The Best Thing You Can Teach Your Kids

In Most Popular
Scroll this
Please share:

Give me a stock clerk with a goal and I’ll give you a man who will make history. Give me a man with no goals and I’ll give you a stock clerk.” – J.C. Penney

If you’ve read anything I’ve written about parenthood over the past couple years you know that I’m against heaping hollow praise on kids. I’ve railed against participation trophies and parents who are anti-competition.

Our generation tends to overdo it when “Junior” scrapes the low end of mediocrity, and that’s a recipe for disaster as kids try and make it in the real world.  Now I finally have a little back-up.

I can honestly say after finding all this information that the most important quality you can teach your kid is:

Hard work.

Yes, you need to teach them how to talk, how to throw a football, and not get scammed by a car dealer. But it’s becoming more and more clear that hard work trumps talent every time.

Instilling hard work in kids has been something I’ve felt strongly about for a long time, but now for some of the info I’ve come across: I finally got a copy of NurtureShock, one of the more contriversial parenting books on the market. The book blows the lid off of just about anything you can think of, but it was the first chapter that caught my attention. It’s titled: “The Inverse Power of Praise; Sure he’s special, but if you tell him that, you’ll ruin him. It’s a nurological fact.”

NurtureShock states that kids will perform much better if you praise their hard work instead of just telling them how smart or great they are, which most parents do (including me sometimes). Make this mistake and they will constantly under perform.

The books presumes that when kids are always told that they’re smart, they don’t feel the need to work hard. The authors put kids though a battery of tests after complimenting one group on their hard work and complementing a second group on just being smart. They found out the first group wanted to learn and work hard to get the grade they wanted after receiving the praise. The second group threw in the towel because they knew they were smart anyway. They figured, “what’s the point of working hard if I’m already brilliant.” Yikes.

We’re all probably familiar with Outliers, Malcom Gladwell’s book about success. He gives a lot of reasons why people are successful (including holding your kids back, but that’s a topic for a different day). The strongest point he makes is that to be an expert on anything, you need to do it for 10,000 hours. Talent be damned. He tells a great story about the Beatles and their success. It wasn’t that they were such amazing musicians as it was the fact that they played in a Berlin strip club for 8 hours a day for months when they were nobodies. All that practicing made them better musicians, performers, and really taught them how to play together. Again, they worked their asses off and the rest is history.

Penelope Trunk writes the “Brazen Careerist” blog which is a combination of career advice, shocking personal revelations and thoughts on life. She’s a hell of a writer and wrote about what it takes to be an expert. She came up with the same thing: It ain’t talent. One interesting point she made is that to really become that expert you need coaching along with hard work. That’s where parents come in. We are our kid’s first coaches in just about everything they try — and we should take that job seriously.

So now that we know our kids need to learn to work hard, how the hell do we instill this in them? Good question. I constantly wrestle with how to teach my kids how to work hard — consistently. I just know it needs to be done so we don’t find them smoking pot, watching Scooby-Doo and living on our couches in 20 years.

While I don’t have the answers, I’m sure you won’t be shocked to know that I have an idea. Let your kids see you working your ass off. Now, that doesn’t mean you have to kill yourself at a job you hate and get home late every night. It means that whatever your passion is: guitar, writing, or spinning bottles like Tom Cruise in “Cocktail” … you should work hard to master it, and love it.

Let them see you working hard at something you love and it can’t help but rub off.

click here to subscribe to get updates by email so you don’t miss any content and creativity tips (it’s free). You’ll get proven content strategies you can use today.

Get a free checklist of the best content resources and updates. Free!

These are the tools I use to create for the world's biggest brandss

There will be no funny business with your email. You can unsubscribe at any time. Pinky swear.

Please share:


  1. Thanks for the nice shoutout, Craig.
    I really like this post – especially your quotation at the top. I’m getting ready to move my kids from the city to a farm. And one of the reasons I am making such a drastic move is that I love the work that goes on at a farm. My kids will do chores every day, and they will understand the value of work in a way that I’m not sure they’d see in city life. I mean, they have violin practice each day, but I think this is different. I’m not sure how. I’m still thinking about work – about how to instill that working hard is an end in itself. But I’m convinced that parents have to lead by example, and by the lifestyle they choose for the family.


  2. Spot on post Craig. I grew up on a dairy farm and learned the value of hard, hard work.

    Now I just have to transfer that knowledge onto my son.

    BTW, I always enjoy your posts. Can’t say that about most of those in my reader.

  3. Thanks for the nice words Ruth.

    Penelope — thanks for your comment, I really appreciate it. Time on the farm will do your kids well. We take ours to a remote island in the San Juans and they get dirty doing some good work. Also, I always say to make your kids realize that they’re not living in a hotel — they need to kick in and help out around the house. Although we have mixed results. It’s tough.

    SD – thanks for the props, and good luck trying to pass it down to the boy. One thing our kid’s generation is missing is that good ol’ work that so many more did years ago. One question: do you still like milk?

  4. Great post Craig. Um, until you mentioned Tom Cruise. LOL. But really this is all true good parenting advice. I over praised my son (he’s 14 now) and he looks for it. Did you see me Mom? Did you see what I did? Aren’t you proud Mom? Of course my son has ADHD, severe learning disabilities, fine motor, and auditory processing issues so everything was hard for him and when he accomplished things, I was proud and excited but I think I should have found some balance. My daughter (10 Years old) however whom I did not go that route (in part because I was so busy praising the boy) doesn’t ever ask for praise, doesn’t really care if I think it’s great or if I love it. Everything she does really well whether it’s sports, academics or art – she does for herself, her satisfaction.
    Being a parent is one of the hardest things in life to be. I’m glad we are all here in the same soup pot to learn from each other.

  5. Great piece Craig. I agree with you but with a twist. My parents were complete free love hippies. I became obsessed with success as a way to prove that I was normal. Their inattention drove me to try to get their attention by succeeding (which didn’t work). With my own kids I show them loving support but I remain pretty silent when it comes to their achievements. What I make sure to pay attention to is their passion. I really could care less if my kids get an A or get into Harvard (my daughter is a hs junior) but what I do care about is that they find something in their lives to be passionate about. With my daughter it writing and acting. With my son its football, tennis and Catholicism (big gulp, I am Quaker, his mom is the Catholic). With my little one who is 5 it is too early to know but he sure likes Star Wars. @tmatlack

  6. Thanks for leaving a comment NickyJi. It’s tough raising these kids, but you’re right in that they have totally different needs, Some need more praise, some less and some you can ride a little. You’re a good mom.

    Tom, I totally agree with you on letting them find their passion. I think its one of the most important things in life. We tend to try and fix things that people don’t do well or have an interest in while what we should be doing is having them following their passions and working hard at whatever they love. Thanks for the comment — and I enjoy your stuff.

  7. Great article, I agree 100%. For the 99.999% of us without God-given natural talent, only hard work will lead us to achieve our goals, no matter what they are.

Comments are closed.