Hard work is one value that is integral to life. We tell you how to teach your child the importance of it in creative ways.
By Akshaya Ganesh
Being asked to 'work' can be annoying for some. And when the word 'hard' gets attached to ‘work’, annoyance gives way to resentment and anger, especially in those who do not like what they're being asked to do. Mine was a similar case. While studying in the second standard, I was chosen to take part in a dance competition in my school. Never before had I expressed even a remote interest in dance. I didn’t even have the faintest idea about how to dance, but here I was, chosen to compete against someone who had been training for almost two years. I had only two weeks to prepare.
My mother told me ‘It's just two weeks, work a little harder and, maybe, you'll even win the competition.’ Encouraged by her words, I decided to give it a shot and put my heart and soul into it. I trained for a couple of hours every day and by the end of two weeks, I was pumped up and eager to show my progress. While I was dancing, I realised I loved and enjoyed what I was doing. Although I lost the competition (I stood no chance against a professional), I developed a passion for dance.
If I persevered enough and thoroughly explored an opportunity, I might come to love what I was doing and unearth a genuine passion. Even though I lost the competition, the outcome was a success. I found something that I could cherish forever.” This is the story of Ashwini Raja, a third-year engineering student from SSN College of Engineering, Chennai. This incident changed her approach to life and she became far more receptive to trying new things. She realised that hard work not only leads you to success, but also helps you develop an interest in varied activities.
The late Indian President, Dr APJ Abdul Kalam once said, “If you want to shine like the sun, first burn like the sun.” His words sum up the importance of hard work. To achieve anything in life, it is important to work hard, for smart work can only take you so far.
Richard St. John, author of ‘The 8 Traits Successful People Have in Common: 8 To be Great’, and a success analyst, has often elaborated on the importance of hard work. In his TED-Ed video, ‘Why it pays to work hard’, Richard states that hard work beats smart work and talent when it comes to achieving success. He bases his argument on an extensive exercise he undertook during his career. Interviewing over 500 successful people made him realise that nothing trumps hard work, not even talent. The man, who has also run over fifty marathons in seven continents, believes we tend to overestimate talent and underestimate the value of hard work.
Richard St. John is not far from the truth, as there are many people who merely rely on their talent and don’t put in any effort. He gives the example of the famous basketball player, Michael Jordan, who was talented but didn’t work hard enough, leading to his high school basketball coach dropping him from the team. That was a wake-up call, post which Jordan started working hard on his game. And, the result is there for us to see.
Even the Indian chess legend Viswanathan Anand stresses on the importance of hard work to hone one’s skill. The Grandmaster helps us understand if the skill of playing chess is inborn or acquired through practice. “I’d say even with the best chess players, it’s an acquired skill. You do it by working hard, by seeing several examples and, somewhere, your brain makes all these connections. You see something working in one position. Everything cannot be deduced by calculation. It’s more like I’ve seen this somewhere, let’s see if it works here. Having said that, it’s obvious that some people are gifted. Initially, some people might learn everything much faster than others. So, I think there is something that you are born with, maybe an aptitude that exists, but it has to be built upon,” says Anand, a recipient of many national and international awards for his excellence in sport.
Hard work doesn’t just help your child achieve success, it also helps him develop his personality, apart from boosting self-confidence and self-esteem. Dr Mini Rao, a counselling psychologist, and a mother of two, says, “When children work hard and achieve what they have worked for, it gives them a sense of accomplishment, which boosts their self-confidence. This will also increase their self-esteem and make them more emotionally stable, sociable and help in their all-round development.”
Before we begin to unlock ways to teach children the value of hard work, it is important to understand why some children lag behind others when it comes to hard work. According to Kenneth Barish, PhD, clinical professor of Psychology at Weill Cornell Medical College, Cornell University, disinterest and lack of motivation are major reasons for this. In his article titled ‘He’s Not Motivated Part I’, published in Psychology Today, he states that the key reason for a lack of motivation in children is demoralisation. He explains that children want to do well and feel good about themselves. They want appreciation. However, discouraging words from parents can often lead to lack of motivation in children. Many parents mistake this lack of interest and motivation as laziness; however, this is not true. Barish says, “The misconception that kids are lazy is one of the most common, and most destructive misunderstandings about children. They may be frustrated and discouraged, anxious or angry; they may have become disillusioned or defiant, self-critical or pessimistic, and they may lack confidence in their ability. But this is not laziness.”
