15 Ways to Teach Kids How to Work Hard

It was the first day of summer in 1984. He was 14 years old.

His dad woke him up before work and said there’s a load of sand in the driveway and shovel. He told him by the time he got home from work, he wanted the low spots in the backyard filled.

There were similar projects all summer long.

That’s how my husband was raised.

(I was raised scooping dog poop in the hot Texas sun, so don’t feel too sorry for him.)

There was also summer fun for both of us -bike riding and baseball playing,  But there was also a lot of hard work. We didn’t sleep until noon or play video games until the middle of the night while mom fixed lunch everyday and did all the laundry.

We have come along way, huh? Maybe it’s time to backtrack.

Because when I declare it’s yard work day at my house, it’s like the End Times around here. We ignore the groans and moans and wailing and push through). Because hard work is good for kids. Not only does it teach them to be grateful for what you do all day long, it creates a work ethic in them that will carry them into adulthood.

Pile of dirty washing in bathroom

Here are 15 ways to teach kids how to work hard:

  1. Don’t do everything for them: It sounds simple, but kids will let you do everything for them as long as you do everything for them.
  2. Require them to take care of their own space. They won’t clean it up you say? Try the age old “you can’t do or have this (fill in the blank) until you clean up this (fill in the blank)” and I bet they will.
  3. Make them sweat a little. Like literally get their hands dirty picking up the busted trash in the street, washing the car, or the bottom of the trash can. It’s okay. They will survive.
  4. Start early.
  5. Make work part of your family routine. This is just something we do. We take care of what God has given us.
  6. Let them learn from their mistakes (don’t jump in to fix or redo everything they try to do) Let it go.
  7. Make work fun (chore roulette).
  8. Be an example of hard work-Let them see you working hard.
  9. Serve as a family (perspective is everything). This has been huge for us.
  10. Be an encourager (and not a control freak).
  11. Let your kids be in charge of dinner (from grocery shopping to putting it on the table). Last week my son prepared dinner for the family. I needed his help and he did a great job. He doubted at first, but ended up really proud of himself.
  12. Give them a chance to earn money, so they can learn how to handle it. This has been the single best thing to eliminate the gimme gimmes.
  13. Teach them to save and give a % of their money.
  14. Give them projects that require time management skills (like dirt on the driveway)
  15. Be consistent

I married a hard-working man. And I need to tell his parents thank you.

Comments

  1. 1

    says

    My mom had a ‘chores list’ with at least 3 chores per day that we had to do after school, BEFORE she got home from work. I remember Mondays were the worst: Clean the cat box, change the sheets on the bed, sweep the kitchen. But, it taught me how to clean, how to be responsible, and what happened if you DIDN’T do your chores :)

  2. 2

    says

    You always hit the nail on the head, Kristen. Thank you! I started working at age 14 and was adopted at 15. I paid for almost everything in my teenage years and then put myself through college, despite the odds. I married someone very different from me but we both agree, our job is to make our kids independent and we won’t do that by doing everything for them.

    I think I shared with you our Independence Day project and how we handle chores and that we don’t give allowance. Just in case I didn’t: http://disquisitivemama.blogspot.com/2014/03/what-giving-our-children-weekly.html

    Keep it up and thank you again!

  3. 3

    bonnie says

    My 2-year old helps out all day…she picks up laundry and puts away the things she can, and when I say “clean your room,” she does it! She also cleans up after her baby brother….I can’t tell you how proud I am of her! It’s not really any reflection on my own parenting or housekeeping…I usually wonder how she got to be such a cool kid! I’m just looking for ways to make sure her habits don’t change when she gets older. This was great!

    • 3.1

      says

      I have a 4 year old that does all of this stuff too. but as soon as they find out its a chore or work… they don’t like to do it anymore :) I used chores on a daily basis for my 3 boys whom are now grown and live on their own or are married.
      I used grounding my boys for the cleaning of garbage cans, floor boards, etc.. they cleaned everything I told them to until I thought punishment was over, because I myself didn’t want to be grounded to make sure they stay grounded, and that was my deal.

  4. 4

    Shanna says

    This is great! I have little ones – 2 and almost 4 – Trying to figure out some age appropriate chores for them. My daughter will put the silverware away when I’m unloading the dishwasher – she loves it! But what other chores could they do? I’ve been trying to think of what to get them to do.

