How to Raise Hard Working Kids

Learn how to raise hard working kids who don’t give up easily, take pride in their work, and enjoy the process. It’s easier than you think!

Hard Working KidsWe hear about kids who dutifully check off their chores and don’t give up at the first sign of struggle. They practice over and over until they feel competent, and they even like learning.

We can raise hard working kids by a simple change in how we speak to them. Because if you’re like me, you may be making a crucial mistake you don’t even realize you’re doing. (I sure didn’t until I learned this secret.)

You see, I thought the way to teach dedication and striving for excellence is to praise my kids and everything they do. From “Good job!” to “You’re so smart,” I figured this was the way to give them a higher sense of self esteem and encourage them to work hard in the long run.

Except I learned it doesn’t exactly work that way. Quite the opposite, in fact.

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According to Carol Dweck’s book, Mindset, we shouldn’t praise kids for traits like being smart, athletic, or “a natural.”

That kind of praise implies that their accomplishments are due to innate traits they’re born with. They either have it or they don’t. They’re “smart,” so of course they’d get an A on a test. They’re “athletic,” so of course they’d score the most goals in a soccer game.

But what happens when they face a difficult test, or more challenging opponents? (And trust me, they will.) They might:

  • Feel worse about themselves and question why their talents aren’t getting them through.
  • Blame external factors like a noisy testing room or difficult weather.
  • Steer clear of challenges that can question their natural ability.
  • Choose a task they know they can breeze through to protect their “smart” label.
  • Avoid challenges, even if they can learn more from them.

So, if praising kids for doing a good job or making them feel smart doesn’t cut it, what can we do to avoid these scenarios?

Labeling Kids

1. Focus on effort

Praising your child’s effort focuses on things she can change. Where success is built on perseverance, strategy, and creativity, not a natural talent she supposedly has.

She didn’t ace a test because she’s “smart,” but because she studied hard for the exam. Don’t celebrate the goals she scored, but the new strategies she tried. Praise her for not giving up when things got tough, and for practicing over and over, even when it would’ve been easier to quit.

She can see challenge as a good thing, not one to hide from for fear of making mistakes. She knows it’s exactly this kind of challenge that can help her, and she values the satisfaction of hard work.

1. Don’t praise so much

This might be a harsh tip, but watch how often you praise your child. Sometimes we think our kids will stop studying or behaving well if we don’t praise them often enough or for every little thing.

But they don’t need as much praise as we assume they do. Save heartfelt praise for when it matters, not for doing something you expect them to be able to do.

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3. Praise the process

How do you know if you’re praising effort versus innate traits? Focus on the “before.”

Your child won the game because he’d been practicing the whole week, not because he’s a natural at soccer. He loves drawing because he worked on a picture for several days, not only because he produced a great piece of art.

Don’t praise him for the aftermath only—the games won or the A’s on the tests. Praise him for what it took to get him there as well. The endurance to not give up when he stumbled on a jigsaw puzzle. The new strategy he found to dribble a ball. The hours it took to get the train tracks put together just right.

These are the types of praise he needs to hear. Focus on the things he can control, not on traits he can’t.

4. Don’t just praise for winning

Let’s say your child was throwing basketball hoops. Do you only praise her when she makes a shot?

It’s easy to do this, and often natural. After all, the main point of the game is to make shots into the basket. So, when it happens, it warrants praise all around.

But don’t forget to praise for effort as well. Let’s say you notice she dribbled the ball well before making a shot. Point that out, even if she didn’t get the ball in the hoop. Or let’s say she still can’t get any shots after so many tries—praise her for not giving up.

Wins and accomplishments are worthy of praise, but so are effort, strategy, perseverance, and trying new things.

Check out these children’s books about perseverance.

5. Embrace mistakes

Embrace your child’s mistakes as learning tools. Though disappointing, a mistake isn’t something to avoid at all costs. Otherwise, she might shy away from challenges or won’t do good work. At worst, she might resort to rule-breaking or winning by any means necessary.

Instead, embrace mistakes as inevitable but educational. No one likes to fail (I surely don’t). It doesn’t feel good to keep trying only to make mistakes and failures. But it’s part of the process and something to expect, not avoid.

When they do happen, point them out and see what she can learn from it. What can she do differently to avoid that mistake again? What did the mistake reveal that might help her reach her goal?

Read more about the importance of embracing mistakes.

How to Teach Kids to Embrace Mistakes

6. Keep praise “descriptive,” not “evaluative”

The way we praise falls on two types: evaluative and descriptive.

Evaluative praise is based on your judgment—your “evaluation”—of what your child has done. Things like, “Your painting is so beautiful!” or “Good job!” It means well, but it imposes your thoughts and opinions on him and his work.

It also focuses too much on external praise as a way to reinforce and validate him. It shouldn’t matter what you thought of his painting, only that he enjoyed creating it so much.

But descriptive praise shares what you see and “describe.” You might say, “Look at that purple in your painting!” or “You finished your homework, and all without reminding!”

It focuses on him and his work instead of what you think of it. Describing the colors of a painting or saying he finished his homework state what you see. This allows him to make his own assessment and conclusion. He’s able to draw joy and motivation on his own, and not rely on other people’s opinions.


Praising your child for effort highlights the hard work it takes to succeed, rather than natural talent. It’s a “no excuses” mentality: the work she puts in will likely equal the success she reaches.

Steer clear of praising her for supposed innate traits, and instead focus on effort. Embrace mistakes and all the work it took to get her to where she is. Try not to praise too often, and when you do, keep it descriptive rather than evaluative.

Raising hard working kids starts with the way we communicate with them on the things we value. Through hard work, they can meet their goals, embrace mistakes, and learn to love the process.

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  1. If a child does seem to have a more natural inclination to a particular activity, how should we be lending our praise? I would say I tend towards a fixed mindset, but I do really try not to.

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      It’s definitely understandable to praise kids for their natural proclivities, especially if they excel or are unique. Still, there’s a way to praise in a growth mindset way.

      For instance, avoid praising kids for being a natural, talented, gifted, or that this is how they simply are, even if genetically that might be true. Instead, praise them for the effort they exert regardless of their natural inclinations. You can say you admire how much they persisted even when it got hard, how they tried new strategies, how curious they are, how they don’t give up, how much they enjoy what they do, etc. After all, even those with natural talents don’t get to where they are without effort and grit.

      That way, should your kids face something difficult that requires effort, they won’t shirk from it or give up in order to protect their identity as a talented person. Instead, they’ll know that they can always put in effort and change their circumstances to excel.