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We love our children and want the very best for them. The best is a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. We use the means of grace to bring the gospel to our covenant children, rearing them in the fear and nurture of the Lord and praying with hope and expectation for the Holy Spirit to work repentance and faith in their hearts. Our greatest joy is to see them walking with the Lord.

We also want the best for our children in the realm of everyday life. We pray that God’s love and glory would shine through their lives and that they would love His law, even as it guides their lives. From the time they are born, we aim to prepare them for adult life, to be productive citizens who love their neighbors. We labor long hours to teach them the Christian work ethic.

There are obstacles on this journey: the resistance of our children, the entitlement attitude of our culture, and maybe our own misgivings about how much to make our children work. But work is a gift from God. It is good for us and it’s good for our children. An optimistic attitude toward work makes the journey more pleasant. In my observation of families who have done this successfully, I have seen these common traits: entreaty, example, expectation, equipping, and enjoyment. Let’s look at each one.


You can’t do this alone. Teaching children to work is neither for the faint of heart nor for the do-it-yourselfer. You must entreat God for help. He created you, your children, the world, and work itself. He willingly gives wisdom to those who ask (James 1:5). He supplies a handbook for parenting in the book of Proverbs. And He is your lifeline during the stressful times when you cry out, “Lord, help me.”


Jesus set a beautiful example for us, and we pass it on to our children. “My Father worketh hitherto, and I work” (John 5:17, KJV throughout). Our children’s hearts and habits are formed by what we say and do. An atmosphere of diligence in the home nurtures diligence in our children. When we wake up and approach the day with vigor and perform our work with strength and purpose, our children observe this. They realize: “Mom and Dad work hard. That’s what parents do. I want to grow up to be like them.” Involve them in interactive play with a toy kitchen or lawn mower rather than letting them passively view a screen. This will nurture creativity. Most toddlers show a streak of independence when they say, “I can do it myself!” Encourage this attitude. It will be messy and time-consuming, but practice makes perfect. Build a can-do attitude in your little one so he or she learns to overcome obstacles.


A friend who successfully raised two sons asked me: “How can you write a whole book on teaching children to work? I just told my boys to work and they did.” I replied that he didn’t need my book because he and his wife were diligent and expected their boys to be as well.

Teaching children to work is neither for the faint of heart nor for the do-it-yourselfer. You must entreat God for help. He created you, your children, the world, and work itself.

Children sense our attitude. If we are reluctant to require them to work, they will likely capitalize on our hesitancy and maneuver their way out of work. Maybe we feel it’s easier to just do the work ourselves, or we are a bit perfectionistic. Maybe we don’t believe in “child labor,” or we feel childhood should be free of care and full of play. Yes, children should play. They learn about the world around them through play. Play is great. But work is great too, and if we hope to launch our eighteen-year-old into the adult world, we need to start young.

If one-year-old Johnny can strew a bucket of Duplos across the whole room, then he can learn to put those blocks back into the bucket. If he is leaving a path of destruction in his wake, and Mommy is cleaning up without his participation, then she has become his servant. He wouldn’t be able to verbalize it, but he knows it. And he will continue to expect service until the expectations of him change. It takes time and training, but if they start young, children learn that work is part of life, that they need to eventually take care of themselves. Their earliest memories must include work. Over the course of childhood, they play less and work more.

So let’s combine our example of diligence with the expectation that our children will be diligent as well. No delay, no negotiation—just do your work. That’s just the way it is. We are family. We love and serve each other, we work together, and we enjoy the benefits together. Everyone who is able-bodied contributes to the welfare of the family. Work bonds us together, and we are blessed.


Teaching our children the Christian work ethic requires planning and perseverance. As husband and wife, discuss your expectations. Prayerfully decide on a reasonable amount of work to require from each child, according to age and ability. Include rewards and discipline. Come to an agreement, so that you present a united front and your children don’t see one parent as more lenient than the other.

Implement the plan when the children are young. Explain the work and its rationale when they are old enough to understand. If your children are older and you realize that you need to change course, call a family meeting, apologize for not requiring them to work enough, and present a plan that gradually increases the workload. Display an attitude of optimism and resolve. It will be more challenging to carry out, but it’s not too late.

Work with your children and model each task. This communicates, “I’m not above doing menial labor.” Give clear instructions to prevent frustration for everyone. Convey an attitude that you expect respect, obedience, and effort. But be ready for resistance. If they quibble, calmly say, “This is what you need to do.” If they continue to resist or whine, they need to experience consequences. Simply assign more work, take away privileges, or say something like “When you are finished, you can have lunch.” Whatever your decision is, stick with it. The sooner your children realize that you mean what you say, the sooner they will obey. If you give in now, they will press you again. Don’t allow them to wriggle out of work with circular arguments or dishonesty. If you want to extinguish arguing and whining, you must make sure that the consequences of resisting work are more painful than the work itself. Be strong.

Our attitude affects our children. If you see work as drudgery, pray that God will help you see it as a blessing. Then let this rub off on your children, and enjoy spending time and working with them.

We are forming our children’s character. Obedience is foundational to learning to work. We parents represent God. If our children don’t obey us, they will struggle to obey employers, police, and God Himself. Is your child disobedient? Angry? Defiant? Prayerfully address these misbehaviors now. You don’t want your teen throwing a tantrum as your toddler is right now. Remember, defiance is not cute. It’s disastrous. It’s an expression of independence in ugly clothing. But it can be redirected. Firmly assert: “You may not speak to Mommy like that. Talk nice. Be respectful.” Teach your children to express themselves humbly, showing you honor as parents. I have early memories of my dad’s sternly reprimanding me for a hint of defiance. It was a bit scary, but I learned to respect my parents. Discipline is needed until defiance is squelched.

The adult work world is full of consequences—praise and a paycheck for a job well done, or warnings of being fired for falling short. Children must experience consequences at home. When our little kids do little jobs, praise them. Celebrate. When they get older, “Good job” or “Thanks for helping” affirms them. They feel useful, and it reinforces their value in the family. If they slack, they must feel the discomfort, by admonishment, discipline, or loss of privileges.

Our children should earn money. I believe that everyday tasks for the whole family, such as cooking and cleaning, are rewarded by delicious food and a warm bed. Other extra jobs deserve pay. You decide the division of labor, but children must learn to serve their family, and they must learn to handle money so that they don’t selfishly splurge their paychecks. We divided our children’s money (allowance and money earned from jobs) in this way: 10 percent for tithing, 35 percent into the bank (for college or marriage), 35 percent for spending of their choice, and the remaining amount varied between books, clothing, and a car.

Equipping our children for adulthood involves providing a variety of experiences. Let’s teach the aspects of running a household so that they can live independently. Let’s expose them to various fields of labor, with the intent that they will find their skills and follow their calling for a vocation. If they are equipped with a desire to glorify God and serve their neighbor and with diligence and desire to work, then their potential is endless.


Some children are naturally industrious and enjoy work. The rest need to work through the pain to reach that enjoyment, like a jogger warming up and then hitting his stride. Let’s help them find the joy. Don’t let their tears prevent them from experiencing the satisfaction of finishing a difficult assignment. Make sure they know the sense of accomplishment when their messy room is neat and organized. As children grow older, these intangible rewards reinforce the benefits of working.

Our attitude affects our children. If you see work as drudgery, pray that God will help you see it as a blessing. Then let this rub off on your children, and enjoy spending time and working with them.

Teaching the Christian work ethic to our children requires tremendous effort. But God stands ready to help. Enjoy the journey, and be ready to be blessed. “The labour of the righteous tendeth to life” (Prov. 10:16).

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From the March 2022 Issue
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