    • 4.1

      Jen says

      Shanna,
      What great ages! Perfect time to spend working alongside Mama. This is the time to show them work can be fun, both the experience and seeing the fruits of the labor! Turn on some music and dance while you all sweep the kitchen, if they have little brooms, let them wipe off the table or counters, help put laundry in the dryer, fold washcloths, dust, pick up toys, feed pets. Encourage your little ones by letting them know what they did was a big help to you or that it made a difference for your family and you will have eager little helpers ready for next time! By starting at this age, by the time they reach 7-9, they will be a huge help around the house and you will have instilled great work ethic in them- something that they will always benefit from.
      Kristen, great article! Love it!

    • 4.2

      sandy says

      let them put away some of their laundry. I started my kids young with this. easy things are socks, underwear, pj’s, shorts. both my kids put their own laundry away, except for shirts. and they share the towels. they’re not folded perfect but i don’t care. i want them to learn how to do it. :)

    • 4.3

      says

      shanna,

      way to go on already getting your daughter involved in unloading the silverware. that’s a fabulous place to start. i’m not sure about the 2-yr-old, but i bet your 4-yr-old could be in charge of matching socks, & even learn how to fold wash cloths. your 4-yr-old could also do the silverware portion of setting the table while your 2-yr-old does the napkins. your 4-yr-old may even be ready to learn how to dust — so long as you remember that it’s about the training not the technique at this point. learning good habits is the goal at that stage; you can always refine technique along the way as they get older.

      you’re doing great & your children are blessed that you care enough to pour into them.

      blessings,
      tanya

    • 4.4

      Heather S. says

      Hi there! When my girls were that age they had tasks to complete around the house. Some of the things I remember them doing: putting away silverware (sounds like you’ve got that already), dusting the baseboards (great for people who are already naturally close to the ground), brushing the cats, putting away their own clothes (the 4 year old did, not the 2 year old) from the laundry, helped me sort the laundry (even a 2 year old knows the difference between colored clothes, white clothes and towels), putting away their own toys (if they can get them out they can put them back), feeding the cats, and general help in the kitchen. The four year old is at a great age to get things out for you, learn how to measure, learn to do controlled stirring (a little messy while they learn, though), etc. Hope those things help a bit!

    • 4.5

      JJ says

      Younger children can fold wash cloths as you do laundry, pick up laundry and place it in a hamper, add soap to the washer, wash counter tops, wash chairs down after dinner, spot sweep kitchen floor, use a hand vacuum to sweep dust bunnies from the steps…the list is endless.

    • 4.6

      Gina says

      With my 3 year old, I would give her the wash cloths and hand towels for her to fold as I did the bath towels and sheets. She felt good that she was doing “Mommy” work. She also held the dust pan when I swept. I would give her wet sponges when washing the car, she loved helping.

    • 4.7

      sarah says

      I started having my 4-year-old put his clothes away, unload the dishwasher, and other things. I had to help him at first, but now I can say “Go put your clothes away” and he can do it all on his own, even hang up his shirts.

  5. 5

    says

    These are great ideas!! We are working this concept more and more in our house. In fact, my project for the next few days is to create a list of jobs my crew can do to earn money, and get back on track with our daily chores. It is so important for children to learn responsibility and learn that they have the ABILITY to do these things. Thanks for a good list of ways to make it work! -Gina, mom of 5

  6. 6

    says

    Fantastic ideas! I think these will come in handy for us with all 6 of our kids. This list is empowering for the kids and freeing for the parents. I will be sure to share this list with others.
    Scott Fravel – Author of “The Transforming Power of a Father” http://www.scottfravel.com

  7. 7

    hannah says

    thanks for this.
    i was reading a blog the other day about a guy reminiscing his teenage years. he mentioned hiding something in his room but “being afraid his mom would find it when she came to clean his room.”
    can’t tell you how that ruffled my feathers. what’s a mom doing cleaning her teenage son’s room? i have lived with 5 guys in a house and i’m telling you that i know for a fact — their mom’s cleaned their rooms for them their whole lives. it’s evident in the way they behave today as adults — leave it long enough and someone will come behind and clean it up.
    moms, let’s stop handicapping our children (boys especially)!! let’s at very least consider the sanity of our future daughters-in-law!!!

  8. 8

    Tab Davis says

    These are great ideas. My husband and I have talked about paying our kiddos to do things so they can learn to manage money but we also think they should have things that are just expected chores. I also don’t think they should always get paid to help with a big job, yard work, painting etc. because they should be willing to work hard and help their friends and family without expecting to be paid. So how do you decide what things to pay them for? I want them to have the opportunity to earn but I also want them to learn to be helpful just to behelpful as well as that chores are a responsibility and part of being in a family not necessarily something you get compensated for.

