A Working Education: Developing Your Child's Work Ethic

April 21–25, 2014   |   Vol. 119, Programs 26–30

Like most parents, you probably want your children to develop an excellent work ethic and be prepared for success in later life. What are the practical elements of training them? How do you shape your child’s attitude and not just form skills? This week on Home School Heartbeat, host Mike Farris draws on his personal experience to help you teach your child to work.

“Taking initiative is a skill and an attitude which is much easier to develop as a child than as an adult.”—Mike Farris

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You may have heard the expression, do as I say, but not as I do. Can children learn to work without an example? Today on Home School Heartbeat, your host Mike Farris discusses how to teach children principles that will serve them well as employees.

Mike Farris: This week we will be looking at four areas in which parents can prepare their children for a career—respect for authority, taking initiative, striving for excellence, and willingness to work hard. Let’s begin with respect for authority.

We can teach our children good workplace habits by example. Our willingness as fathers to display respect for authority in our own lives is a critical factor in helping our children develop a proper attitude toward authority. Do you show proper respect for your boss? Do you have a good attitude toward the leadership in your church? What do you say about a traffic policeman in the presence of your children? How do you talk about the President and other political leaders?

You can respect those in leadership without having to agree with them about everything. If you disagree, you should model the practice of a respectful appeal for your children. Instead of bad-mouthing a politician who supports a bill you don’t like, write a strong letter of appeal to the politician and let your children read it. You should then pray for your politician to change his mind. And since the political context allows us to change those in authority over us, you should work diligently to get a better person in office in the next election. I’m Mike Farris.

Mike Farris: Parents, particularly fathers, have a duty to see that their children are properly prepared for a career. There are many facets of your responsibility to train your children for a career. The first step is to teach your child good work habits. Today we’ll be looking at how to teach kids to have respect for authority.

Employers want workers who will respect the principles of a chain of command and who will cheerfully receive a directive as an order. Too many workers believe that their supervisor’s directives are merely suggestions, which can be followed or not, depending on how the employee feels about the matter. Others will do what their superior asks but only with a begrudging attitude. A worker who is willing to follow directions with a smile will shine as a star in the eyes of any employer.

This is an attitude which homeschooling fathers must instill in their children. If we are tyrants and obtain obedience through undue harshness, then our children will probably become the kind of workers who do what they are told—and no more—and with a sullen attitude.

Next time we’ll discuss the importance of teaching children to take initiative. I’m Mike Farris.

Mike Farris: As an employer, I always value a person who not only does what he is told, but sees something else which needs to be done and does it. Taking initiative is a skill and an attitude which is much easier to develop as a child than as an adult.

If your child is told to wash the dishes, he has the opportunity to show initiative if he not only washes the dishes but sweeps the floor. A child who learns to walk into a room, see a problem, and resolve it will climb to the upper echelon of any business.

For those rare children who naturally take initiative, you simply need to heap on the praise and not take them for granted. Most other children need to be taught how to take initiative, how to anticipate needs, and how to see needs that others will realize only later and resolve them right now. They need opportunities to put these lessons into practice.

Household chores are probably the best training ground for learning to take initiative. If you have to tell a child to feed the dog every single night, that child has not learned to take initiative.

Employers value employees who learn to take initiative. Next time we’ll talk about how parents can encourage their kids to strive for excellence. I’m Mike Farris.

Mike Farris: Too many in our society have forgotten how to be excellent. We are satisfied with being “good enough.” When we were in school the prevailing practice was to produce “acceptable” papers. Now the prevailing attitude on the job is to produce “acceptable” goods and “acceptable” services.

We need to go beyond being “good enough” in home education. Our children should learn to read, understand, critique, and judge literature.

Our children should be able to write well. And it would be quite an accomplishment these days if they’re just able to write clear prose. But we should go beyond. We should teach our children to write logically and persuasively

Our children should master basic math and be able to understand and perform some advanced math. Geometry and algebra courses are excellent methods for teaching logic and reasoning. Logic, orderly thinking, and reasoning skills are important in many fields outside of the traditional careers associated with math.

We need to provide the best available instruction in history and geography. We should be teaching our children to thoroughly know the history and philosophies of the men who have stood for liberty throughout the ages. I’m Mike Farris.

Mike Farris: There are too many lazy people.

Here’s a confession: I am a lazy person by nature, but something happened to me along the way to adulthood that allowed me to overcome my natural tendency toward laziness. That “something” was my father. He taught me to work, whether I liked it or not. I developed some of my best argumentative skills trying to talk my dad out of some work projects he wanted me to do. But I was rarely successful in convincing him.

I was forced to mow the lawn, paint the house, re-roof our house, dig ditches for our irrigation system, and dig up some awful stuff in the yard called “quack grass.” I look back today and believe that my father did me an enormous amount of good by forcing me to work and work hard.

My natural tendency toward laziness was eventually overcome by my father's diligence. I still have a heart that is easily tempted by laziness. But as a child I was trained up in the way I should go, and now that I am old, I have a very hard time departing from my training and returning to my natural state. I’m Mike Farris.

Michael P. Farris

Michael Farris is the chancellor of Patrick Henry College and chairman of the Home School Legal Defense Association. He was the founding president of each organization.

Farris is a constitutional appellate litigator who has served as lead counsel in the United States Supreme Court, eight federal circuit courts, and the appellate courts of 13 states.

He has been a leader on Capitol Hill for over 30 years and is widely known for his leadership on homeschooling, religious freedom, and the preservation of American sovereignty.

At Patrick Henry College, Farris teaches constitutional law, public international law, and coaches PHC’s Moot Court team which has won six national championships.

A prolific author, Farris has been recognized with a number of awards including the Salvatori Prize for American Citizenship by the Heritage Foundation and as one of the “Top 100 Faces in Education for the 20th Century” by Education Week magazine.

Mike and Vickie Farris have 10 children and 14 grandchildren.

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