Eight Ways to Instill a Work Ethic in Your Children

Dear, Anita,

I’m trying to convince my 13-year-old son to come to my office on “Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work” day this year. He just doesn’t seem interested (in fact, he barely looks up from his important texting whenever I bring up the subject). I know it’s early for him to choose a career, but I would like him to know a little about the business world, as well as where the food on our table comes from! Any advice on how to prepare him for future employment?

Lemonade StandDear, Fathering Greatness,

I remember when this event was started in 1993 by Ms. Foundation (it was originally called “Take Our Daughters to Work Day” back then; sons have been included since 2003). It’s a great opportunity to under­stand what Mom or Dad does all day, which, for a kid, is usually a pretty vague concept. This year’s Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day is April 24, 2014. For more information about activities
or resources, check out the Foundation’s web page.

I took an unscientific poll of hard-working individuals I know and combined that with an ad hoc degree in parenting to come up with a few words of wisdom on raising future professionals:

1)  Insist on Respect. I love to see parents teaching their children to introduce themselves to adults with a handshake and eye contact. I would request that your son look at you when you are speaking to him. (Hey, you asked for my advice!) During teenage years especially, you may butt heads. In the future, your kids will certainly work with a few difficult people. Teach them to disagree agreeably.

2)  Chores. Helping at home as part of a family “team” will teach your child to pull his or her weight in a future workplace. In their future career, they will steadily get added responsibility, so graduate children from one age-appropriate chore to the next. One of my colleagues subscribes to this philosophy, “Just like mom and dad have a job, their job is to go to school and learn.” Report cards are their quarterly reviews! Working toward a college education was highly valued, whether from a high-achieving degreed parent or a mom who survived hardships and wanted her daughters to be self-sufficient.

3)  Praise the Effort. It’s important not to quash a child’s spirit by being overly critical, especially when they are younger.  Be sure to give clear instructions (bosses, are you listening?) and then give positive reinforcement for a task’s completion, even if it is not perfect. I’ve read that 10 compliments to one correction ratio is a good rule of thumb.

4)  Encourage Improvement. After you commend your offspring’s endeavor, offer some constructive advice. One colleague remembers her parents saying “do more than the minimum.” As she got older, they advised her to dress for the job a level above hers. Develop an “always improving” mentality.

5)  Rewards. You work for a paycheck, so pay your kids for their work. Whether you give an allowance, “incentivize” good grades, or create extra pay-for-hire chores, it’s great real-world experience to earn, handle, and budget money.  You can decide whether your kids’ earnings should go for necessities (clothing, cell phone, hair gel) or extras. One colleague remembers asking his dad for a baseball glove. The response: “You got money for that?”

6)  Let Them Solve Problems. Don’t always jump in to save the day when your child is having difficulties. One young director’s parents instilled that idea the “reward” was the success of the endeavor and the feeling of accomplishment – something money can’t buy.

7)  Delayed Gratification. In the age where instant texts have replaced letters to pen pals, it may be hard for the up-and-coming generation to get practice at delayed gratification. As kids get older, encourage larger projects that call for persistence, like starting a vegetable garden or earning scouting badges. Opening a bank account so she could watch her earnings accumulate was empowering for one industrious manager.

8)  Be a Role Model. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. While many teenagers go through a slothful phase (you sometimes wonder if they’ll ever become a productive member of society!), if you are diligent at work and at home, your children will notice.

Don’t expect the school system alone to make your children employable. Do your part to set your kids up for future success in the world of work.

Readers: What was the best work or job advice you ever got from your parents?

Have a question you would like to ask? Visit http://anitaclew.com/ask-anita/.

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Anita Clew's blog posts are intended for general guidance and should never be taken as legal advice. In all instances where harassment, inequity, or unfair treatment is believed to be present, please consult your HR Department or legal representation.
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