    • 8.1

      SarahT says

      When I was a kid, there were regular chores we were expected to do every day/week/month, and we were given a small allowance. The two were not related–if we failed to do chores, we lost privileges, not money. The chores that were irregular were ones we were paid extra for–painting the porch/house, cleaning out the basement, washing the family car (not our own car when we were teenagers), etc. Those chores were not given out “on demand” because we wanted more money, and we were free to turn them down (unless we owed our parents money–I painted both porches when I got my first speeding ticket).

  9. 9

    Mel says

    LOVE this article… but I fear much of the damage has pretty much been done in my household! Although my children (3 of them: ages 18, 16 & 14) are all really good kids… good grades, polite & respectful (most of the time)… and they will help out when asked (sometimes without even moaning about it!), they rarely do much on their own without prodding. Especially my boy (middle child) who is quite busy on his computer much of the day… not always gaming (though mostly)… but sometimes writing or reading. My biggest concern truthfully is with our son. Our eldest has a part-time job, will graduate next month, and will be off to college come fall. Our youngest is pretty compliant and has many pursuits… both are girls. Our son, though… well, he’s REALLY smart… kind of has a following on his gaming platform (I understand that’s not an easy task to accomplish) and has written 2 role-playing games (one is 300+ pages long!). But… wow… getting him to do actual school work, or any kind of chore (regularly that is) is painful. I’m worried about his future. And, before anyone judges me about “unplugging” him… please understand… he’s a GREAT & SMART kid… it’s about the ONLY thing he does that he truly enjoys…. he’s not a sports kid, nor musical, etc., and kind of emotional… so I worry about him becoming a recluse. A little encouragement for me to try to nudge him away from the screens would be helpful though.

    • 9.1

      T says

      Mel, I think it’s great that you are so supportive of each of your children. I would encourage you to believe that it is never too late! In fact, it’s great that you’ve realized that it would be good to nudge your son along. I work with college students, and I would say that one approach to consider would be to share with him that you are proud of his success at creating games (I’m sure you do this already) but also how difficult of a field it is to succeed in. Not to dash his hopes but to prepare him for the challenges involved in making a living in that field. He will probably need to be prepared to do other things as well as or related to producing games. Also, to live a good, wholesome life, he will need other skills–cleaning up after himself, cooking, etc. So, why not have him take on some of these tasks already? I don’t think it’s a bad idea to make some of his gaming time and/or equipment conditional on helping around the house: it’s not a bad thing to have to earn the right to work that we enjoy–most adults have to do that.

    • 9.2

      Janina says

      If this is his routine, don’t try to change it drastically without warning, or you will get backlash and give in. He’s old enough that you can have a sit-down with him about 5 aspects of life that bring a person happiness: physical, mental, social, spiritual, and entertainment. You can present to him that he is expending most of his time on entertainment (common problem with this generation!) And brainstorm ideas with him how he can restore some balance in his life. He may even come up with ideas himself off what to do, “I could walk the dog for half an hour (physical exercise as well as fulfilling responsibility) and get my homework done (mental) and then start my games.” Perhaps you want him to go to youth group activities or service projects (spiritual and social) because structured activities like that can be easier to manage than open-ended “hanging out” and will help him feel more meaning in reaching out to others, rather than merely fulfilling his own needs. If you talk it over, he would probably rather have a checklist to fulfill and then get unlimited gaming time, though an overall time limit would be nice too. Baby steps. Maybe you can say earning a 4.0 earns you 4 hours a day, etc, as an incentive to get grades up. You make a pact you can both abide by, starting with, “Now that it’s almost summer… Now that your older… Now that you’re entering high school…” Etc.
      I I would be sure to never serve him food at his computer, because this would certainly lead to ingratitude and can lead to obesity. Good luck balancing this challenge. Don’t be afraid to stand up what you know in your heart to be right. We have enough popular parents, we need more persistent parents. Change is hard, but you can do it! Go Moms!

