Participating in family duties has immediate and long-term rewards.
The commitment to household chores has a real benefit on the sense of self-worth of young people, their emotional wellbeing, their future professional conduct and even their academic results.
But how do we get our kids to do them…
… willingly, diligently and without feeling put upon?
A few years ago my wife and enjoyed watching a series on TV called ‘Shameless’? Do you know it? A show about a dirt poor family living in Chicago with a drunk, amoral father, no mother and an assortment of offspring from an early twenties daughter down to a toddler. They are a tight-knit family with an all-for-one-and-one-for-all attitude.
At dinner one night the 12 year old girl says to the 8 year old boy ‘You’re nearly nine. It’s time you started pulling your weight.’
Wow. This from the 12-year old. It points out how important it is that every member must be an integral component of the machine that is called The Family.
Why give young children chores?
For a start, anything they do to help around the house is something you don’t have to. But there are some very good reasons why your kids should be given regular tasks as soon as they are able. (This is from peer-reviewed research).
- Giving children household chores at an early age helps to build a lasting sense of responsibility and self-reliance.
- Children want to.
- They get a sense of being a contributing member of a team.
- There is a lesson that if something has to be done you just do it.
- It sets a foundation for success in adulthood.
- Academic success is more likely in children who have done (and continue to do) chores.
- Kids gain an insight and understanding of other people’s needs and will respond to them.
- A stronger family unit is created.
- Children form stronger friendships. Personal happiness is more likely to come from strong relationships than from achievement.
- Coarse and fine motor skills develop.
- They learn that things don’t just happen.
- There is joy in mastering a skill and showing that they can do it.
- This is not to say that if you don’t incorporate chores then you are being an irresponsible parent.
Indeed children with a chore-free upbringing are no more likely to drop out of high school, turn to drugs, become social outcasts or fail to get a job than their labouring counterparts.
But they do have a better chance.
At happiness, relationships and life skills.
Why we don’t give our kids chores.
- My child is too young to start doing chores.
No. He isn’t. Youngsters are far more capable than we give them credit for.
- It is not worth the effort.
It is. The benefits outweigh the discomfort.
- We want to avoid an antagonistic relationship.
Perseverance won’t damage your relationship.
- Schoolwork is far more important.
There is time for everything.
- They don’t do the job properly.
And they never will if they don’t learn.
- Let them do their own thing.
Sure. But not all the time. Sometimes they have to do the family thing.
- I didn’t have to do them and I turned out OK.
Are you sure? Perhaps you did do them but your parents were skilful in implementing.
Why do kids want not to do chores?
- They don’t realize that they have to be done by someone to ensure the smooth running of the household.
- They want instant gratification and chores don’t give it.
- They are concerned only with what they want. The needs of other people don’t feature.
So how do we encourage our children to do chores.
Start early. Seriously. At our Childcare Centre the Toddlers and Pre-Kinders have to put their sleeping gear away when they wake up.
After lunch they scrape their dishes into the scraps bucket and stack them.
When they have finished playing with a toy they will put it away before they select another.
And if a child sees something out of place they will fix it even though it might be someone else who forgot.
There are no complaints.
They don’t even think about it.
This is normal life.
OK. I know. At home it’s different.
But here are some ideas the experts have suggested. (They’re not rules. Think about them. See how they work for you.)
- Ask the child to be a helper. In a study of 149 3-to 6-year olds published in the journal Child Development last year, researchers found that thanking young children for “being a helper,” as opposed to “helping<,” significantly increased their desire to pitch in. They were motivated by the idea of creating a positive identity—being known as someone who helps.
- Incorporate time for doing chores into the weekly timetable. This way everyone knows what their responsibilities are and when they have to be done.
- Start small and easy. Then build up to more difficult chores as time goes on. Success in performing a simple chore well earns the right to progress to a more responsible chore.
- Don’t link chores to pocket money. Maybe. Most researchers suggests that rewarding children for carrying out chores actually lowers motivation and diligence. Doing chores then becomes a transaction rather than a benevolent act. Some people (not researchers) feel, however, that learning to do the job right or you don’t get the reward prepares children for future employment. In the end it’s a personal choice.
- Don’t make doing chores a punishment. Or even a chore. Don’t make it a big deal. It needs to be done, so do it. Simple.
- Tasks should aim more to be beneficial to the household (for example, clean the kitchen floor) rather the individual (tidy your room). Remember. One of the benefits of doing chores is the development of a ‘we all work together’ atmosphere.
- Let your child select the task (within your parameters). You will have a greater chance of willing participation that way.
- Do “your” chores is not good. Do “the” chores is better. Let’s do “our” chores is best. Thus we show that the chores are everybody’s responsibility.
- Don’t complain about having to do your own chores. Surely I don’t even need to say this. If you complain about what you have to do how can your children not complain about this massive imposition on their life?
Now don’t let the tone so far kid you into thinking I am only on about kiddywinks. The teen years can really test you. It’s a good thing we weren’t like that when we were teenagers. The combination of all those hormones, changes in physiology and wanting to become an adult while being dragged out of childhood kicking and screaming does a young person’s head in. And why is it so important that these stupid chores get done anyway?
If you haven’t established a chore-oriented philosophy when they are very young, don’t worry. All is not lost.
There are plenty of chores suitable for teenagers and just many ways to encourage them. I like this one from photographer Lynda Giddens.
I don’t think she actually implemented it, but it’s a great idea.
A chore chart is a good idea.
If they arc up, tell them:
“Look how often I use a list. All it does is give a schedule. It doesn’t lock you in. I need a chore chart for myself, and yours has to fit in with mine.”
Make sure everything they need is there.
When they ask you for something don’t gratuitously withhold a reward, just remind them that there are still chores outstanding.
The important thing is to be consistent.
Even though it is more difficult at the time to persist in having children do chores, research indicates that those children who do have a set of chores have higher self-esteem, are more responsible, and are better able to deal with frustration and delay gratification, all of which contribute to greater success in school.
The Australian Parenting Website put it very nicely.
When we think ‘jobs’, we might also think long commutes, cranky managers, ticking deadlines and constant pressure. But for children, a ‘job’ can be a ticket to a grown-up world where they can take on grown-up responsibility.
Cheers for now. It’s been a pleasure talking to you.
As well as from my own observations, much of the research data for this article comes from Richard Weissbourd whose excellent report can be found here,
and Marty Rossman, whose research has been widely quoted including in the Wall Street Journal.