10 Ways to Teach Your Kids to Have a Work Ethic
When we talk about teaching children hard work and determination, we’re not talking about the idea of making children hard and tough, callousing their hands and emotions. We’re talking about building their self-confidence and self-image to pursue their dreams, achieve the goals they set out to achieve, and to have the chance to continuing to “stay the course” even when something is difficult. Teaching children hard work and determination takes offering them chances to try new things, encouraging them through their hard work, helping them “troubleshoot” when they hit a speed bump, and offering specific and effort-oriented praise instead of only results-oriented praise.
In April, Kids Village’s values of the month were Hard Work and Determination. At Kids Village, we understand that we’re not just teaching children academics that will translate into careers; we are teaching lifelong lessons that will help shape the responsible, happy, caring citizens of tomorrow. That is why we feel it’s important to integrate values into our curriculum.
About Kids Village Values
Every month we highlight a value that helps our students become more responsible and caring members of the community. This value is explored as the final piece of each school day in a short lesson, story, or by role playing. Each child receives a colorful wristband at the end of the month after demonstrating mastery of this value to positively reinforce the application of the value in day-to-day situations.
How to Teach Children Hard Work and Determination
Raising our children sometimes feels like it’s all about the little milestones: first steps, first words, or first days at school. That’s why it is important to remember to encourage not only the outcomes but also the hard work and determination that lead up to them.
Hard work and determination are important values to teach children and have a lifelong impact on their future capabilities, confidence, and happiness. Teaching our little ones to persevere when things get tough and to work hard to achieve their goals and aspirations is one of the most important skills our children can learn.
In April, our Kids Village teachers take time at the end of each school day every day to talk about hard work and determination. It’s equally important that your child sees these values reinforced at home.
Here are 10 ways you can teach your child hard work and determination:
1. Praise the effort more than the accomplishment
Children are naturally going to want to continue actions that are positively reinforced by the adults around them. If they’re praised more positively for being naturally good at doing a cartwheel than when they work hard but fail at going across the monkey bars, they’re learning that better outcomes result from doing things that are easy to them. Instead, praise your child when he or she tries again after they fail, or when you see them practicing a skill over and over. This will help your child learn that hard work, effort, and practiced is valued as much as (or more than) the actual outcome.
2. Give specific praise
“Good job” or “good try” doesn’t give your child the important information they need about their actions to learn. When you praise your child, be specific about what you saw and what you’d like them to continue doing in the future.
“You worked so hard to research and write your book report! I thought it was great that you took notes while you were reading so you could remember the important information you wanted to include in your report.”
Specific praise, especially effort-specific praise, lets your child know that you notice the work they’re putting into things and positively reinforces that effort.
3. Don’t underestimate your child
Every activity has its “age appropriateness,” but as parents, we sometimes forget to scale these quickly enough as our children grow. More often than not, parents underestimate their children’s abilities. Instead of immediately jumping in when your child is trying something new, take a moment to pause (unless, of course, the situation is dangerous!) and ask yourself it this is something your child might be able to do–or if they can do a scaled version of the task. Remember, it took your child confidence and belief to try something new. Hey nurture that confidence by finding ways to help them achieve their goal instead of crossing the finish line for them.
4. Coach your child instead of taking over
A coach’s job is to help expand and hone skills. Instead of hopping in to fix or finish something when your child struggles, ask yourself what tool, thought, or mindset can help your child finish what she’s trying to do.
Consider if your child is trying to buckle her seatbelt, but she can’t get the final “click” because her jacket keeps getting caught.
Poor response: “Here, just let me do it.”
This signals to your child that you don’t think she’s capable of buckling her own seatbelt.
Okay response: “You need to move your jacket out of the way first.”
Identifies the problem for your child and tells them how to solve it.”
Better response: “See how your jacket is covering the buckle? Your seatbelt can’t click if there’s something in the way.”
Identifies the problem for your child, but lets them figure out how to solve it herself.
Best response: “I see you’re having trouble buckling your seatbelt. I wonder if you look closely at the buckle if you can find something that’s stopping it from going in.”
Coaches your child to look more closely to identify the problem, then empowers her to figure out a solution herself.
5. Be patient
Yes, it will take your child longer to do something on his own than it would take for you to just do it yourself. But unless your child gets to practice doing this task on his own, he won’t get any better or faster at it. It’s also important to remember that every time you jump in to fix or finish something for your child, you’re signaling that you don’t believe in his ability to accomplish it himself. More than anything, your child wants your love, approval, and belief. So believe in your child! Even if your fingers itch while your child struggles to zip up his jacket, wait patiently and encouragingly. We promise, the look of pride on his face when he finally gets the zipper zipped will make the wait worth it.
6. Let them fail
Nobody likes to see their child fail, but even this can be an important learning experience for your child. It’s also an important moment between you and your child, where they’ll learn that your love isn’t contingent on success. Let your child make a mistake, and afterward talk to them about it.
Let them know that you’re proud of them for trying something hard or new, and make sure to use specific praise about their hard work. “I thought it was so great how hard you were working while you were practicing your new song on the piano today! I could tell that it was difficult for you, but you worked hard to think about how the songs sounds and to work to figure out each note. I can tell that the next time you practice it’s going to sound even better. I’m so proud of you for working hard to learn and practice!
If your child seems frustrated, you can remind them that nobody starts out knowing how to do something (or doing it well) without practicing first. Sometimes it’s helpful to use a ridiculous example, like “Did baby Anna know how walk as soon as she was born? No! She had to practice first! And boy did she fall down a lot. But we don’t give up! We keep trying, and each time we practice, we get better.”
7. Turn it into a game
If your child is getting frustrated and wants to give up, sometimes its time for mom or dad to step in and get creative to keep the learning process fun. Is your child getting frustrated at the time it is taking to clean their room? Teach them a little creativity and determination by turning the chore into “room cleaning Olympics” with basketball dirty laundry, a clothes folding contest, and by timing him or her to make the bed. Sometimes a quick joke or giggle can give your child the boost he or she needs to persevere.
8. Show by example
You are teaching your kids by example every single day whether you recognize it or not. Intentionally doing things that take hard work or determination teaches them that even as an adult it’s important to work hard to achieve your goals.
9. Talk about things you work hard at
Talk to your kids about something that happened to you today where you thought about giving up but decided to try again instead. Tell him or her about a mistake you made and how you problem-solved to create a better outcome. Tell your child about something that was really difficult that you accomplished. Encourage your children to talk to you about things in their life that they work hard at, too! These conversations help fuel the thought processes behind hard work and determination.
10. Read books
Books can be such a powerful tool in teaching our children life lessons. It gives our children an opportunity to relate to a character and to see these values in practice in an easily understood environment. There are several great books about teaching determination and hard work, including:
The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires
Flight School by Lita Judge
Little One Step by Simon James
Thank You, Mr. Falker by Patricia Polacco
What are some ways you teach hard work and determination in your home?