      • 9.2.1

        Janina says

        Oh, you will probably get SOME backlash no matter what, but I think you get what I mean. I had a little TV addict when she was about 3-4 years old, and I felt guilty all the time, but also exasperated with her destructive behavior when she was not being entertained, and i felt run down! We started with one simple rule: “you can only watch tv in a clean room”. That way there was some requirement. Eventually we made a chart with simple pictures that showed ” get dressed, eat breakfast, homework, chore.” That has stuck with us for 3 years now and I only get a fit about it once every other week (and TV had breached out now to all forms of electronics) I would have also added exercise to her list but she manages to jump around and be active all on her own. Now that she’s in second grade this works out to mean she only ends up with about an hour a day on electronics on school nights, which to me is perfect. Sometimes she doesn’t feel like doing a chore so she goes out and rides her bike (and doesn’t get a star for doing a clue that day) and that is her choice and she understands the consequences.
        We are free to choose our actions, we are not free to choose our consequences, right?
        Sorry, I commented twice on your post. With an autistic little brother this subject is near and dear to my heart, and I know what a struggle it can be, but with patience you’re going to have a boy who can relate much better to you and the world by the time he’s grown. Totally worth it!

        • 9.2.1.1

          Janina says

          Man that was so full of typos, sorry! A star for doing a CHORE that day, not a clue! And those generally only take around 10 minutes at this point in time, nothing epic, at least on school nights.

  10. 10

    Sarah says

    I can not tell you how much I love this! Seriously!
    I get some odd looks when I mention that my kids are responsible for doing their own laundry (they are currently 13 and 11), and they have been since they were 9! I still hear comments from my kids occasionally about how so-and-so’s mom does this for them, and that for them, etc… My primary responsibility as a parent is to teach them vital life skills! And when you work hard for something you appreciate it more.

  11. 11

    Renee says

    I don’t want my kids living in my home well into adulthood. That’s why they’ve always had chores and get jobs when they turn 16. I will love them forever, but I’m not going to support them forever

  12. 12

    says

    Great post!! Such an important concept! I think it can be more challenging at times to turn a chore over to your kids rather than just doing it yourself, but totally worth the effort.

    I love that your son can make dinner!

  13. 13

    Dawnelle says

    We got a laundry sorter with 3 compartments and color coded them with duct tape! Warm colors, cool colors and whites. now the kids can match their green shirt to the green tape blue jeans to blue tape etc and know where it goes so i don’t have to sort. The kids (7, 4 &2) are expected to be dressed with their dirty clothes in the hamper before breakfast. when one gets full I can tell the older 2 to put the dirty laundry from _____tape in the machine. The can also transfer to the dryer and then into a laundry basket for me to sort and fold. My oldest 2 can hang shirts and put folded clothes onto the dresser which is labeled with pictures so they know where things go. I live it because doing laundry by myself is such a chore! They know when they help me I can get done faster so we can play together.
    They like to wash dishes before I load the dishwasher too.
    Also $ tree sells little animal whisk broom and dust pans that my boys love!

  14. 14

    Mary says

    I must have been mean??? My kids (ages 2, 4, and 6) were actually responsible to DO their own laundry. Okay, maybe not completely by herself at age 2, but she wanted to when she saw her siblings doing it. They helped sweep, dust, feed the dog, “wash” dishes (we didn’t have a dishwasher and they loved “playing” in the water), dry them, set the table, etc. Of course, the usual responsibilities that were theirs were cleaning their own rooms, picking up toys, art projects, etc., making their beds, etc. Mind you, at those ages, there wasn’t perfection as an adult would do it, but they were praised and told how much they were helping around the house. They always helped bake cookies and breads and started to help cook at young ages, but they also understood that they had to help clean up the mess which made those chocolate chip cookies and milk taste even better.

  15. 15

    Janina says

    I totally agree that my kids have been 99% better about the “gimmes” once they started to earn an allowance! And I also don’t have to nag and punish as often (bonus!) because they either earn a reward or lose a privilege and deal with those. Of course I teach them, walk them through the steps, gradually backing off my support, will keep up friendly reminders into the foreseeable future (But I don’t have to nag!) I think I have fair expectations for their age, not insisting they do what the kid down the street can do anymore than I want to do what the mom down the street does. These are keys to making chores a pleasant experience for everyone. I love these ideas for getting them involved with laundry too! I’m glad I’m not the only soul in the world that sorts as warm and cool colors! (My husband claims that’s too complicated/OC; I love that she said her 2 year old could do it, lol! ) I will add labels immediately.

