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More Than a Chore: Getting Things Done the Right Way

Even if you can't take your child to your office for some reason—you work at home, your boss discourages bringing children into the workplace—you can still take advantage of the previous suggestions. If you can't take your kids into the office, bring the office to them. Take pictures or make a video of your workplace, and then share it with your children. You can use the video or photos to inspire a game of "playing office" with your kids. Invariably, these visual aids will stimulate them to ask you the types of questions they would have asked if they had actually visited you at work. If you work at home, your child may be familiar with your work space, but the odds are that you've never taken her beyond the surface of this space; she's seen you typing on your computer keyboard or talking on the phone, but you've left her in the dark about what you were typing or whom you were talking to. Now, let her sit next to you and help type a report or search for information on the Internet. If you have a phone with a speaker, turn it on so your child can listen to the type of conversation you have regarding your work. Again, this will stimulate her to think about what you do for a living and ask questions.

When it comes to teenagers, don't expect them to find a job that might help them achieve specific career goals. While it's great if your daughter wants to be a doctor and she obtains a job as a volunteer in a hospital, most adolescents don't know what they want to be when they grow up, and even if they do, few part-time jobs will help them get there. Instead, teenagers often obtain menial jobs to earn extra cash—cash they use for clothes, dates and so on. Even a menial job, though, can contribute to the development of a work ethic. Your child may not want to grow up to be the manager of a fast-food restaurant, but being an employee of one allows him the opportunity to learn skills that will help him no matter what career he chooses. Whether he's taking orders for burgers or bagging groceries, these jobs call for him to learn how to function as a member of a team, how to interact with customers and how to relate to a boss. Perhaps more significantly, a job is an opportunity for your child to see a direct correlation between his effort and his performance. At school, kids may try hard at subjects that they're not particularly good at, receiving average grades. At work, effort often translates into good performance. Your child will feel a sense of accomplishment when his boss tells him that he did well, even if doing well involved nothing more than getting a customer's order right.

Financially intelligent parents recognize how these menial jobs build a work ethic. Help your children learn from their experience by

  • treating the job with respect. Don't sneer at the job's tasks or pay or look down your nose at the position. Instead, engage your son or daughter in conversations about hamburger-cooking procedures and shelf stocking without condescension.
  • allowing your child to make job decisions. You're going to be tempted to intervene when your child is searching for a summer job or having to deal with a problem at that job. You'll want to tell your kid to choose job A over job B or how to handle a temperamental boss. While it's terrific to offer your child ideas, let her be the decision maker. Allow her to choose the job or figure out how to deal with his boss. Kristen, age seventeen, was working for the second summer in a row as a bagger at a supermarket, and she was doing a good job, filling in when the store was shorthanded and often working beyond her shift when it was busy. She was being paid the same hourly wage she earned the first summer. Kristen felt that she deserved an increase but told her parents she wasn't sure whether she should ask for one, how to ask and when. Her financially wise parents engaged in a Socratic dialogue, asking her questions such as, "What's the worst thing that can happen if you ask for a raise?" Finally, Kristen did ask and was granted a two-dollar-per-hour increase. Her parents said they had never seen her prouder of anything she had done.
  • limiting their hours during the school year. Some kids will want to work long hours because they want money for a car or some other luxury. As a financially intelligent parent, you need to help them achieve a balance between work and school. The teenager who works hard and takes pride in both his schoolwork and his job is more likely to develop a solid work ethic than the kid who focuses on only one area. Limit your child's work time to fifteen hours or less per week during the school year, and that should give him time to achieve the proper balance.
Planful Competence

If you need any more motivation to help your child develop a work ethic, consider a fifty-year study by sociologist J. S. Clausen. He found that children who learned what he called planful competence in early adolescence had more stable, satisfying careers and fewer midlife crises and divorces as adults. Planful competence means being dependable, having self-confidence and using intellect to solve problems. Kids who exhibit a strong work ethic have these qualities in spades. They learn how to do things right and to think before doing. This helps them avoid the impulsive, thoughtless decisions adolescents are prone to make, and it helps them acquire an area of expertise when they're older.

We don't intend to make a work ethic sound like an exact science. Some kids develop it early and some later. Some may go through a prolonged adolescence of underachievement until a specific event catalyzes their desire for fulfilling work and meaningful success. Some may drift from job to job until they hit upon a field that is their true calling.

As a parent, you can't control these factors. What you can control, though, is how you help your children learn about jobs, school and chores. If they learn to value a work ethic, they will probably use it to achieve success and satisfaction sooner or later.

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From The Financially Intelligent Parent by Eileen Gallo, Ph.D. and Jon Gallo, Ph.D. Copyright © 2005 by Jon Gallo and Eileen Gallo. Used by arrangement with Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

If you'd like to buy this book, visit Amazon.


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