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Seven Ideas to Teach Students Work Ethic

I celebrate it whenever I meet hard working students. I see them on almost every university campus I’m on, and in almost every high school I visit. These adolescents just “get the system” and realize you can achieve almost anything if you work hard enough. On the other hand, I also see far too many students growing up in a world of speed and convenience who’ve never developed a work ethic.

May I suggest a couple of reasons why this might be?

From a recent survey of parents, 82 percent said “doing chores” was a normal household experience for them growing up. However, only 28 percent of these same parents say they ask their kids to do chores. For some reason, it was good for us, but not good for them. We feel we’re not good parents if we stress them out with chores.

Why Do Parents Fail to Expect Chores From Kids:

  1. Many believe their kids are just too stressed to add chores to their homework.
  1. Many know that trying to make kids do chores leads to an unpleasant argument.
  1. Many can assume they are bad parents if their kids have to work.
  1. Many say that it’s just easier to do the tasks around the house themselves.

The Benefits of Chores Go Beyond Work Ethic

A study released from the University of Mississippi collated data drawn from over 25 years, (beginning in 1967) and discovered the obvious. Dr. Marty Rossmann says “chores instilled in children the importance of contributing to their families and gave them a sense of empathy as adults. Those who had done chores as young children were more likely to be well-adjusted, to have better relationships with friends and family and to be more successful in their careers.”

What adult wouldn’t want that for this next generation?

In fact, Dr. Rossmann says that “asking children to help with household chores starting at age 3 or 4 was instrumental in predicting the children’s success in their mid-20s.” Do you realize this was normal a hundred years ago? Families were larger and kids all had to pitch in, even at pre-school age. They did age-appropriate chores like helping to make the bed. It actually helped them mature. “Children are often capable of more than their parents give them credit. Toddlers are eager to please and are ready to show off their big-kid skills,” says Nicholas Long, director of the Center for Effective Parenting at Arkansas Children’s Hospital.

How Parents and Teachers Can Teach Healthy Work Ethic…Beyond Chores

1. Choose appropriate tasks for kids that include an incentive to do them.

You’ll get buy in quicker from kids if the tasks they must do benefit them in the end. When my son lost a possession he really liked, I convinced him a clean room would help him find it. He cleaned the room and found it. Let’s be honest. We all do better when we see “what’s in it for me.” This is human.

2. Model a work ethic for them.

We can’t expect a healthy, strong work ethic from our students or kids if we are not demonstrating one ourselves. Too often, our young generation has seen extremes: adults who are “workaholics;” who’ve lost themselves in their careers, or those who are lazy and pitifully dependent on others for their lifestyle. I want all kids to see me perform my work with excellence—yet experience a life outside of the work as well.

3. Offer payment for their work.

Opinions differ on this one, but I believe it’s healthy to divide the list of “to do” items into two groups. One’s a list of tasks we all do because we’re part of the class or the family. The other list contains items they can do for payment or reward. This is key. Students need to know that some work is purely for the purpose of serving others, while other work can be rewarding both internally and externally.

4. Talk about the benefits of work experience.

“As we become more prosperous as a society, we have expected less and less of our children,” says Nicholas Long, director of the Centre for Effective Parenting at Arkansas Children’s Hospital.. “What’s happening is that we’re sending them off to college and they don’t know how to wash their clothes, cook a meal, sometimes even basic things like how to change a light bulb, because we do everything for our children too often.” If you want to motivate them, illustrate how working now prepares them for expectations later.

5. Perform work tasks with them.

Too often, when adults ask young adults to perform a task, kids don’t put their heart into it and do it poorly. This is usually when we say we’ll just do it ourselves. What if we did the task with them? Talk through how you want it done. Show them what excellence looks like, and then watch them as they do it. Affirm their work along the way.

6. Challenge them to do something that benefits others.

While it may be difficult at first to convince kids of serving the entire family or class, having them do something for someone rather than just for their own benefit prevents them from saying, “I don’t care if my room is clean.” It could be anything from vacuuming the family room, to serving at a soup kitchen or cleaning up a local pond. 

7. Tie work tasks to a goal they have.

I know adults who, when they discover a student wants to buy an item (i.e. smart phone, new jeans, etc.) actually help them plan to pay for it through a series of jobs, enabling them to see how work brings rewards. My friend actually bought a portable device his son really wanted but kept it on his own “layaway” plan until his son could pay it off. When his son made the last payment, he got the device and a life lesson too.

One last footnote. According to a United Nations report, girls spend 40 percent more time doing chores than boys do. For whatever reason, it’s an interesting reality we should be on the look out for. What do you say we cultivate a service mindset and work ethic in every student?


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