  16. 16

    Shelly says

    I love this list! I grew up with parents who believed in hard work! It came first every single day and certain chores had to be taken care of before going to school. One particular morning stands out very clearly. We lived in a tiny town in the middle of Montana, so many trips were made to Billings for Doctor appointments or even food shopping. My parents left before my brother and I left for school, so we thought we would ditch our chores and do them after school since mom and dad would not be home until late that night, so off to school we ran. Just as we were going to first period, the speakers turned on and I hear, “Shelly and M. Cook, you forgot to do your chores. You MUST go home NOW to finish them before returning to school. Come to the office to check out.” Of course, everyone from Kindergarten to 8th grade heard the announcement. We ran home to do our chores and of course were lectured by our parents who had forgotten paperwork and had seen our undone chores. We did them and returned to school. For the rest of our middle school years and High school years, we were asked by our friends every morning if our chores were taken care. Even now almost 35 years later our friends still ask if we have gotten our chores taken care of. Many of those friends were shocked when their parents started to do the same to them.

    With those fond memories, my husband and I grew up with different thoughts about chores, allowances and consequences for unfinished chores. It is one of the top problems with raising our 4 boys. He doesn’t support chores or allowances as his mother and sisters did all the work while him, his father and brothers played and watched sports. Their job was to bring in the money and contribute to the house hold chores. Make sure everyone is on board with how chores are to be done in the home before marrying and having children. It so helpful and so less stressful to be on the same page and review often.

  17. 17

    Anna Nguyen says

    Thanks!!! You don’t know how much I have been criticized for being so hard on my kids for not allowing them to spend so much time on Tablet and Smartphone, making them to go outside, making them do chores. Why make it hard for them when their time isn’t about hardship? (I was asked) and let the kid be a kid! (I was told). I do it despite of all odds and criticism and hoping to create responsible young men and woman later on in life. Thanks for the article, I now can add more chores to the list I already have.

  18. 19

    says

    This. Exactly This! I have people tell me all the time that they are overwhelmed by the work in their house….they have to make dinner, set the table, clean the kids room, etc. and I am like um I make dinner, I don’t set the table and why would I clean their room I didn’t dirty it. Then their response is my kid is only 8. My boys have each had to clean their rooms since they were 2, the older 2 make their own lunches and they are in grade 2 and SK.

    My oldest is earning money for emptying the dishwasher and washing the walls. Those are huge jobs, and he makes a little bit of money. He is learning to work hard for pay, but he also has to help out with family chores, and take care of his laundry and things. I wash, dry, and fold they do the rest.

  19. 21

    says

    I love this!!! Thanks for sharing! Awesome tips! I especially like “be an encourager- not a control freak.” I definitely fall into that category!

  20. 22

    Lin says

    I never had chores growing up. I just did things to help out. weeding the garden, canning, cleaning the bathrooms, etc. We hid our clothes from my dad so he wouldnt shrink them and did our own laundry while he was at work. Me and my 4 sisters are hard workers despite not having chore charts. my family ran a restaurant in our spare time and we were not allowed to help out ever.
    My kids helped when they were little more than they do as teens because they’re just not home. I don’t have a problem with closing the door and letting them clean it at their discretion. It’s their room, not mine. We live in a over scheduled world of over thought living. Calm down, lose 3/4th of your clutter and your house wouldn’t require so much cleaning. if you only have 6 pairs of pants to wear,you kind of get around to washing pretty fast. LOL why does everyone have to have control over everything? chore charts, food menus, sports sports and more sports. it’s mind boggling to me. let kids be kids. i ran and rode bikes all day long in the summer and hiked the woods until the light came on. live.

  21. 23

    Celeste says

    Daily music instrument practice. It’s an executive functioning skill work out to play something repeatedly and try little ways to get better each time. Start young, 3 or 4. It can be fun, but it really is work! It Fosters “stick to it”, and long term work for real results. Skills transferable to anything!

  22. 24

    says

    I’m a believer in starting them early. I have a three year old and she helps me with the laundry. She knows how to separate the colors, towels and whites, put them into the washer (I put the detergent & set it), put them in the dryer (again I set it), fold her clothes & small towels, and put her clothes away. She really is a big help and actually likes doing it!

  23. 25

    says

    Just one suggestion: Change the negative to positive.

    In #2 you say, “Try the age old ‘you can’t do or have this (fill in the blank) until you clean up this (fill in the blank)’ and I bet they will.”

    Instead, try, “You can do or have this (fill in the blank) as soon as you clean up this (fill in the blank.”

    In the negative form, you (the parent) are keeping something from them. You’re depriving them of something they want, or think they need, or think they deserve.

    In the positive form, they decide whether or not they get something. You’re not keeping anything from them. If they want (fill in the blank), you’re telling them exactly how to get it. I think it empowers them to learn that their choices can have positive consequences.

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