Your Son and the Work Ethic

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[Melinda Finch is a 30 something mother of two from Dyersburg, TN. She is currently pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Social Work degree from Tennessee State University. Follow Melinda @sillymi09]

Teaching your child as early as possible that nothing in life comes for free will prepare them to work for the things that they want out of life. Allowing your child to believe that, whatever he asks, he will receive without work is ruining your child. He will grow to expect everyone to provide for him the way that his mother has. In relationships, he will appear to be a user or overly dependent. He will always expect women to provide him with the things he needs. He will not understand the concept of working, proposing, and building to gain his desires. In short, you are setting him up for failure in life if you do not instill in him a strong work ethic.

The idea of a man who does not work is mind boggling to me. I cannot understand the logic behind a man depending solely on a woman to provide for him. Yet, this situation is continuously occurring in society. I believe that this is recurrent because parents are not making children earn anything in their lives. These sons have gone through life being given anything and everything.

I understanding the desire to give your child all that you have never had, but there is a way to accomplish this while teaching work ethic and values at the same time. This should be taught to everyone and appears in a number of religious and non-religious creeds. For example, one passage in the Bible states:

“For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat” 2 Thessalonians 3:10.

I am not innocent when it comes to spoiling my son. He is spoiled rotten to be honest. I get him everything he asks for; however, he has to do something for me. His provisions are always an exchange of services for goods. He does his chores, behaves at school, and makes good grades. In exchange, I pay him by buying him the things he wants, or I take him the places he wants to go.

My son understands that he must earn his own money. For an example, he has been asking for a lawn mower for the past two summers to build a seasonal business for himself. In the summer, he goes to West Tennessee for two weeks and works on our cousin’s farm. His work ethic is the result of establishing boundaries and setting expectations.

My Story

I was whipped by the guilt of being a single parent, mother of a son whose father was not active in his life. I did extra to try to provide a substitute to his father. I noticed a sense of entitlement growing in my son, and I decided to make a change.

I sat down with my son when he was 3 years old and explained to him that we were a team. Each team member, I explained, has a role. I listed what I expected from him, and what he could expect me to do as his mom. Once that was understood, I explained that in order for him to get me to do something special for him he would have to successfully complete his job on the team. At the age of 3, children are sweet and excited about life, so it was not hard for me to get him into the habits of teamwork.

IMG_2675_smHe asked for a toy cell phone and I told him that I would buy him one when he can read his books. He was reading before he was four years old. I know that I had a lot to do with him accomplishing this but it was his hard work and dedication that allowed him to accomplish his goal of getting a toy cell phone. Ever since this event, he has been doing what is expected of him, and I am doing what is expected of me.


At age three, my son’s responsibilities required him to put his toys away, share his thoughts, say his prayers, and behave when we went out in public. In return, I would take him to the special places he liked, for example, Baskin Robbins, the movies, or musical productions. To start the reinforcement of hard work, I would suggest the following:

  1. Explain what you would like to happen in terms that he will understand. Relate it to something that he can relate to. I used the team concept because he was into sports. During this conversation, establish expectations, set boundaries, and articulate a start period.
  2. Offer praise when you notice that he is holding up his end of the bargain. DO NOT reward with material items just use words of encouragement or some other form of praise. I used a “happy dance” where I would do a little dance to display my happiness.
  3. Determine the “reward cycle,” explain to him the frequency he can expect to receive a reward. Stick to this schedule and do not deviate from it at all unless it is vital to the survival of the family.
  4. Follow through. Develop a reward cycle you can stick with. Your consistency will promote him to be consistent as well.

By creating this environment for your son, you are teaching him that he has to earn everything he wants. You are establishing a work ethic and decreasing the possibility that he will develop an attitude of entitlement.