Teaching children a hard work ethic
Can you teach a hard work ethic to children? Being a hard worker should serve you well through life (as long as you keep perspective and balance). Children need to learn that they should work hard – to the best of their abilities – at most things they put their hand to. Whether it’s a short term task or a longer term career. If you don’t put the effort in for something you want to achieve at, you’re relying on luck. And most of us aren’t lucky enough for that.
I think a lot of that ethic is hardwired into us. You can push and push, but some people just won’t see the point. If you’re an adult with a lottery win or a big inheritance then maybe that’s fine. But for most people you need to work hard and apply yourself through life to get what you want.
With children, it’s a fine line. They may need encouragement, especially for things they might not enjoy like homework. Children think much shorter term than adults who might be thinking about their child’s longer term prospects. Hard work means getting the grades you deserve and can achieve, and more options for qualifications and higher education. Or a career that you aspire to rather than falling into a job you hate or one that means you can’t afford the way you want to live.
How much should you push? How much is too much and will turn them off. And what does hard work cover?
Will children just discover it themselves?
For me, I was a bit of a perfectionist. I was quite academic, I did well at school and worked hard. I also worked hard at my extra curricular activities and achieved at those as well. My mum encouraged, but I never felt over-pushed (even when I was expected to get up early to do music practice – I kind of got away with doing less than I should for some, even for my Grade 8 exam).
I wanted to do well. I didn’t want to fail or be laughed at. I wanted to be the best I could and I was competitive so wanted to do better than others.
N doesn’t have the same urgency. His hard work ethic is different to mine. He also didn’t want to fail, so at primary it took him a while to just learn and practice and realise that he had to try.
He likes to improve at sport so he’ll work hard. But he won’t do that extra that would take him further, if he can see that he’ll not make it. In the grand scheme of things it doesn’t matter. He’s never going to be a sports pro, so if he’s enjoying it, and improving as well as being with his peers, then he benefits from those lessons and team sports.
School work is a different matter. When he was younger he was a people pleaser, their teacher pushed them to achieve for what they could do. At high school, they’re on their own to a certain extent. They are expected to work to their individual lessons, but there’s no urgency. He’d be quite happy to drift along just getting the grades at the level he’s on. Frustrating when you’re a parent and you can see that with just a small extra bit of effort, there’s the potential to jump up a level.
Maybe things will change down the line when it gets to choosing exam options. But I fear that the farm is becoming more important again, he knows that it’s there, and there’s a job at the end with no studying needed. I’d like to encourage him to get qualifications to have something to fall back on, to increase his knowledge and see a different aspect of farming to bring back to the farm. But that needs both parents support, and a push from teachers when children won’t listen to their parents.
But hard work isn’t something he’s shy of by any means. He likes to pick and choose.
When he’s out on the farm, he’s keen to work hard. He’ll work all day helping out, enjoying the fresh air, learning about the animals. Learning from different people on the farm. Absorbing that knowledge. And trying to think of ways in the future that he’d want to work.
Working on a farm you’ve no choice. You have to work hard, it’s pretty much non-stop in all weathers. It’s predictably un-predictable. You have to think on your feet, use physical strength and brain power to complete the work. As well as making tough decisions. Having the opportunity to work and learning from being around others working hard rubs off.
Here’s my thoughts on how
teach encourage a hard work ethic in children
How to encourage a hard work ethic in kids
1. Lead by example
Children learn best by observing and copying the people around them. If you demonstrate a strong work ethic in your own life children are more likely to pick up on that.
2. Talk to your children about why it’s important
Keep the conversation going and over time it might sink in at some point.
3. Encourage effort over outcome
Recognize and reward effort, rather than just the end result. This helps children understand that success comes from hard work, not just natural ability.
4. Set realistic expectations
Work with children to agree clear and achievable goals, and help children understand the importance of taking steps to reach them.
5. Teach time management
Help children develop good time-management skills, so they can learn to balance their responsibilities and prioritize their tasks. Hopefully schools will help with this, but providing children with the time and space available to complete what they need or want to do will help give them the space to learn for themselves.
6. Encourage children to challenge themselves
Encourage children to embrace challenges and see them as opportunities to grow and learn, rather than obstacles to be avoided. We can all learn from failure.
7. Give responsibility
Gradually increase the responsibility given to children, so they can see the tangible results of their hard work and become more invested in their efforts. Whether it’s chores or other challenges and goals, they’ll be able to see what they can achieve if they try and work hard.
8. Celebrate progress
Acknowledge and celebrate children’s progress and achievements, no matter how small, to help build their confidence and reinforce the value of hard work.
9. Don’t over pressure them
If children aren’t enjoying something or are feeling too much pressure they’ll switch off and won’t achieve anything. Working with them to agree what they want to achieve helps. But also help them recognise that goals are movable and flexible. They don’t need to be set in store and can be adjusted as needed.
I’m hoping that down the line the hard work ethic that N has with work will do him well. But also that he’ll transfer it back to school work again. After all, you can only rely on yourself to achieve your own goals, while drawing in support from others to help along the way.
How do you encourage your children to work hard? Or do they do it naturally off their own back?