A strong work ethic isn’t necessarily about working harder or smarter. It is about being the kind of worker God has called Christians to be. Not only in our secular roles, but also in our Christian service and testimony.
A little research has convinced me the four main components of a strong work ethic are honesty, personal responsibility, self-discipline and perseverance. For our children to have a strong work ethic, they need to be trained to incorporate all four qualities into their lives. Unfortunately, the list doesn’t sound nearly as exciting as helping our children develop their talents or encouraging their creativity.
Frankly, the entire process seems like it would be boring and painful for everyone involved. This might be an area of training you are tempted to postpone until your child is old enough to get a “real” job. Sadly, by then, it may be much more difficult for your children to change bad habits established when they were small. Besides, with a little creativity, the process doesn’t have to involve tears or whining. Quite possibly, Mary Poppins was on to something! Learning to work the way God would want us to do can have an element of fun to it.
Now don’t get me wrong – household chores, kid-run businesses like lemonade stands and summer jobs definitely have their place. Often this is the first exposure many children get to “hard” work. To a toddler, cleaning her room would be like moving an office would be to an adult. Chores are also great for practicing the concept of having a great attitude no matter what boring or “gross” thing you are asked to do by your “boss”. This list is about other fun things you can do with your child to sneak in some extra practice on his work ethic without adding additional daily chores or more schoolwork. Here are some ideas to get you started.
1. Service projects are a great way to develop many of the necessary characteristics of a good work ethic. Don’t ask me why, but a child who would rather go without texting than help around your house will often be the most enthusiastic volunteer at a service project. I have seen teens paint houses in the blazing heat at an orphanage with less complaining than if their moms had asked them to dump the trash can in their room. Three tips will increase the likelihood of your service project teaching work skills successfully. Make sure everyone is well rested, hydrated and fed, have an “expert” on hand to train your kids in any new skills they will need to use and do everything you can to allow your children to interact with the recipient of their service.
2. What does your child absolutely love to do? Does it lend itself to a complex project? Perhaps your child is an artist. Have him illustrate a picture book. Writer? Have her write a picture book story. Musician? Encourage him to learn a difficult piece or try her hand at composing. Take your child’s talents and interests and have them stretch what they would normally do in the area. Bonus points if the project they complete serves others or glorifies God. When they become discouraged, encourage them to continue. If you notice the quality of their work is less than normal, encourage them to do their best work. The lessons will be learned more easily if the project is something they have chosen and in an area they love.
3. Want your kids to work on having a great attitude, perseverance and self-discipline? This one might even add an element of personal responsibility. Have a family “crazy” chore day. Pick a day and set a time limit of an hour (shorter if you are focusing on personal responsibility, longer if you want the emphasis on perseverance). Make a list of all of the chores that never seem to get done or that no one wants to do but which are age appropriate for your children (cleaning toilets comes to mind in our house!). Your children can take turns assigning the chores to parents and to each other. The person who assigns the chore takes personal responsibility to see that it is completed properly. If it isn’t, they must help the person complete the chore as it should have been done. When time is up, go somewhere for ice cream or another favorite treat. Talk about the experience. What was it like to be the “boss”? How about the “employee”? Was there strategy involved in picking who completed a specific chore? Who showed a good work ethic and who tried to slide by? How did the “employee’s” behavior effect the “boss'” mood? The sillier the chores are or the shorter the time given for completion is, the more fun you can have with it. Make it a game, but help your children learn some lessons about being a good boss and a good employee in the process.
4. Encourage hand made presents for gift giving occasions. This is especially effective if you have creative children. Creating a gift that will be loved by the person you love, requires a lot of thought and creativity as well as perseverance. If your children are older, allow them to control their own schedule for completion. Don’t provide reminders or nag. The date of the holiday gives them a firm deadline to meet. The reaction of the recipient to the finished project will hopefully provide the re-inforcement needed to encourage the giver.
5. Physical activities which require training are a great way to practice self-discipline and perseverance. A teen might want to train for a biathlon or to hike a particularly tough trail. Perhaps your family wants to bike around an island or run a half marathon. To be in great physical condition requires your children to watch what they eat and to develop and follow a workout schedule. Completing the goal will be a huge reward and confidence booster.
6. Role play or play a choice game where your children are given an ethical dilemma and have to determine the “correct” answer. To practice honesty, focus your questions on situations where they have to make the honest choice. The older your children are, the more complex the situations should be. Focus on both common lies people tell (“Tell her I’m not home.”) and common business lies (“I put the check in the mail already.”). Can you trick your children by writing scenarios that seem to endorse half truths, little white lies, lies of omission, etc? If you attach serious consequences for telling the truth, do your children opt for the partial truth or an outright lie instead of facing the consequence? Let your kids make up scenarios and see if they can trip you up with their creative plots. Have fun with it and don’t make all of them serious. Can you come up with similar dilemmas about personal responsibility, self-discipline or perseverance? I’m guessing cookies or potato chips might make an appearance in some of those scenarios!
7. Have your child pick a new skill he wants to learn. Let him do the research on the best way to learn the skill, the materials needed and the costs. Have him present a “report” (it doesn’t have to be written) with his findings. If possible, help your child find a way to meet his goal. Not only will he begin to learn some basic presentation skills (did you ask a lot of questions he forgot to research?) but also learn that sometimes it takes work to achieve important goals in our lives.
Hopefully these ideas will help you generate more of your own. Have you found other fun or unique ways to help your children develop a strong work ethic? One that throws a lot of parents is pet ownership. Did having a pet help your child develop a stronger work ethic or did you end up caring for it yourself? Feel free to comment below and help other parents find good ways to train their children in these areas.