Helping Your Children Understand The Value of Work

Helping your kids develop a healthy attitude toward work is an important life skill. Even though some kids seem to be natural hard workers, most need some specific parenting to develop a good work ethic. Here are a few guidelines.

  1. Attitude: your attitude toward work is a key component. If you come home every day grousing about your job, your kids will pick up the lesson that work stinks. If this has been your practice (and if you really dislike your job), suddenly changing to an “I love my job” attitude will set off your kid’s fake detector. When you talk about work, focus on the positive, but don’t sugar coat reality. Develop an attitude of joy in the things you can derive joy from. It is OK to say something along the lines of, “My boss and I are not getting along, but my job allows me to do this really cool thing.”
  2. Assign age appropriate chores to your children. A good initial approach is to make it a family affair. Have them help you set the table, rake the leaves, or clean out the garage. If chores start out as quality Mom and/or Dad time it changes the dynamic of chores for the better. If it seems inefficient to have two people doing a chore, it is. The purpose is not to get the leaves raked; it is to teach your child the value of work. Patience is a key here; the job your kids do will, at first, be less than acceptable. Guide them by encouragement and gentle correction. Eventually you will be able to say, “You do such a good job I trust you to do it on your own.” To your kids it will feel like a promotion. Even if you have the resources to hire household help, the value of chores is too great to not use; leave a few things for the kids to do.
  3. The time will come when your child, if they have a good work ethic, will find some work outside the home. This will probably start small: helping a neighbor with yard work, babysitting, housekeeping, and the like. As they grow into the teen years this will probably shift into a regular job: Fast-food, retail clerk, stock person and that sort of thing. This is a good development in their lives, but one that requires your continued, if distant, supervision. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
    1. Make sure that it is a safe environment. Who will they be working for? What sort of environment? Parents have a responsibility and a right to check these things out. A job that requires your 15 year old daughter to work alongside a 25 year old man for extended periods without any other supervision is an example of an unsafe environment.
    2. Getting paid for their labor does not translate into getting paid to do household chores. If the new job impacts their responsibilities around the house then you, Mom and Dad, decide how, or if, that happens.
    3. Their education comes first, as do some family activities. Work can’t be allowed to interfere with education.
    4. Parents: if your child does a poor job, resist the temptation to jump in and rescue them. Getting fired is a learning experience too, albeit a rough one. If junior sleeps through his alarm clock and misses his paper route they will need to deal with the consequences.
  4. If the job in question is unpaid, that is OK. Just make sure the elements of a real job are present. A child of a client was named her school’s yearbook editor. The assignment required a fair amount of time, was filled with deadlines, and had specific supervision. These kinds of activities can be tremendous growth opportunities for a young person.

About the author

Jim Heitman, CFP®

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