How to Instill a Strong Work Ethic in Kids - Baby Chick
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How to Instill a Strong Work Ethic in Kids

Teaching children to maintain a strong work ethic is essential. Learn how to instill morals, responsibility, and success with these tips.

Updated May 1, 2024

by Rachel Tomlinson

Registered Psychologist

A strong work ethic will help your child lead a successful adult life. Although we often think of it as suitable for employment, it’s also vital in other areas of life because we associate it with achieving goals. Understanding how to teach work ethic can support your child in becoming a willing, responsible, and resilient grownup.

Work ethic is a set of skills and attitudes associated with morals and the mindset to maintain motivation to stay on track and prioritize focus. A good work ethic can fuel the achievement of a person’s goals and fulfill their needs, which are fed by how much initiative or focus the person has on the outcome. A good work ethic is also associated with self-respect, reliability, conscientiousness, and satisfaction.1,2

How Can Children Learn About Work Ethic?

Teaching a good work ethic starts with parents. While you are not responsible for your child’s actions when they become adults, you can support the development of specific skills during childhood that will set them up for success.

Avoid Immediately Fixing Things

Children are less likely to persist when adults jump in and fix issues for them. Although helping comes from a positive place, it undermines kids’ confidence that they can achieve or persevere without the help of others. So, you can help your child by being patient and allowing more time, so there aren’t stress, pressure, or looming deadlines to enable them to complete activities for themselves.3

Model Problem-Solving

Share problem-solving strategies and talk about times you had to work through a difficult task, letting them see you navigate challenges and persevere. When children see grownups exerting effort to complete something difficult, they learn what practical and emotional skills they need to persist and be resilient.4

Focus Your Praise on the Effort

Praise their effort, not the outcome. By focusing on praise for the steps instead of the end goal itself, you are teaching your child not to rely on outcomes to be persistent. Instead, they feel a sense of pride in the skills and strategies they enact while meeting the goal. This means they will be less disappointed or demotivated if things don’t work out and, therefore, more likely to persist with the task and not give up.4

Encourage New, Challenging Tasks

Support and encourage your child to try new tasks and tasks that are challenging but within their developmental capacity. This will get them to feel comfortable trying things that are tricky or require persistence.

Teach Them to Break Down Tasks

Teach your child about goal setting or breaking down tasks into smaller and more manageable bite-sized chunks. This makes completing them much more likely and can help develop their self-esteem.

Tips for How to Teach Work Ethic

Have Them Help Out

Get your children to contribute around the house. I’m not talking about chores, although some families may consider extra jobs with a monetary reward. I’m talking about ensuring your child is a contributing household member. Based on their age, capacity, and interests, you may get them to put away their clothes, take their dirty clothes to the hamper, or perhaps bring their dishes to the sink or put them in the dishwasher. These are the first “jobs” most children experience, and they can help teach them a good work ethic because they can feel a sense of pride when they complete an activity without the promise of a reward. Children may also feel connected and understand their role in the family when they feel they contribute, which is a win-win!

Expand Their Circles of Concern

Getting kids to think about others and do acts of kindness is important, so engaging in activities like donating is essential. This is because they act without the expectation of reward and to feel good, which is one element of a strong work ethic. Donating doesn’t have to require monetary spending; they could donate their time, draw a picture for someone, or donate old clothes, toys, blankets, etc.

Encourage Them to Finish Their Homework

Support them in completing their schoolwork. Homework isn’t always fun, but it is an activity that can set them up for success. Encourage them to take pride in the finished outcome rather than rushing through it as another box to tick in an already busy schedule. You can ask them how they felt about completing it or how they could persist despite challenges to get them to think about the skills required to be resilient and keep up their motivation.

Help Them Learn to Delay Gratification

Delaying gratification is about being able to bypass instant reward for a greater reward in the future. We associate it with positive things for your child’s future, such as increased positive relationships, better educational attainment, increased financial security, and less likelihood of substance use. It has these benefits partly because of the same skills required for a strong work ethic—persistence, resilience, and maintained motivation—so the two are often interlinked. You can teach delayed gratification by setting goals or projects that take some time and stretch their patience in waiting for a reward, like cooking, doing puzzles, planting a vegetable garden, growing flowers, building something with blocks, etc.

One of the best things you can do to help your child develop a strong work ethic is to lead by example. Our kids watch us to see the expectations or how to navigate the world around them. So not only try some of these strategies but share your processes and let them see your work ethic in action!

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Rachel Tomlinson Registered Psychologist
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Rachel Tomlinson is a registered psychologist and internationally published author of Teaching Kids to Be Kind who has worked with adults, families, and children (birth through eighteen years old) in… Read more

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