. Doing chores with Mom is fun. It makes them feel grown-up and important. Capitalize on the good attitude.
What chores can a three-year-old possibly do? Our son slept in a toddler bed. Making his bed was as simple as pulling up a small cover and placing his pillow on top. He was able to do it easily. He was also able to pick up his own toys at the end of each day, and he was able to help me clear the table after dinner.
In addition, remember to share stories with your little ones about the value of hard work and determination. Age-old tales such as “The Tortoise and the Hare” and “The Little Engine that Could” serve to reinforce such lessons. And always model a good work ethic yourself. It’s true that children will mimic what they see. If you are telling them to do their chores while yours remain neglected, they are less likely to understand the concept or importance of a good work ethic.
Choose Chores Wisely
Of course, any task can be discouraging if it is impossible to accomplish. Choose chores that fit the age, maturity and capabilities of each child. As our boys got older, they learned to vacuum, put away their clean laundry, and clean toilets and tubs. I know many families where older children are responsible for cooking meals and doing laundry.
However, don’t’ assume that because one child did something at a certain age, every child can do it. Pay attention to each child’s abilities, personalities, and special needs, and assign tasks wisely. My oldest son helped his father mulch the trees in our yard. He enjoyed climbing into the back of the trailer and filling the empty buckets with mulch. He didn’t mind that he was covered from head to toe in it before he was finished. However, another of my sons never wanted to participate in mulching. Even when he was much older and was required to help, it was a battle. It took a long time for us to realize how much he hated getting dirty. We began to understand the value in offering alternatives, and when doing something messy was unavoidable, we offered him gloves.
Obviously, you should never ask your children to perform a chore that is potentially dangerous to them or anyone else.
Make It Fun
Chores are tedious. Working is not always fun. But if we can make it fun, at least some of the time, then we can teach our children much about making the most of difficult or unpleasant situations. Having a good attitude always helps.
Play music while you work. Play ‘beat the clock’–see if your children can complete a task correctly in a given time. Years ago, a popular children’s television program introduced the “Ten Second Tidy” in which the character ran busily around for ten seconds picking up her living space. While ten seconds will rarely provide enough time to do much in our house, we did institute the “Ten Minute Tidy.” Knowing that chores will not “take forever” helps develop a sense of motivation, and a lot can get accomplished in a small amount of time.
We also used a variety of ways to remind, reward or encourage my children for completing their chores. Sometimes they had charts or lists to mark off their accomplishments. Sometimes we drew chores from a jar to see who completed what. Sometimes I let them choose. While we rarely gave an allowance for daily chores, we did pay them occasionally for “extra” chores like helping with the spring cleaning or gardening.
Be Patient, Reward Effort
Remember that children have to be taught how to do a task, and sometimes they have to be shown several times before they get it right. When my boys were little, I wanted them to learn how to set the table. It was hard for them to remember what elements were needed and where to place them all. So, I traced a plate, a rectangle for the napkin, a fork, knife and the bottom of a cup in their proper positions on plastic placemats. We used those placemats for years, and now all my boys know how to properly set a table.
Think of it as quality time spent with your children as you teach them how to perform the task. Then gradually let them do it alone. If needed, write down instructions or “cheat sheets” that they can keep for multi-step activities. Most of all, be patient. This is a process. They will make mistakes.
Some child-development experts are now encouraging parents to praise effort more than intelligence and perseverance more than success. They remind parents that while children will have various levels of intelligence and ability, all success eventually results from the willingness to work hard over a long period of time to achieve a goal. Discipline and resilience are key factors for any achievement. So correct your children as needed, but measure progress and reward the effort.
Teach Delayed Gratification
Delayed gratification is a tough concept for children to master. We live in a world that says, “have it your way” and emphasizes that having it “now” is better. No one likes to wait. But delayed gratification is actually a very important concept in developing a good work ethic. Why does anyone need to work hard to get something if he can get what he wants now, without waiting or working?
Help your children to put work “first.” Require him or her to complete chores or homework before playtime. Ask him if he has a special toy he wants to purchase. Ask her if she want to attend a special camp this summer. Let him or her help pay the expense. There may seem to be no harm in giving your child good things or helping pay the way, but the lessons he or she can learn from helping earn the money are far more valuable than the toy or camp experience will be.
Determine up-front how much money is needed, how much you will provide, and how much you think the child can provide. Then help your child set a realistic time-frame to earn the money and ways in which he or she can do so. Realistically, you may end up being the primary beneficiary of the child’s labor (and therefore still the primary monetary contributor), but you are teaching your child the value of working and waiting for something he or she wants, and the prize at the end of that lesson will be much more valued because he or she earned it.
Make It Mandatory
There was a single father I once knew. His little boy often stayed with his elderly grandmother. As the boy grew I couldn’t help but notice he had no responsibilities. As the grandmother grew older and more frail, he did little to help her in the yard or the house. When I questioned her, she said that the father had made it clear that his child should not be asked to do chores. Obviously, the father felt that he was doing the son a great favor. I felt he was doing the son a great injustice. It took many years for that young man to learn that work is an inevitable part of life.
By making a certain amount of work a necessary and inevitable part of our children’s lives, we are not hindering them but helping them to take one more step toward becoming efficient, productive adults. Oh, it may be many years before they reach that “magical” age of 18, but learning to have a good work ethic must begin many years before that—with one small, but mandatory, task at a time.
Parents can choose a variety of ways to incorporate work into their child’s lives. Chores are not the only option. Some parents approach education as a child’s “work.” Other parents incorporate volunteerism into their lifestyles. And other parents encourage the pursuit of sports or other extracurricular activities. All of these are ways that children can be taught the value of work.
Of course, nothing will necessarily make children want to work. After all, most of us would agree that there are many days we don’t want to work either. whether we like it or not, we have to work to earn a living, to maintain our bodies, and our homes. Work is as much a part of living as breathing, and we should want to do it well.
Colossians 3:23closeColossians 3:23 23 Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, (ESV)
closeColossians 3:23closeColossians 3:23 23 Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, (ESV)
23 Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, (ESV)
says, “Whatever you do, do it from the heart for the Lord and not for people.” We need to teach our children that whether we are working in school or working at a job, working at home, or working on the ball field, we should strive to do our best. We should work at it as if God is our teacher, our boss, our parent, or our coach, because ultimately God is!
Thomas, “To Raise Smart and Successful Children, Focus on Developing a Work Ethic.” 2007-2013. OpenEducation.net. accessed June 5, 2013.
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