Teaching kids good work habits best done by example

Q: It was bad enough three years ago when my husband died in a motor vehicle accident. I was left a young mom with three small children and a farm that was heavily in debt and managed through a very complicated accounting system that I never did understand.

With help from my father-in-law and our family lawyer, I have been able to pull us out of the farm and put my family on a more reasonable financial footing.

But I have to work hard. I do not have much extra time.

So when the school sent home a note complaining about my 10-year-old son’s work habits, I was completely devastated. Where am I going to get the extra time to spend with him to encourage a little more productivity and responsibility? Let’s not forget that I have two other children who also need my attention. I am overwhelmed, once again. What can I do?

A: To some extent you have already started to help not only your son but also the other children in your family come up with really good work habits. Our studies suggest that skills like work habits are learned as much from modelling parents or loved ones as they are from any other of the influences that might be working on a child.

You work hard. Somewhere along the way all of your children are going to pick up on that and are most likely to work hard themselves, just like they saw Mom work. The problem is that things like work habits do not pop up until the kids are well into adulthood. Some of our laziest children grow into our most productive adults.

Knowing that your children will come through in the long run is not likely to help you satisfy your problems today.

It is sad, isn’t it? Your boy was robbed of some excellent learning opportunities when his father died. But don’t think that good learning is confined to either calving the cow in the barn or harvesting the open fields. All of your children can learn as much from you in the kitchen as they might have learned from their dad out in the farmyard. But you need to organize things a bit. Don’t just yell at your children to give you a helping hand. Spell it out for them.

You begin by talking with them so that they and you know exactly what they are being asked to do.

Second, you and they find whatever materials they are going to need to do the job properly. Then they do it, whatever it was they were expected to do. They evaluate their jobs, picking up what they might have missed and they correct their errors. Then they reward themselves with a great big grin.

Catching on to this system will take time for both you and your three children but once all of you buy into it your son will develop work skills that will be the envy of those teachers who are now complaining about him.

In the meantime, and if you want a little support in turning your kitchen into a training centre, you and your children can watch that old movie, Karate Kid. The hero in the movie jumps from household chores to the winning bout in a karate match. It is very inspiring for all of us.

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