How many of you had chores for which you were responsible as a child? How many of you require your children to do chores? Do your children understand what chores are? In a recent study, 82% of U.S. adults with children reported that they were responsible for chores as a child, but only 56% reported requiring their own children to do chores. Why has there been this change over time? Perhaps it’s because many of our children have “to-do lists” as long as our own, and we hesitate to add to those lists. Our lives are already hurried and frantic, so why pile on? Besides, do we have time to supervise the completion of chores, or is it just easier to do them ourselves or hire them out?
I would argue that there is importance and lasting value in teaching and requiring our children to be responsible for chores. Why? I think the following list is a least a good start to the argument for requiring chores:
Children learn the idea that “we’re all in this together.” Being part of a family demands contributions from everyone, and the responsibility should be shared.
Children learn a sense of mastery, accomplishment, responsibility, and self-reliance.
They learn empathy by understanding everything it takes to keep a family and a household running smoothly.
They learn the satisfaction that comes from serving and responding to the needs of others.
They enhance their own self-esteem by being valuable contributors to a larger cause.
They learn important skills that will serve them well throughout life.
They feel more connected to their parents.
Children, and parents, are happier when children do chores.
They may even have fun!
One small study, done over a period of 25 years, found that the best predictor of young adults’ success in their mid-20s was whether they participated in household tasks at age 3 or 4. The sense of shared responsibility transfers to other areas of their lives.
Most parents will say they care about raising caring, ethical children, and most say these qualities are more important than academic or career achievements. But sometimes we send our kids a different message. Richard Weissbourd, a Harvard psychologist, reports survey results suggesting that a high percentage of middle and high school students value their own happiness over caring for others; most thought their parents would agree with that. Is that the message we want to send our kids? Household chores may seem like a small thing, but the message of contribution and care isn’t small at all. Sure, our kids have sports, homework, music, and a variety of other activities in which they’re involved. Chores help teach the balance that is required to manage all of those pursuits, and that value should not be minimized.
Children’s chores should start early—even at age 2 or 3. It will be harder to implement a system of chores as children get older. Use your own judgment about what your child may be capable of doing. Following are ideas that even very young children can handle as chores:
Put toys away
Put clothes in hamper
Straighten books and magazines
Bring in the mail or newspaper
Set and clear the table
Water plants and flowers
Load/unload the dishwasher
Make their bed
Sort, wash, fold, or put away laundry
Put away groceries
Help prepare meals
When implementing a system of chores, the following tips might be helpful:
Keep chores realistic in light of a child’s capabilities.
Schedule a time for chores.
At times, give children a choice of chores.
Create “levels” of chores, so they will know as they master one, they can take on a new, harder responsibility.
Watch your language. Make sure you are not modeling complaining about chores.
Don’t insist on perfection, and don’t micromanage or re-do chores.
First teach your child how to do a specific chore; do it together; then turn it over to your child. Be specific about what is required for a specific chore.
Be consistent in your expectations.
Don’t nag. Use the “when/then” method of accountability. (e.g. “When the bathroom is clean, then you may go play with your friends.”)
A weekly chart can be a good way of tracking accountability. Rewards should be praise, family time, etc.—not physical prizes.
If we’re trying to teach our kids to share responsibility, then connecting chores with an allowance is probably not the right message.
Studies tell us that children who have regular chores at home are more responsible and successful adults—both academically and in everyday life. I strongly recommend that chores become a part of your child’s experience. Someday they’ll appreciate it!