Start Young: Steps To Raising a Child With a Good Work Ethic

The newest generation to enter the workforce, Gen Z, is causing some challenges for managers. A survey from ResumeBuilder reveals that 74% of managers struggle with this cohort due to their lack of motivation, focus, and technological skills.

It doesn’t help that Gen Z are prone to experiencing high levels of stress (68%) and burnout (34%) compared to other generations. Deloitte reports that Gen Z employees also face exhaustion (36%) and negativity (35%) towards work, leading to difficulties performing their best. So why is this happening?

In today’s digital world, where instant gratification is readily available, Gen Z has a different understanding of hard work and self-care. Combined with the current economic and cultural climate, this significantly impacts their attitude towards work. Additionally, Mental Health Million Project reports they are the least satisfied with their work compared to other generations.

Interestingly, one in five Gen Zers believe traditional education does not adequately prepare them for the working world. This highlights the ongoing need for teachers and parents to instill a good work ethic in children from a young age.

TPR Teaching sought advice from child psychology experts on how parents can effectively teach their children the importance of a strong work ethic and responsibility within the boundaries of a healthy work-life. All the experts surveyed agreed that this is a central challenge for parents in the digital age and offered advice on addressing the issue head-on. 

1. Set a Good Example

“Children often learn by observing their parents,” said Kim Homan, LMFT and Clinical Director at Tennessee Behavioral Health.

“If they see you working hard but also taking time for self-care and family activities, they are more likely to emulate this behavior. Explain to them why you work and how it contributes to the family,” she explained.

Other experts agree that modeling the behavior a parent wants to see in their little ones is vitally important. However, this phenomenon of ‘modeling’ goes both ways. 

Gary Tucker, Chief Clinical Officer and Licensed Psychotherapist at D’Amore Mental Health told TPR that avoiding showing children the wrong behavior is especially important. 

“If [children] see you working without breaks or taking time for yourself, they may adopt this behavior. Show them how to prioritize tasks instead and take regular breaks to recharge and care for your own well-being.

“This will teach them the value of self-care as well as how to balance work and personal needs,” he affirmed.

2. Set Realistic Expectations

Tucker told TPR that starting small and ensuring that the parents’ expectations match the child’s capabilities are key to teaching children to be responsible. Forcing them to perform tasks or take on responsibilities that they are not capable of or interested in can result in burnout, frustration, and resentment.

An effective way to avoid this is to set small, age-appropriate tasks, said Jennifer Worley, LMFT at First Light Recovery. “This could be as simple as tidying up toys for younger children or helping with meal preparation for older ones. The goal is not to overburden them with chores, but to integrate these activities as a natural part of daily life.”

3. Use Positive Reinforcement

“Positive reinforcement is essential for instilling a strong work ethic in children,” said Michelle English, LCSW and Executive Clinical Manager at Healthy Life Recovery. “It entails not only praising a child for their efforts and accomplishments but also providing opportunities for them to develop skills and take on responsibility for tasks.”

Several experts concurred that positive reinforcement is critical to helping children develop a healthy sense of responsibility and work-life balance. Worley suggests praising their efforts and contributions, even small ones. 

Tucker told TPR that praising any effort made, not just positive results, is essential. “This instills in children a growth mindset, in which they learn that hard work and perseverance can lead to success.

“It also assists them in developing a positive attitude toward failure as an opportunity to learn and grow rather than a reflection of their worth.”

4. Offer Opportunities to Learn

“Allowing children to make their own decisions and accept responsibility for them is […] an important part of developing a good work ethic,” English explained.

She suggests allowing children to take some level of control over their academic and recreational activities. However, she adds that parents should make sure their child knows the potential consequences of any choices they make. 

“Failures and mistakes should be viewed as learning opportunities rather than sources of punishment or criticism,” English noted.

Worley agrees that communicating with a child about their decisions and the results of those decisions is important. “When they encounter difficulties, guide them through problem-solving instead of immediately stepping in to fix the issue. This approach fosters resilience and a can-do attitude, key components of a strong work ethic.”

5. Teach Healthy Boundaries

Worley said continued conversation with a child about boundaries and self-care is vital. “Discuss why work is important and why taking care of oneself is equally vital. By maintaining this […] open dialogue, you’ll not only instill a strong work ethic in your child but also teach them the importance of honoring their own needs and boundaries.”

Helping children learn to honor their needs and boundaries is a crucial element of teaching healthy work ethics, said Lindsey Tong, LCSW and Clinical Director at Profound Treatment

“This means acknowledging when they are feeling overwhelmed or tired and encouraging them to take breaks when necessary. 

“Let them know it’s okay to prioritize their well-being and that it does not mean they are being lazy or unproductive. This will help them understand the importance of self-care and balance, essential traits for a good work ethic,” they added.

Where Do I Start?

Even with expert advice, teaching children a healthy work ethic and appropriate boundaries is challenging. While child psychologists agree that the ideal time to start teaching a child about boundaries and the importance of making an effort is when they’re very young, it’s never too late. 

Parents with trouble teaching these concepts to their children may seek professional help through educational facilities, child psychologists, or school counselors. 

Parents who have trouble with their work-life balance and observe their children mimicking this behavior can seek family or individual counseling. This can help them learn how to set a positive example for their offspring.

As the old saying goes, the best time to start is always in the past, but the second best time is today. 

This article was produced by TPR Teaching and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.

Caitriona Maria is an education writer and founder of TPR Teaching, crafting inspiring pieces that promote the importance of developing new skills. For 7 years, she has been committed to providing students with the best learning opportunities possible, both domestically and abroad. Dedicated to unlocking students' potential, Caitriona has taught English in several countries and continues to explore new cultures through her travels.

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