How to Instill a Strong Work Ethic in Children From a Young Age

How to Instill a Strong Work Ethic in Children From a Young Age

Do you worry about your kids' futures? Here's some tips to help you install a strong work ethic in children from a young age.

Written by Crystal Paine, Contributing Writer

My parents wanted their children to leave home with three things: a deep love for God, integrity, and a strong work ethic. They were so motivated to teach us the value of hard work that they set a goal to move out to the country by the time we were in our early teens.

With much prayer and effort, their goal was realized. And boy did we learn how to work! I have fond and not-so-fond members of lots of back-breaking work: gardening for hours on end, dragging hoses all over the acreage to water the new trees we had planted, and spending much of the day on Friday taking care of the seven acres of the land that were planted in grass.

Truth be told, I wasn’t always so thrilled at all the work they expected us to do. Sweating in the heat and developing sore muscles on a regular basis weren’t necessarily what I’d consider fun. But looking back, I’m so thankful for the character I developed through all those hours of laboring in the hot Kansas sun.

The lessons in diligence and perseverance have been invaluable to me as a wife, mom, and business owner today. Truly, I believe one of the greatest gifts my parents gave me was instilling in me a strong work ethic from an early age. We want to do the same for our children and we’re seeking to do this in the following five ways:

1) Model Hard Work Before Them

As has well been said, when it comes to raising children, “More is caught than taught”. We can’t expect our children to work hard if they don’t see us working hard.

This is something I still struggle with — especially when it comes to keeping my room clean (see pictures to prove it here). I’m not sure what it is, but while I tend to keep the main living areas of our home picked up and clean, our room and bathroom are the areas that often suffer.

I’m working on making it a habit to keep my room and bathroom clean because it seems rather hypocritical for me to expect something of my children that I don’t do well myself!

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2) Remember That It Will Require More Effort Upfront

When teaching young children to work, it typically takes a lot of practice before they get it. Show them how to do a chore a few times. Then, work alongside them and help them do the chore. Finally, once you’re really sure they’ve gotten it, let them do it on their own — and then be sure to inspect their work.

This takes patience and perseverance, but I promise it will pay off! I remember when I first started teaching my then 2-year-old and 4-year-old to clean the bathroom. It seemed like an exercise in futility at first, with no one really picking up on what I was wanting them to do.

But I kept at it week by week, and within a few months, they were working more independently. Nowadays, I just have to get the cleaning supplies down from the closet and they can pretty much do a great job on the bathroom all by themselves!

3) Give Age-Appropriate Chores

The last thing you want to do is frustrate your children by giving them chores that are too difficult for them! Start your children out with one or two simple chores and then gradually add more as they catch on and improve.

If you’re not sure what age-appropriate chores might be for your children, you might find these chore lists helpful:

20 Chore Ideas for 7-Year-Olds

15 Chore Ideas for 4-Year-Olds

10 Chore Ideas for Toddlers

Remember, though, that each child is different. What might be simple for one 4-year-old, could be utterly overwhelming to another. So keep your own child’s abilities in mind when assigning chores and don’t feel frustrated if they struggle to do what another child their age can easily pull off.

4) Make Work Fun

Young children typically love to work — especially if you make it fun! We have some special chore time CDs that we turn on while we’re doing our morning chores. They are upbeat and motivating and my children know that turning them on means it’s time to get to work. They often sing along while working (sometimes I do, too).

We love to have races to see who can finish their chores first. Sometimes, I’ll give an incentive or reward. Oftentimes, the reward of finishing first is plenty enough.

I try to involve my young children in what I’m doing and let them work beside me — even if it ends up taking a lot longer. I remind myself that my goal as a parent is to work myself out of a job, so the sooner I can teach them to work alongside me, the more help they’ll become as the years go by!

5) Praise Constantly

It’s easy to want to focus on pointing out all the things a child does wrong and where they need to improve. Instead of dwelling on what they didn’t do right, focus most of your energies on praising those things they did well.

