Instilling a strong work ethic in our kids

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The dreaded, “Ugh, Mom!” echoes throughout the house on a busy Wednesday night. “Why do I have to empty the dishwasher? I just did it six days ago.” Sound familiar? Most kids prefer to have their cake and eat it too. Why should they have to clean the dishes when they are finished?

Conflict about chores comes up with almost every family, but when we are putting food on the table each day, hustling kids from one activity to another and doing our best to provide for them, why does it seem that our often unappreciative kids can’t find the time or motivation to simply take out the garbage?

You could argue that work ethic (or at least some of it) is instilled in kids no matter what the parent teaches or promotes. Perhaps some children are just born with the desire to see themselves work hard and do well. We want our offspring to be prosperous, but unless they are just lucky they probably won’t get very far with their looks and a ho-hum drive to succeed. But why not give them a great base for future success, both personally and for a future career, by instilling a strong work ethic now? Where do we start?

Lead by example
Let’s face it. Kids have a lot of growing up to do! Our model of behavior couldn’t be more important, especially when it comes to taking pride in our own accomplishments. Everything we do, our kids see and soak in, from how we approach deadlines (on time or tardy) to the way we talk about our work (positively or negatively). By showing pride in our own accomplishments, chances are very good that our daughter will too. If she has seen you working toward significant goals with a generally good spirit, then that is what she knows. Chances are she will grow into a fairly well-rounded individual who understands the rewards of hard work because you showed her what it’s all about.

We all know it can be easier just to take out the trash ourselves. We don’t have to ask someone to do it, remind them repeatedly to get it done, and show them what to do when the garbage bag leaks. But practice makes better, and, in the end, showing your kids how work can be done on a routine basis is key to getting them to stay on track.

With younger children, the time commitment is even more in depth. Showing them how to do a chore a few times and then working alongside them to make sure they understand may be time consuming, but the habit is formed by the repetition. Just when you think your three-year-old has no idea how to clean up her toys, she ends up surprising you by putting them all away and in almost the right place!

Valuable work
For kids to appreciate the work they are doing, they need to find it valuable. Knowing how to take care of ourselves and do it well provides us with self-esteem. Children who are not required to perform daily tasks or who are regularly excused from completing their chores may not gain that sense of value.

Kids don’t have to win the spelling bee or score a touchdown just to feel good about themselves. They gain great levels of confidence by doing even the not-so-great stuff such as making their bed or de-cluttering their closet. The imbedded pride comes in accomplishing everyday tasks on a regular basis.

Clear directions and direct consequences
Along the same lines as habit, giving clear instructions is important for a child to know not only when his job is finished correctly, but also how he should get to that point. And just as directions are important, so are the repercussions when the work is not complete. If work is missed, then children need to know what the consequences will be for not doing it. For example, if the cat’s litter box isn’t cleaned, something must happen. If mom has to clean the litter box, then she won’t have time to drive a certain someone to a friend’s house. Kids are apt to remember that the next time kitty needs a cleanup.

Yes, we can praise our children! We’ve sacrificed with time and effort, and while it may be easy to focus on the need to constantly point out improvement areas, dwelling on what they do right will get them further in the long run.
Encouragement and confirmation go a long way. Although it is often difficult, aim to praise 90 percent more than you point out mistakes and missteps. The “good jobs” and “attaboys” not only inspire kids to continue working hard, but make us as parents feel better too. HLM

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