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Helping Children Learn to Work

Tips for Teaching About Work


While we hope our children learn the intrinsic value of work, many of us struggle with that concept. What would we do with our time if we were independently wealthy? Many would not work much! So, we have to be creative and set an example for our children to follow.

Communicate About Work. Child psychologists recommend that parents share their experiences with work outside the home and talk about the personal benefits of working well. Fathers especially would be well advised to talk about their successes at work and the personal satisfaction of performing well. When you get a raise or a bonus, talk about it with your children. Let them know there are internal and external rewards for a job well done.

Give Responsibility and Rewards. One of my favorite stories about teaching children to work came from one of my mentors, Dr. Stephen Covey. Steve tells about taking a young son out into the yard and teaching him how to be successful in his delegated maintenance responsibilities. Steve defined a job well done as "green and clean." He walked his son through the actions it would take to be successful and to achieve "green and clean." As he left his son to do the work, he found out pretty quickly that they had different definitions of "green and clean"; and that more clarification and coaching was needed. Eventually, with some coaching and working side by side to allow a mentoring experience, his son learned the value of responsibility and reward. Whether it is the lawn, the dishes, the vacuuming or a clean room, children need to learn responsibility and work first hand.

Teaching One on One. As Steve Covey did, parents learn that the best way of teaching work is to work alongside our children. Too often, we put the chore chart up on the wall and move into our own projects without proper coaching and mentoring. Taking the time to work through projects and responsibilities together is the best teaching mode.

Focus on Balance. Parents who have indulged their children and not yet taught much about work need to be careful in changing that mode. Just as "all play" children are a challenge, so are "all work" kids. The key is striking balance. Don't go overboard in either direction.


Our house painting experience was a positive one for all concerned because we worked it together and shared the pain and the gain. And I think our family is better and more united for having taken on a big project and succeeded. Our children are learning the values of work, both intrinsic and extrinsic, and as parents we will keep trying to build those values in the lives of our children.
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