Encouragement and affirmation go a long way. Make it a goal to praise 10 times more than you point out areas for improvement. Not only will your words of praise build up your child, but they will motivate and inspire them to continue working hard and developing the character quality of diligence.

You never know how far your example, efforts in teaching your children, and praise may take your child some day. Don’t give up, keep on teaching and training your children to work hard. You will reap the fruit of your labor someday very soon!

What are your suggestions and tips for instilling a strong work ethic in your children?

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  1. Great post! I’m still surprised how my 3 year old loves to do (most) chores. I think it gives her a sense of responsibility and being “grown up”!

      1. We use Mary Poppins’ “A spoonful of sugar” to clean up the playroom every night. My daughter loves it and this is the only time when we play this song – that makes it extra special πŸ˜‰

  2. These are great tips. This is what I do when I can. I needed a reminder though too. πŸ™‚

    I think sometimes at certain seasons of life its easier to do it one child at a time for a bit too. As in, one child can play and another work with mom and then switch and repeat for as many kids as you have. The baby does best in the ergo at my house.

  3. Great points, Crystal. For me, modelling some of those good habits is my biggest struggle. I work very, very hard in our home, at my business, etc. but yet sometimes I allow myself to be undisciplined in those things like my bedroom and bathroom, because it feels less important than so many other things that need to be done. And yet you’re totally right… how can I expect them to learn to keep their own rooms clean, or keep our closet and bathroom tidy when they don’t see me doing it very well? Super convicting for me (in a good way :).

    And I definitely agree about making work fun! In the last few months, my kids and I have been having what we call “cleaning parties”. We write up a list of things that need to be done on our kitchen whiteboard (color-coded for each person’s duties), then we turn on lively music, set a timer for how long we estimate it will take us, and work like crazy! I usually give the little ones a few simple jobs to do on their own, plus some jobs that they do by my side. We always decide before we begin what our reward for our hard work will be (usually something like making chocolate milk or popcorn, watching a Little House or Planet Earth video together, doing a craft, etc.). I’m amazed at how well this positive approach to cleaning has been working for them!

  4. Did you know that your “Fertility Flower” link at the bottom of the e-mail subscription does not work? I click it every so often being curious about it but it doesn’t work.

  5. I love the chore ideas! I needed those! And I just have to say: The pic of your “messy” kitchen is equivalent to my “clean” one! LOL πŸ™‚

    1. Erin, I was thinking the same thing. If that’s her version of “messy,” she’d probably pass out if she saw my messy kitchen at its worst. πŸ™‚

  6. Fantastic article Crystal! As usual! More than anything I really love that you suggest that we praise 10 times more than we make corrections! We all love to be built up and it makes it so much easier when we DO need to be corrected to accept it gracefully when we know we are loved.

  7. Thanks for the post! I agree, but we also want to teach them about money. If they don’t earn money doing chores, how do they earn money? Right now, they get paid for some chores but not for others. I still question though if this is the way to do it, but I’m not sure what else to do. Any input? Thanks,Lori

  8. Great thoughts. A good work ethic is so important, and so true what yous said about modeling the behavior for your kids. They always say they learn more from your example than by what you say. I don’t have kids yet, but am working to create those good habits, because I know it won’t get any easier once I actually have kids.

  9. great post…I love the info and resources. I try to do this with my son. He lvoes to help most of the time, and I hope he keeps that attitude.

  10. Thank you, Crystal, for this post!

    As someone who grew up without being pushed to do chores or help out around the house . . . I have to express that Crystal is, undoubtedly, on the money with her advice to us all. My mother took every burden of cooking and cleaning on herself, despite the fact that she had children to help her (God bless my father – he also helped her when he was home from work.) I think it was because we were extremely well-behaved children and were all succeeding beautifully in school, and they never wanted to “disturb the balance.” I believe my parents thought that was enough to expect.

    But when I got married, I literally had no idea how to mop a floor or prepare a basic meal. No clue. I remember my now-husband looking at me in disbelief during our courtship when we were dining with his parents, and I asked him how to properly chop an onion. And ohhhh, how embarrassed I was after we were married, when he had to point out to me that you cannot mix ammonia and bleach!

