A couple weeks ago, Grandma bought gingerbread houses for all the grandkids to decorate on a Sunday afternoon. This was a great activity that our one-year-old Ryan loved and our 14-year-old nephew Josh seemed to equally enjoy.

My three-year-old, Tyler, put all sorts of candy on his gingerbread home. When he was wrapping up the project, he explained to me what he had done. The two chocolate Santas on the roof were actually Tyler and myself working to replace the shingles that had blown off (a project that I had done to our house in the spring). He informed me that one of the M&Ms was a mole trap (a battle which he and I had fought valiantly this summer).

I thought it was great that Tyler had chosen to highlight work projects on his festive gingerbread home. This was not at all surprising because he loves to “help me” with projects around the house. While my other two children soon tire of watching dad work, Tyler continues to get “tools” and mimic whatever it is I am doing.

I have been excited about the passion Tyler has for work projects, because I have often asked myself, “how do kids learn to hate work?” Does the way that we ask them to do chores communicate that work is something that is somehow evil? Are they picking up messages in the media that promote a life of leisure and entertainment? Or do kids just naturally figure it out from the first time they are asked to pick up their toys or put their shoes in the closet?

In reality, work is not bad. Not only does work provide us with the financial resources we need to live, but it gives us a sense of worth and purpose. Work allows us to solve difficult problems, to learn discipline, to provide value to our customers or employer, and to gain the satisfaction of a job well done. While children do not have financial pressures associated with the chores they do, work is still an important part of their growth and development.

And so it is with a sad heart that I must tell you more about Tyler. He is responsible to take his plate, cup and silverware to the counter after each meal. My Tyler who loves work projects with his dad cleans the table as if it is a terrible trial. Yes, he does it, but there is no joy in the work. (On the other hand, his one-year-old brother does it and greatly enjoys it as he spills everything off his plate onto the floor!)

Of course the truth is that work is often not fun. I understand that it takes time for children to learn that putting off gratification for the moment often leads to greater gratification down the road. So as I have processed my son’s love/hate relationship with work, here are a few of my conclusions:

-No matter how old your kids are, include them in your work projects. Quality time with mom and dad should include working with them as well as fun activities.

-Give each of your children age-appropriate chores to do. Chores should be built into the routine of their days so that work becomes a habit. Extra jobs and projects are ok as well, but don’t neglect teaching lessons that are only learned by doing work day in and day out.

-Reflect on what you are teaching if your default statement to your kids is “have fun” whenever you are sending them off somewhere. I doubt that any off us believe that the main goal of our life should be to have fun, but I hear this so often from parents.

-Praise your children when you see them do a good job working. Praise is a powerful motivator and should be used intentionally to encourage children to develop a healthy work ethic.

I look forward to doing countless more work projects with Tyler. However, I do not get a free pass on the long journey of developing in my son a a healthy attitude toward work. I think we are on the right track, but I know that a work-project themed gingerbread house does not necessarily equate to a great attitude toward work!

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