Promoting Responsibility and Building a Strong Work Ethic

By Denise LaBuda

We all want our children to have good work ethics as they go through life. A child with a good work ethic will have a greater chance at a successful life. Since most of our kid’s behaviors are learned at home we have the opportunity to teach our kids that nothing in life is free and that we all work for the things we want.

To teach a work ethic, you need first to believe that doing the work to maintain your home and yourself is a necessary way to spend part of every day. Once you’ve got your attitude in the right place, you can decide what chores, jobs, and responsibilities your kids can do to maintain your home so that everyone (including you) can have time for other activities and some relaxation.

Here are six things to consider when putting your “work” plan in place:

1.   Expectations: Research on child development shows that different children are capable of doing different chores at varying ages and it is unrealistic to try to get them to do things that are beyond their capabilities.  Learning about ages and stages is helpful in setting realistic expectations according to your children’s maturity levels.
2.   Why: Explain in age-appropriate language why everybody needs to help around the house. Everyone is an essential member of your family and is capable of and expected to contribute to the running of the household. 
3.   Demonstrate: Kids are not born knowing the skills needed to do most household chores. Before you ask your youngsters to make their beds, you might have to show them exactly what that means.  You need to demonstrate the skill – perhaps many, many times before they will learn how to do it by themselves.
Telling them exactly what you want them to do is important also.  Instead of using the generic term “clean up your room,” say, “please pick up your teddy bear and put it in the box by the table.” Keep the instructions simple and don’t expect anything even remotely close to perfection the first few times around.  Remember, they are beginners – they’ll only master these tasks over time.

4.   Praise: Always praise your children for their efforts, especially when they are just learning a new skill.  Break down a larger task into smaller ones that work toward full accomplishment of the job; then you can congratulate small efforts toward that goal along the way.  Even if the end result is less than what you would have hoped, you can affirm them for trying and for their efforts.
5.   Consequences: These need to be made clear. For example, if Mom has to do someone else’s job, she can’t possibly have the time to taxi that person where he or she wants to go. No need to be angry about it. It’s just a fact. When everyone helps, there’s time to do things that people in the household want to do.
6.   Model: Remember that you are your children’s most important role model.  How well do you handle your responsibilities and what is your attitude about doing your work around the house? Monitor what messages you send and what you are modeling for your children.
Taking little steps along the way will help your kids to internalize the more general and abstract concepts of responsibility.  It takes skill, perseverance, and a great deal of patience to lovingly insist that your kids follow through with their commitments.  In the long run, this determination will pay off.  They will become people who have a strong work ethic and who understand that they have an important role to play in their homes and in their communities. 

Denise LaBuda is the founder of the Economic Independence Group, and is dedicated to supporting families, businesses, teachers and non-profit organizations in their efforts to provide children and young adults with a strong financial foundation.

8 thoughts on “Promoting Responsibility and Building a Strong Work Ethic

  1. I seem to recollect that my younger brother and I had a great deal more responsibility when we were young children than my children at the same ages. I will be carefully considering what I learn during Work Ethic Month and reassessing and reevaluating what I expect from my children. Thanks for the helpful input, Denise. ~ Rana

  2. I can’t begin to tell you my childhood chores list without sounding like “when I was a kid”. Suffice it to say that I more than earned my small allowance. I also knew how to keep a home and make a daily life under my own roof, skills that I’m grateful for when I see young people today struggling to make ends meet. Hot tip-of-the-day: even inexpensive clothes look good when they are ironed! Ironing my father’s fatigues was one way I earned my allowance.

  3. Oh, this is a topic true to my heart….as the “cool” auntie to eight little pickles, I watch ALL of them so often and can tell which ones are learning about responsibility, consequences, work ethics, sharing, etc…..I will have to subtly remind my siblings that helping out around the house is not a duty or a chore but part of being a family member!

  4. Denise,
    Thank you for this post. Right away it sent me into evaluating what we are doing with our kids. It also brought back memories of how my parents taught me about this topic. I’ve definitely observed that a foundation of a strong work ethic enhances peoples lives. ~Land

  5. This is an insightful post that reminds us about the things we can do to help our children grow into responsible adults. Your point on modeling a good work ethic and actually showing them what it means is so very important. Thank you for this informative post.

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