    I dearly love my parents and am grateful to them – but six years into marriage, I am still working to overcome a “selfish” nature that I believe stemmed from never having to help anyone but myself. My own son is nearly two and has already learned to “pick up” his own toys and books; like his Papa, he and his soon-to-be-here sibling will also learn how to cook and clean!

    God bless you. πŸ™‚

  11. Great post! Most of my children are older (10-18) but I also have a 3 year old. Our goals have been similar to Crystal’s parents. We want our children to walk with the Lord all the days of their lives (no college break) and to be equiped for His service. Having a strong work ethic fulfills part of this.

    As my children have gotten older they have become the go-to children that adults in our church look to help with things in church but they also hire them for work around their homes or business. They’ve seen my children work on things like mission projects and see that they skills like basic construction skills. Several older ladies from our church helped us move last fall and one asked if she could hire my 12 year old daughter to help her spring clean her house because she saw was a thorough cleaner she is. These are great opportunities for my children because although non of them will probably go into the construction or house cleaning field as adults they definately make more money per hour than they would working a minimum wage job. That helps them be able to explore field they are interested in like dance, acting and bees.

    All of this to say, keep on training your children to work – even when it’s inconvenient. One day you’ll look around and their “help” will truely be a help. That day comes sooner than you think.

  12. I wish more people taught their kids to work. The bible does say train up a child in the way them must go. If you teach them that watching tv and playing hours Of video game are okay. Then a person trained them well. So many kids want great pay, but can’t work for it. They complain to parent that is to hard and the parent lands up doing it. Since my kids were small they have learned to work. Here is a great story: my son 12 then was asked by a person in church if Him and another boy come clean his yard. They said sure. Well I took them their early , my son by far worked hard while the other just wanted water breaks all the time. By noon he had the yard done. Then person asked him if he could come mext week and help with the back yard. He did night invite the other one. Well here is the climax of the story. The man asked I we could trade sons, I laughed. He look at me serious and said his son is 24 years old and is right now playing video games in the house.


    A Lady with a Project

  13. Boy, do I need help! And reading your post is the beginning of me climbing out of the mess I have made. My boys see me so busy I can’t clean the house or do the dishes or do the laundry until taking a bath makes me feel dirty just stepping into the tub, and there’s nothing but paper plates to eat off of, and there aren’t any clean clothes in the drawers. I know it’s a problem, and I want my boys to see me working hard, not just being busy, and I want them to work hard. Hopefully, it’s not too late. They are 5 and 7 years old, and I want them to be hard working, Godly boys who will become hard working, Godly men. Fortunately, when my husband is doing a project around the house, the boys love hanging out with him and helping. But they’ve got to see hard work modeled on a daily basis. AND, I agree that your messy kitchen is nothing compared to mine! You should have seen it before a very good friend came over today to help me clean up my dishes. Changing habits takes hard work, but I’ve done it before, and with God’s help, I can do it again.

  14. I know you all might find it strange to see a 24 year old male grad student commenting on this site. I don’t yet have a family of my own, but I was looking for good websites on how to encourage a good work ethic and found this one. This is an excellent article. I grew up in a rural area, and in addition to having my brother and I help out with various chores around the house, the first job I got (that my parents made me get) was detassling corn for 3 weeks straight in the hot summer sun for a local farmer. We’d have to get up at 4am each day, seven days a week, and then were picked up and brought to the field. The tractor roared through the field at a breathtaking 2 miles an hour as we bent over the tractor buckets and detasseled the corn. Early morning was very cold what with the dew on the corn, but then when the sun rose it was blistering hot. It was a very uncomfortable job with very long hours, but my parents intentionally had us take the job so 1) we could learn the value of getting an education and not working manual labor our entire lives and 2) so that any job we got afterwards would seem great in comparison! Speaking of hard work, I just worked an 11 hour day and must get to bed! Thanks for the terrific site, God bless.

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