In the background of what Barish said, parents too are responsible for their children’s lack of effort, as they end up indulging children with gadgets. Dr Rao adds, “Many parents are too busy these days (we can't blame them as they both work to provide the best for their children) to pay attention to their children. Upbringing is very important in inculcating values like hard work, dedication and determination in achieving what one needs. Instead, I find parents indulging their children with the latest gadgets, out of guilt for the lack of time they spend with them. Naturally, if the parents are too busy and the children get whatever they want easily, they will not be motivated to try to achieve anything.”
With lack of interest and motivation preventing children from working hard, it becomes the duty of parents to help children embrace hard work. Here are ways to teach your child the importance of hard work:
1. Be a role model: Children are always aware of their surroundings and quick to grasp values their parents cherish and follow in their everyday life. It, therefore, goes without saying that if you are hard-working, your child will emulate you. Dr Rao says, “Parents should be good role models. They can show their children that they work hard and make them understand that it is because of their hard work that they can provide for their children. Parents play a crucial role in conditioning their children to be hard-working. Without their inputs, children will not be motivated to work hard.” Therefore, the first step towards making your child understand the value of hard work is to be a hard worker yourself
2. Narrate moral stories: Moral stories are a great way to teach values to children. Not only do they make the process of learning fun for your child, but also improve his reading and listening skills. You can narrate the story of ‘The Ant and the Grasshopper’ to help your child understand the value of hard work. In this story, the grasshopper spends the summer singing merrily; however, the ant decides to toil through to collect food for the winter. And, when winter arrives, the grasshopper is left with no food, but the ant gets to eat all that he collected. Moral of the story – work hard so that you can reap its benefits later.
3. Praise their effort: Always remember to praise the effort your child puts into something, regardless of him achieving success or not. This point is elaborated in an article titled ‘Praise children's effort, not their intelligence’ published in The Telegraph. The article cites a study conducted by the University of Chicago and Stanford University that examined the interaction of 50 sets of parents with their children aged between one and three. The researchers concluded that praising a child directly for an achievement can prevent him from working hard, as he starts to believe that he possesses superior abilities. On the other hand, praising a child’s effort by telling him “you worked really hard” or “you’re doing really well” teaches him the importance of hard work in achieving something. The research also found that when these children turned seven or eight years old, those whose parents congratulated them for their efforts, performed better at problem-solving. Those children were also more open to challenges and were determined to improve themselves with hard work.
4. Involve in games and activities: Games and activities are among the most interactive ways to teach values to children. Due to the practical and experiential approach, it is easier for children to relate to the things they learn through games. Take your child out on a picnic and ask him to pitch a tent. He may not know how to put up a tent, so encourage him to read the instructions and help him set it up. While doing so, explain to him how the hard work he is putting in now to pitch the tent will help protect him from the cold later. This will help him associate hard work with rewards and success
5. Don’t do things for them: As stated earlier, one of the main reasons children refrain from putting in the required effort is because parents end up doing a lot of their work. Therefore, it is time you stopped doing your child’s work, no matter how hard it might be. It is important to encourage your child to do his own chores. Once he’s back from school, ask him to put his school uniform up for washing and sort his school bag. Once he is done with dinner, ask him to wash his plate and put it back. Making him do simple things like these will teach him the value of hard work. Dr Rao adds, “Parents should stop indulging and protecting their children and, instead, expose them to hard work starting from doing chores at home. This way, the children will also feel that they are doing something for the family.”
We’ve heard people say repeatedly that hard work leads to success. And, with many successful people vouching for it, perhaps, it’s time we ensured that our children too embraced this value. However, it is imperative as parents to not force your child or discourage any of his efforts, no matter how small. Every step he takes will lead him to his destination – success. And along the way, like Ashwini, he may also find happiness in something he never explored.
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