Developing Your Child's Work Ethic

“Oh no, not that...anything but that”, my then eight year old son would cry when I asked him to sweep the courtyard. Now, at thirteen, the protests have turned to negotiations regarding payment for services rendered. I am happy with the progress, but realize I have a ways to go to reach my goal of raising an independent, competent, economically-viable adult.

Launching one’s children into adult life, with the skills and education they need to support themselves, is a major long-term goal for most parents. Successful attainment of this objective has both financial and non-financial rewards for both parents and children alike. Self supporting adult children, give parents the freedom to follow their retirement dreams unencumbered. Retirement income is for the exclusive benefit of the parents. Whereas the children have the ability to forge their own lives, meet their financial responsibilities, and yes, save for their own retirement and their children’s education.

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Many financial plans include funding a college education for children, but similarly important, is the goal of raising children with a strong work ethic. In many areas of the country, and especially where I live, the children are raised with abundance, academic demands are high, after-school activities numerous and electronic games addictive for children. In addition, many dual income families use cleaning and yard services to increase the amount of family time available to spend with children, eliminating many household chores for both parents and children. How then is a work ethic instilled in a child? As with any goal, a good plan is essential. Here are some ideas, aimed at encouraging a strong work ethic, for you to consider.

Model a good work ethic

Children absorb what they hear and see you do. Modeling a strong work ethic for your children is very important. Showing and explaining to your children what you do for work, your attitude about work and what you say in front of them, all contribute to their perception of work.

Assign responsibilities

Parents who want their children to perform household chores must actively participate in the process. Both parents should agree and support the responsibilities given to a child. Age, ability and safety of the child should all be considered in the process. Clear directions and expectations should be communicated in conjunction with praise for a job well done, a job done, a job in the process of being done, etc. Keeping it positive, and remembering the “whistle while you work” motto can go a long way in shaping a child’s long-term attitude towards work.

Teach your child how to do a chore

Asking a child to help you with a chore is a great way to start teaching a child. Once he understands the task and how to complete it, he can then be expected to do it on his own.

Pay children for some, but not every chore they are asked to do

Giving a child an allowance for household chores gives a child a chance to practice money management and savings skills. It also fosters an understanding of the work-money connection. However, children should not expect payment for every chore they are asked to perform. A weekly chore chart can help designate “paid chores” from those tasks that need to be done regardless of payment. Giving a child the opportunity to earn extra money for additional chores can be an incentive to do more than the minimum expected.

Venturing beyond the home for employment is an exciting and important step in a child’s development. Early jobs can include caring for a neighbor’s pet, yard work, babysitting and of course, the lemonade stand. These jobs can help develop a sense of responsibility that is needed to take his or her first paycheck job. Structured employment can build self-esteem and financial independence. Children develop the social skills needed to work with different personality types, the ability to get ready for work and show up on time, and the fortitude to stick with a job, even though there may be aspects of it they don’t particularly enjoy. All of these skills propel a child on the “work learning curve” that builds the competency they will need support themselves as adults.

However, many children rely on their parents in one way or another, for support long into their adult lives. This is usually an unexpected and unwelcome drain on the parent’s financial resources. Expectations for retirement can be affected as the needs of the children either hinder funding or increase expenses. The independent, competent, economically-viable child is more than a goal for me. It is a mandate. The idea of my children moving back home because life on their own is harder than they bargained for, is not a scenario I am planning for in my retirement. Oh no, not that, anything but that.


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