Back in the days when children worked alongside their parents on a farm or at the family business as soon as they acquired the necessary agility and skills to be helpful, raising hardworking kids came naturally.
Today, especially for families whose children don't need to work for additional income, it's important to start teaching money lessons and setting expectations as soon as possible in order to successfully instill the values of hard work and financial responsibility.
“Hard work is a great teacher," said Joline Godfrey, author of "Raising Financially Fit Kids," and CEO of The Unexpected Table, a gathering place for thriving families to explore important issues. “Kids fully exempted from it will find themselves unprepared for much that life throws at them."
Developing hardworking kids, said Alan Wolberg, manager of Wealth Planning for City National Bank, must be part of the culture of your family.
“You have to raise kids who are introspective enough to evaluate the success or failure of their actions, who are financially literate and have a strong work ethic," he said.
Parents sometimes think they don't need to worry about teaching financial responsibility and instilling a work ethic in kids when they're young. But if they don't, it can be challenging to change a 12-year-old's behavior and even more difficult to change a 17-year-old's habits and expectations.
“Encouraging a hunger to achieve as early as possible is how a work ethic is nurtured," Godfrey said.
For example, Godfrey recommends giving kids challenging things to do from their earliest age, such as working with them to assemble a tall tower of blocks. The concept is to intentionally nurture delayed gratification and to not “give in" just to quiet their complaining or frustration.
“The idea is to help children stretch their ability to persist, to try again, to meet the goal," said Godfrey. “By the time they're 7 or 8, you can take them on hikes that seem a little too long, or ask them to finish tasks that are a little too hard, such as making their bed or vacuuming the playroom. This is how you prepare them for harder tasks when they are 12, 13 or 14. I wish there was a better way to prepare kids to be hard workers, but the evidence is painfully clear: doing the hard things, from an early age and repeatedly, is how the qualities of persistence and endurance are developed."
While challenging kids to achieve goals is an important element of instilling a work ethic, it's also important for kids to understand the finite resources of money, said Wolberg.
“It's a big mistake to give kids an allowance and then buy them anything they want," said Wolberg. “Start being tough on your child as soon as you start giving them an allowance so you can begin transitioning decision-making authority to them."
For example, if your child wants an Xbox, discuss the price, how much the child has saved and what the child could do to earn money to pay for it, such as mowing the lawn six times.
For families that run a business, it can be a natural progression to have the kids participate in various ways depending on their age.
“A family business can be the glue that holds the family together," said Wolberg. “It's important to involve the kids in the business in some way."
For older kids, paid work should be emphasized for life experience, said Godfrey.
“Kids should have at least two or three really boring jobs, so they learn to take pride in their work and to stick with it," said Godfrey. “But, too often, parents tell their kids to get a job and then tell them to take time off to go to Paris with the family in July and to take time off for a family gathering in August. That sends a mixed message from the parents and implies that work isn't that important."
Some families believe that academic achievement is more important than a job when it comes to future success. Godfrey believes that hard work, including boring and repetitive work, is essential to learn life skills such as resilience and endurance.
“Being able to stay with the puzzle of developing a code, writing an article, creating an experience or imaging a solution to anything requires focus, endurance and persistence – these are the fruits of hard work," said Godfrey. “Developing resilience, whether for dealing with a loss, a personal disappointment or a change of any significance, and becoming resourceful and learning how to solve problems when parents are not easily available to bail them out, is part of the process of maturation."
In addition to life skills gleaned from a job and schoolwork, children can be taught to understand the connection between endurance and resilience and financial success.
“I've talked to my kids from an early age about how hard it is to save for college, and I've talked to them about where they may want to go and where they can afford to go," said Wolberg. “I've told them how much I am funding, which will pay for a public college, and explained that if they want to go somewhere else, they'll have to work hard to figure out how."
While it's tempting for parents of means to hand their kids great educational and life experience opportunities on a silver platter, Wolberg suggests that kids also need to be grounded with realistic money management lessons.
“Whether your kids go into the family business, work for the family's foundation or create their own business, it's important to make sure they understand their future is on them," said Wolberg. “They need to understand that their own hard work is what's needed to provide the lifestyle they want for themselves and their future family."
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