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Developing a Strong Work Ethic in Children

The best commencement speech never given came from Winston Churchill who reportedly said just three words – “Never give up!” - to the graduating class of Harrow School. “Never give in” was part of Churchill’s speech, but he went on to deliver several more paragraphs to the newly graduated students.

Perseverance, integrity, and a sense of responsibility are all characteristics of a strong work ethic, something that is often lacking in children and young adults today.

Work ethic, according to Dictionary.com, is “a belief in the moral benefit and importance of work and its inherent ability to strengthen character”.

The importance of a strong work ethic is born in the home and nourished at school.
Our children require opportunities to develop a sense of responsibility, to feel proud of their efforts, and to learn to respect the authority figures in their lives. Developing compassion for others encourages our children to yearn for more good in the world.

Here are four simple steps to instill the value of a strong work ethic in your child:

Children are capable of doing their own school projects. When I attended mommy and me classes with my first child, I was surprised at how eager the moms were to “help” their children with their art projects. Mom would carefully guide the placement of the googly eyes to the proper spot on the face even though her child wanted to put them near the feet. I cringed every time a child’s artistic expression and exploration was crushed.

Allowing our children to create, to experiment, and to think on their own is essential. This includes our older children who come home with school projects. You can always tell whose parents were involved in making the project and which children completed their projects on their own. When a child’s school project becomes the parent’s vision, we take away an opportunity for our child to feel capable, independent, and successful. I always encourage my children to take some time to think about what they want their project to look like. I provide a gentle nudge when necessary but really make a conscious effort to let my children own their projects. When they are ready, they make a list of materials they need, and I help them round them out. Then they do the work on their project.

Praise your child’s efforts. It is not always the outcome that’s important – the “A” on the test, winning the soccer game, or being elected class president. Children need to be praised for their efforts during the process. If my children come home with a bad or unexpected grade, the first question I ask is if they did their best and if they feel proud of their efforts. If they feel good about their work, then I’m not as concerned about the grade. The goal of praise is not to enhance your child’s self-esteem. Children deserve praise for their hard work, diligence, and resiliency.

Children thrive with responsibility.. Sometimes we neglect to give our children chores because it’s just easier to do the job ourselves. The weekly requirement to pick up their rooms is not enough. Children can be a part of the household and are capable of participating in its upkeep. Wiping off tables, emptying the garbage, and collecting the toys from around the house are good beginner jobs. Older children can take responsibility for a room and wipe down counters, dust shelves, and vacuum the floors.

Foster compassion in your children. Model kindness to your children – in your interactions with them, with friends, and with people who work in the grocery store, coffee shop, or gas station. Create opportunities for your children to deepen their understanding of the lives of others. Take them with you when you drop off clothes at the shelter. Draw pictures to say thank you to the soldiers, police, and fire people who protect us. Find volunteer opportunities for older children to participate in.

More than ever, it is essential that we take steps to ensure our children are growing up with a sense of pride in their work. It is essential to focus on this value when our children are young so that when they grow up, they are proud, contributing members of society who care about the work they do or the service they provide.

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Content copyright © 2013 by Lisa Polovin Pinkus. All rights reserved.
This content was written by Lisa Polovin Pinkus. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Lisa Polovin Pinkus for details.



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