Teaching Kids to Work Hard . . . in a World that Would Rather Play

Teaching Kids to Work Hard . . . in a World that Would Rather Play
June 17, 2014 Matthew L. Jacobson


You can’t separate hard work and good character. They go together. God expects our kids to know how to work diligently and to have a good attitude about it.

“Good luck with that,” Some might be tempted to say.

But, this is what much of the book of Proverbs addresses: the critical importance of a young person knowing how to work, and it’s our job as parents to teach them.

In a garden, you need to till the soil early in the season. It’s the same when it comes to kids and work. Young kids are often far more capable of accomplishing meaningful work than many parents think. And, that’s where it starts – thinking – the expectations we parents bring to the process of teaching “Johnny” this vital facet of good character.

“Kids naturally want to make a meaningful contribution but to succeed at a young age, parents must believe they have what it takes to do it.”

Behind every young child who believes in himself is a parent who believed first.

When my youngest three were ages 5 – 9, winter was coming on and four cords of wood needed to be stacked in the shed (one cord of wood is a stack four 4’ high, 4’ wide, and 8’ long). Yes, it was a big job but it needed to be done and I knew they could do it, one stick at a time. I was counting on them. I never picked up a single stick, and didn’t check the job until it was almost done two days later.

They also start the fire in the fireplace every morning, all winter long, and keep the wood bin full without being asked. I don’t say these things to boast and it did take a little training when they were younger, but like virtually all children, they have risen to the level of expectation we have as parents.

Someone might be tempted to say, You let kids that young play with matches? They don’t play with matches. They work. They’ve been taught matches are a dangerous tool and must be handled carefully.  They have been presented with a challenge and understand the important contribution they are making.

Kids are capable of a whole lot . . . and don’t try to take their job from them! They want the money! (for stacking the wood in the woodshed – the fireplace is just their contribution).

If you live in the country like me, there are countless opportunities to “teach work”, if you have your head in the game. While stacking wood, working in the garden under the blazing sun, or working in the barn, and my six year old says, “I’m tired,” indicating he wants to quit, I just tell him that, “Men work until the job is done,” and follow up with some encouraging words about being finished soon.

“When we take our kids seriously they take themselves seriously, rise to the occasion, and grow in maturity.”

We have a chicken coop with 40 chickens. Now, chickens are extremely productive of far more than eggs. It doesn’t take too long before there is a man-sized job to be done cleaning the coop. After gathering the three youngest (ages 5 – 9) I speak to them directly and with respect.

“Young men, I’ve got a job that needs doing and it’s a tough job. You’ll have to work like men to complete it today but I know you can do it. Remember, around here, when you work like a man, you get paid like a man. And, good men do excellent work.”

They immediately exchange glances, knowing they will earn serious money.

With that I sent them to go shovel the manure out of the coop and cart it to the garden, 400 feet away. The coop is 10’ X 12’. It was a huge job with an accumulation over the year of 8 inches.

“Am I being too hard on them?” Thinking they were getting discouraged about three hours into the job, I went out and picked up a shovel. When my nine-year-old returned from having dumped the wheelbarrow in the garden he asked, “What are you doing, Dad?”

“Just thought I’d give you a hand. You guys have been at this for hours.”

He looked at me, trying to remain respectful and said, “You told us you would pay us for doing this job so, I don’t get why you’re here.” Duly reprimanded, I propped the shovel against the side of the coop and smiled all the way back to the house. They worked for another two hours and then asked me to inspect.

“Excellent work, men. You are becoming fine young men. Men who know how to work make their father proud. I’m proud of you all. I’ve got to get back to the house to tell your mother what you have accomplished.” And, yes, they got paid well!

For some, the ranch/farm context is as foreign as the moon but where you live has no bearing on teaching kids self-respect through making a meaningful contribution to the family. The principles are exactly the same if you live in an apartment in Paris, a mission station in India, near the beach in California, in a yurt on the Mongolian Steppe, in a high rise in New York, or in a quaint little tourist town in the Northwest. Now, make no mistake, if you live in some place that resembles the town Lot lived in, these things are made much more difficult but the principles don’t change and they can be applied anywhere.

Take the New York apartment . . . someone has to carry the groceries from the store to the tenth floor. Why not commission “Johnny” with this task, in whole or in part, and speak the language of manhood into his heart before, during, and after the job is done. If “Johnny” is two years old, put an orange in a bag and have him carry it, praising him to the skies for his manly work.

If we embrace our responsibility and get our head in the game, it doesn’t matter where we live, we can focus the minds of our young children on learning the joy and value of work and in the process, teach them self-respect – that pillar of good character that is only acquired through genuine accomplishment.

Remember Adam? From the very beginning, God made man to work. Let’s teach our kids how to work hard. It’s vital to good character. Only kids who have learned the importance and value of working can respect themselves and revere the God who made them.

What jobs have you given your kids to help them mature in this area?

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