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“There is no substitute for hard work.” (Thomas Edison)

Years ago, when I was planning a Teaching Self-Government trip to China, a good friend of mine said, “Nicholeen, what are you going to tell parents in China who don’t understand why their child should earn an extra chore? Most parents don’t have their children do manual work.”

Since I was raised by a mother who made sure we were able to sew and cook, as well as fix, build, clean and organize just about anything inside and outside of a house, I didn’t imagine there were societies where children didn’t get the opportunity to increase their confidence by learning to work. The American dream was based on the idea that we can work for anything we desire and achieve it in time.

One of the great examples of living the American dream was Thomas Edison. Edison’s greatest character trait was his determination to work hard until he found the answer he was looking for. He said, “Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.”

He also said, “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”

That is the American dream; but we are forgetting it.

Not too many years after my trip to China to teach parenting I started hearing unexpected comments about work from U.S. parents. “I want them to work hard, but I never thought of having them clean the house.” And, “We don’t have time to do chores, but he does pack his own backpack each morning.” By far the most common comment I get from parents who don’t have their children work is, “But, if I make my children work, won’t they end up hating work?”

There are many children who profess to hate work and display all sorts of negative attitudes when work is suggested or prescribed. What can parents do to help children enjoy chores and hard work? Here are 4 ways:

1. The parents first need to change their own attitude about work.

One time, after a mother said her son wouldn’t do his chores because he was always distracted — and that when he did do the chore it was sloppy — she said, “Sure, work is awful. I hate it too. But it has to be done or we will live in a pigsty.”

“Have you always hated work?” I asked.

“Yes,” she confided.

“Well, if you don’t like work, then your children won’t ever like work,” I responded.

This statement really took her back. Suddenly she saw a piece of the puzzle she hadn’t seen before. Her attitude about work negatively affected her children’s attitude about work.

If we teach one thing and do another, then we’re not teaching properly and the teaching will not stick. The old adage, “do as I say, not as I do” as a reminder of the foolishness of hypocritical teachers is still profound. We have to walk the talk.

When we look forward to work with a happy countenance and a good attitude, we will not be surprised when our children turn out just like us one day: happy, hard workers.

Oh, some parents think that they can’t change their minds on a feeling they’ve experienced previously. A parent once said to me, “What do I do? Just fake it even though I know I hate work?”

There is no such thing as faking it. There is only changing your mind. Why do emotions or experiences get to be called “real,” but deliberate choices have to be called “fake?” This way of thinking is false.

Just be real and consciously decide to enjoy working.

2. Do more work.

Richard L. Evans said, “The process of learning is a process of repetition.” In other words, no one who never does work, or rarely does it, will ever love it.

I have a good friend named Les. He’s a nearly 80-year-old shepherd. When we recently visited him, we saw him running after baby lambs in his field to catch one for us to see. Les has had a lifetime of hard work, and even though he may say he’s slowing down a bit, we just don’t see it. He loves his sheep and all the hard work he does to care for them. He told us that he doesn’t know what he would do if he couldn’t work.

Children these days are lacking in self-confidence. They need to do more work, not less. They need to repeatedly feel project mastery, improvement, and success. This will help them see their worth, and thereby instilling confidence.

The children I know who weed fields, move sprinkler pipes and mend fences are always the happiest children I meet. Their futures are bright. They know how to fix problems and know the strength of their wills and bodies.

Idle people are never happy because they don’t accomplish or live with purpose. Likewise, coddled children often become lazy.

3. Work together.

Knowing how to work alone is useful, but working as a family builds great relationships. Working alongside children will create lifetime bonds. You will have conquered together. That shared experience will be a treasured memory.

4. Prepare for work-time success by pre-teaching.

Children are naturally anxious. They worry about details and unknown experiences. Decrease childhood anxiety about work by making sure that you properly teach them each task, especially when they’re young.

Pre-teaching a new chore by doing it with the child or demonstrating it will help the child be more confident about doing it. Oftentimes the child actually becomes excited to do the chore when she’s seen how to successfully complete the task.

Learning to work increases freedom. One of the greatest gifts you can ever give your child is the opportunity to do some good hard work.

To Help You Get Started

Depending where you live, this is the time of year when gardens are starting to grow. If you’re an aspiring gardener or want to more confidently teach your children about gardening, then try this gardening book I love.

And, if you think teaching your children how to cook and bake things the whole family will love sounds fun, then check out the Taste Tested And Approved Series, which includes the gardening book for free.