Children start to build a work ethic from the time they are very young. Playing helps them to build resiliency, attention span, and intrinsic motivation. When a baby plays with a puzzle or new toy, they are discovering how the world works. The little frustrations and challenges that arise help them practice life skills. As children age, giving them chores around the house helps them develop responsibility and reliability. Creating good habits and attitudes toward work will transfer into other areas of their life, becoming a part of their basic values. A strong work ethic will give them advantages from youth into adulthood.
Children start developing their attitudes toward work as toddlers, but their true work ethic becomes apparent during primary school. In earlier years, this will mean tackling challenges in the classroom and continuing to try even when subjects are difficult. A child with a good developing work ethic will want to practice their new skills. It is important to encourage the work, but not focus too much on the outcome. Struggling readers, for instance, will develop tactics to please their teachers/parents rather than actually work to obtain the skills. When you take the importance away from being able to read, and put it on practicing reading, your child will learn that the work is what pleases you. Remember, they will eventually master skills if they keep trying.
Later in their primary years, children will need to practice study skills. Children who have an appreciation of time and effort understand the value of homework. They are more likely to form good study habits, avoid procrastination, and make the connection between work and achievement. That doesn’t mean they will always do their homework! Younger children are still learning to prioritize their desires. You might see evidence of a strong work ethic elsewhere in their behavior. Taking on more responsibilities at home, like chores and cleaning, or even sticking with a difficult video game until the end might indicate a healthy work ethic. Help your children learn to prioritize, but try not to shame them for misplaced effort. They will learn where their time is best spent as they grow older, and you can guide them gently in the right direction with clear expectations and routines.
The beginning of adolescence is a tumultuous time for our kids. The cliché of hormones raging is absolutely true. On top of that, the stakes are higher for school and their social lives. The tween years see children beginning to form their individuality, but simultaneously wanting to fit in with their peers. On top of those contradictory social developments, school becomes increasingly more challenging. The tween years are when we start asking kids to think about their futures. It can be incredibly challenging to maintain good habits during this crazy developmental stage!
Kids who already have a strong work ethic will see a boost in their resiliency. As a parent, you’ll notice that hard-working kids tend to avoid the drama of their social scene. They see obstacles as problems that can be solved, and they don’t view setbacks as the end of the road. A child with a strong work ethic is more likely to view failures, academic or social, as opportunities for growth. This time is still incredibly emotionally challenging for kids, so it’s important to be compassionate. They may continue to struggle with prioritizing, and put a large amount of work into projects that don’t seem valuable. Avoid punishing them for these missteps, and instead try to guide their efforts into positive pursuits. Introduce them to new hobbies that teach life skills, like baking or sewing. Hobbies will build their independence and their work ethic.
The teen years will help to cement a strong work ethic into your child’s personal values. In the last years of secondary schooling, they will be motivated to push themselves. Teens with a strong work ethic tend to set goals for the future. They are motivated by their own appreciation of challenge, so high grades are not usually the focus. They will strive to do their best, and bounce back from failures. If your teen is struggling in school, talk to them about their efforts. They may be focusing on other pursuits, like an alternate career path. They could also need help finding a balance. Sometimes looking for a challenge can lead to overstretching yourself.
Hard working teens may also seek out jobs. Children as young as 14 year old can start to earn money in a variety of ways, from traditional jobs to freelance opportunities online. Working can be a way to realize their ambitions, whether they are to attend university or pursue a career. At this point in your child’s life, it is important to stress balance. They may burn out if they try to do everything. Share your own struggles with balance and let them know that it’s important to take care of themselves. Encourage opportunities for personal growth, like a gap year.
Twenties and Beyond
Your child’s strong work ethic will pay off in their twenties and into adulthood. As they complete university or move up in their career, they will be able to prioritize their efforts. The resiliency they have built over time will protect them from burn out. These young people have the confidence to strike out on their own. As a parent, you can have peace of mind that they will tackle any challenge life throws them. They’re ambition and motivation will guide them to their goals, and they will work hard to be successful.
In the end, all you can do is prepare them for each step. The best preparation is practice, so let your children face obstacles on their own. Praise them equally for their effort, whether they succeed or fail. Teach them to ask for help, and to try again. Growing up is a process, not a product. You are on the journey together.
Ron Stefanski is the founder of JobsForTeensHQ.com and has a passion for helping teenagers find jobs. He created the website because he feels that teenagers need to focus on their professional passions much earlier in life and aims to teach them how they can do that. When he’s not working on his website, Ron is a college professor and loves to travel the world.