No parent wants a lazy kid. But getting kids to love and value hard work is incredibly difficult. The information economy has made this harder. Most kids don’t work the farm alongside their parents anymore. And this is all the more reason that parents need to consistently teach their kids be focused and self-starting. Unfortunately for parents, these conversations now tend to happen in the context of school and homework, which can be limiting. Life, after all, isn’t about turning in assignments. It’s about nailing them. It’s also about finding self-worth — and valuing yourself based on your ability to do the hard work. Kids who know that they can work hard to achieve goals and successes have a higher sense of self esteem and, unsurprisingly, a higher chance of finding success.
Still, it’s essential to strike a balance — especially in the context of a very competitive culture. “There are times to be hardworking and times to be lazy,” says Laura Dabney, M.D., a psychiatrist who has been working with children and adults for 20 years. The key, she says, is to make sure that kids love the process of — and take pride in — hard work. In fact, all lessons about being hardworking should be taught from this perspective. Here are the 6 things that parents who raise hardworking kids do.
They Complain About Work As Little As Possible
Although it might feel like the safest space to do so, home isn’t the place for parents to complain about work, Dabney says. Parents who want to raise hard working kids should know that even if the work day was frustrating or tedious, they need to model a sense that work can be enjoyable and fulfilling. “You’re always modeling for your child,” Dabney says. “It doesn’t really matter what you’re saying to them. If you’re modeling something different, you’re causing a situation that’s very difficult for them to understand.”
They Let Their Kids Struggle
Swooping in at the sign of struggle when a kid is trying to climb the jungle gym or struggles to build a block tower is second nature to plenty of parents. But if parents want kids to experience the satisfaction of hard work in miniature, they need to let their kids struggle a little bit and accomplish as much of the task as they can on their own. When their kid finishes the task they have begun, they should lay on the praise and congratulate them for working through something that was difficult for them, Dabney says.
They Never, Ever, Say “Because I Said So”
Although it might be convenient or easy for parents to tell their young school-aged kids they “have to do their homework” because they “said so,” relying on such empty platitudes will not serve kids in the long run. Parents who want to raise kids who have internalized the importance of work should instead say: ‘Well, this is your problem. We believe in you. You can solve this.’ After all, at some point, kids will be on their own, and there will be no one telling them they ‘have to’ do anything and there will likely not be a sense of punishment. Instead, parents need to make sure their kids have internalized the satisfaction in working hard. Otherwise, they’ll struggle once the reigns fly off.
They Respect Their Kid’s Temperament and Interests
Sometimes parents have a certain idea of what being hardworking is — and they have a very certain idea of what it should look like. That’s not good. Parents need to be open-minded because their kids will likely have different interests and talents and proclivities than them. One might be totally fit to chase the A and work hard on traditional projects such school essays or math homework, while another kid might find it more fulfilling to attack a LEGO city with vigor. Making sure kids enjoy working hard is about working with their personalities. What matters to them? Forcing them to work hard at what they don’t care about exclusively and not allowing them to chase their passions at the same time can lead to some serious unhappiness down the road.
They Help Out the Right Way
Just because kids have to have a go at working hard on their own, that doesn’t mean that they should be left to struggle without a sense of support behind them. Parents need to watch their kids’ frustration level vs. their level of satisfaction, Dabney says. “Your job as the parent is to step in when the frustration gets to be too much, or, when they get older, as it becomes dangerous.” Kids who are older and work too hard without breaks can damage their own health mentally, emotionally, and even physically. Parents need to recognize that. They need to be aware of their child’s development — and aware of when the levels of frustration of completing a task will outweigh the actual level of satisfaction of having done hard work.
They Understand That It’s a Process
“There are parents who are very authoritative. They start panicking if they think their child isn’t hardworking, not realizing that it’s a process. It’s a long process,” Dabney says. “And just because they refuse to put their dishes in the dishwasher at age 8 does not mean they are going to be out on the street without a job when they are 25.” In other words: chill out. Parenting is a world of give and take. Parents should check in with their kids, ask what’s going on, expect a lot from their kids, but not the world. A helpful idea, Dabney offers, is that if a kid is bad about putting dishes away, try switching tasks. Have them wipe down the table or take out the trash instead. Make the tasks more doable, and remember that in the process of doing more and more work, complicated tasks get easier.