Because we did not have a lot of money growing up, I went to work at age 12. I started my own lawn mowing business in the summer and had my own paper route year-round. At 14, I went to work at a semi-truck tire rim refurbishing plant. It was the most physically demanding job I have ever endured. It involved shoveling huge piles of sand and moving them by wheel barrow to the sand blaster as well as lifting giant steel tire rims—by-hand—into and out of a vat of paint. But this was actually a blessing in that it taught me many skills and lessons that I needed to learn in order to be successful in life (perhaps the biggest lesson being that I didn’t want to do manual labor for the rest of my life).
The owner of the company modeled for me many of the attributes that a man needs in order to succeed in life. The most important thing he taught me was the value of work. He taught me to work not just harder, but smarter. He taught me principles such as quality and why it matters, the importance of details, and how a man should look at work and the value that it brings to his life. He taught me that the willingness to work hard can overcome many disadvantages in life. Those lessons have served me well throughout life.
Your child needs to know and appreciate the value of work. No one who succeeds in life does so without working hard. But teaching a good work ethic doesn’t happen by accident.
Teaching your children a strong work ethic
As with most things in life, the example we set as parents is one that is imitated by our children. Dads tend to be the biggest influence of their sons and moms their daughters (although dads have a huge influence on the values and work ethic of the types of men their daughters get involved with). Even teenagers, who we think don’t listen to us and we no longer have influence over, are watching us every minute to see if our actions match our professed values. Therefore, if we want our children to have healthy work ethic we have to first model a strong work ethic for them. We do this best by promoting the belief that that hard work is virtuous and by believing in the moral value, benefit and importance of work, and its ability to strengthen character. That means we need to always model doing our best, do what we commit to do, and be consistent in showing up at work on time with a good attitude.
We can also teach a strong work ethic by giving our kids chores from an early age as part of their role in the family. You might also give them a weekly allowance and teach them how to budget money, but they should do some chores with no compensation just because they are part of the family and chores need to be done. They should be age appropriate, but don’t be afraid to make them slightly more difficult and even physically challenging so that they have to not only try harder, but be smart about how to accomplish the tasks. As always, keep a vigilant eye on them to make certain that no one gets hurts. This develops healthy self-esteem and competency as they succeed. Just be sure to adequately teach them how to do the task (it’s difficult to live up to an expectation if we don’t know how—especially for a child). Then use powerful positive rewards as incentives when they fulfill their jobs, and negative consequences when they don’t as a form of accountability. Continue to give them increasingly more responsible tasks as they grow.
The goal is to teach them how to work. They are going to have to work for most of their lives. When we are adept at and know how to succeed at something we enjoy it much more. The earlier you teach your children the principles that help them to be successful at a career or in business, the easier their life will be.
So do your children a favor and teach them a strong work ethic. Kids who learn a good work ethic grow up to be healthier and happier in life than their less prepared counterparts.
Rick Johnson is a sought-after speaker and bestselling author of 11 books on parenting and marriage. He is also the founder and director of Better Dads Ministries.