A willingness to put in effort is always valued, whether you’re in school or a part of the workforce. A good work ethic not only makes it possible for individuals to find success in life, it contributes to a higher sense of self-worth.
Notes Freda Sutanto, a senior educational & developmental psychologist at Kaleidoscope, which provides therapy and counselling services, “Once kids reach Primary 3 or 4, they are given more difficult tasks such as reading comprehension, problem-solving, conducting research and working on projects. As such, they need to be able to tolerate frustration and to focus. If they don’t have the right work attitude and habits from young, things may fall apart when they get older.”
Of course, good work habits do not just happen ― these need to be cultivated over time. Follow these steps to instil a healthy work ethic in your child.
As learning continues to become more difficult for kids as they progress in school, a good work ethic enables them to persevere despite challenges.
1. Model the behaviour or “walk the talk”
“Children learn by following others,” notes Frances Yeo, a child psychologist at Thomson Paediatric Centre. “If you want your child to show a good work ethic, parents need to model the appropriate behaviour at home.”
This means being extra-conscious of how you act at home and your own attitudes towards work. Show your child that you put effort into your work or everyday tasks. Avoid procrastinating when it comes to important errands, or grumbling during tedious household chores.
“Role-modelling a good work attitude teaches children how to put effort into doing their homework or cleaning up their room,” Yeo points out. “When you do tasks without complaining, you teach your child to do the same, too.”
2. Get kids actively involved in their own work
Sutanto suggests, “Make kids feel that their work is their responsibility, and not something that is simply handed to them to do.”
This need not even start with schoolwork. Even before kids enter Primary school, parents can buy them fun puzzles or games to work on. When giving your child instructions, get them to paraphrase what they are supposed to do.
Ask them to also think about their goals before beginning an activity, as well as steps towards meeting their goals. Sutanto explains, “Kids need to know what they are working towards, rather than doing things on auto-pilot.”
After each activity, evaluate what worked and what didn't. Your kids’ active involvement in their work lets them take ownership of it, which develops good work habits.
“By the time your child is doing homework ― which is obviously not as fun as games ― they will have learnt to be accountable for their own work,” Sutanto explains.
3. Teach your child about effort and persistence
Yeo says, “Teach your little one that no one is perfect at anything when they start. With effort, they will eventually learn to do something well.”
To help your child develop perseverance, start by giving them lots of opportunities to try new things, Yeo advises. This can include learning to play a musical instrument or a new sport. Show your child how to do something, then let them do what they can ― even if they make mistakes.
“Teach them that it’s not the winning (or succeeding) that’s important, but making mistakes, learning from them and persevering through difficulty,” says Yeo. “Give praises and affirmation to show that you are proud of your child.”
4. Let your child figure out what works best for them
Another way to cultivate a good work ethic is to let your little one figure out which learning style works best for them. This allows them to maximise their learning ability and work in a way that is most productive.
Sutanto observes, “Some kids work better when they have music playing, some when they’re alone, and others when they’re standing up.”
As such, avoid being rigid about the way your child does their homework. Give them choices but avoid providing too many as it might overwhelm them. For example, tell them they have the option to attempt the easiest questions first. Encourage them to try different approaches and adopt the one they feel is best. This gives them a sense of control and choice over how they work.
Sutanto notes, “Having a good work ethic is not just about being able to focus on tasks, but knowing what order of activity and pace works for each individual.”
“Having a good work ethic is not just about being able to focus on tasks, but knowing what order of activity and pace works for each individual.”
5. Stop criticising
Yeo points out, “Children are learning about themselves every day ― they are highly susceptible and internalise the messages that others tell them.”
“When kids hear such negative messages about themselves, it harms their self-esteem, too,” she adds.
So rather than put your child down, build them up by affirming their efforts. This fuels them to work harder, and gives them confidence in their own abilities.
6. Help them strike a balance
Whilst being hardworking is a vital character trait, you don't want to turn your mini-me into a workaholic.
Sutanto states, “Singapore is generally a competitive and academically-driven society. Almost all the kids I see will tell me that people are constantly comparing scores. Therefore, parents need to take a more supportive role, because kids are going to get pressure from teachers and other students.”
Remind your little one that work and grades are just one element of what they have accomplished, and that having a balanced life is important. “If other aspects of your child’s life are in good order, good grades will come more naturally,” Sutanto points out.
So, if you observe your child mugging away, remind them to take a break. Take them outdoors for some sunshine, sports or games. Invite their friends over for a play date, or organise a family outing to the mall or an outdoor playground.
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