What are your memories of chores as a kid? Fun, punishment, tedious tasks, moments of growth?
How we view many of these things from our childhood will dictate how we parent our own kids. And despite how we may feel on some things, there is research on chores that cannot be denied. The longest longitudinal study ever done on people, which dates back to people living in the 1930s, found that the one thing that would lead to a mentally healthy, successful, content, and productive adult was doing chores as a child. Additional research has shown that regular chores help kids develop a strong work ethic and a “pitch-in” mentality. Chores teach kids how to serve, how to be part of a family, develop moral character, reduce selfishness, and promotes responsibility. (Kids certainly need many more things other than chores to become successful adults. But chores or jobs around the house are usually always on the list of things kids need to be ready for adulthood.)
Despite this information and many parents knowing how important chores are for kids, most of today’s parents do not have their kids regularly do chores. One study found that only 28% of parents make kids to chores. Not having our kids do chores isn’t sparing them from work; it is setting them up for difficulty in other ways.
I get it. Chores aren’t fun. Kids don’t always want to do them, and we don’t always want to listen to them complain about doing them. But we need to show kids that things won’t be done for us and that we need to develop the work ethic and skills of the world.
Are your kids too busy for contributing? Kids today are in school for long hours and usually come home to more hours of homework. Throw in dance class, a baseball game, a basketball tournament, and there often isn’t much time left. This “too busy being busy” aspect of our lives today is another issue in itself. But kids should never be too busy to help out.
It’s all in the Presentation
Now in my work with parents, I have found that the presentation of chores is crucial. Yes, learning to be self-sufficient in cooking and laundry will be useful as an adult. But the process of chores is what will lead to contentment and productivity. If we present chores as punishment or tedious tasks, our kids will not take on the full benefit.
When we present chores as “family contributions” that everyone needs to do in order for the family life to run smoothly, we are showing our kids how important they are to the family. This sense of worth and value is crucial to young children. From the preschoolers who can’t quite fold a towel, to the teenager who mows and rakes the lawn, contributing to family life should be presented as invaluable. When we are thankful for our kids helping, even when their abilities aren’t amazing just yet, we show them how much we appreciate their help and how valuable they are.
When kids know they are valued, they are less likely to have behavioral, academic, and social problems. They have a sense of purpose and worth. They have an important role in the daily functioning of a family. Making it a fun family affair and helping each other out is an excellent opportunity to bond. Kids who are not motivated to work at home won’t be motivated to work at school, sports, or adult life. Doing family contributions and dealing with consequences for not doing them are great opportunities for teachable moments.
To the Best of Their Ability
When kids are small and don’t have the ability to do things our way, it is easy for us to not want them to help. I do this often because I like things done my way. But perfectionism is something we have to let go of as parents. It’s OK if little ones can’t do things correct just yet. Encouraging them to help and making the process fun will set them up for wanting to help more as adults. It is more about the learning process than the end result. The end result for our kids doing laundry is usually messier than I like. But it’s done to the best of their ability and I will praise them for their help. With time and practice they will become excellent folders. (See Why I Let My Kids Do Chores: Focusing on the Learning Process)
Do Chores = Money?
What about paying kids for contributing? Financial decisions are best made within the family. But paying kids for every little contribution they make can set them up with a “what’s in it for me?” or “I won’t do that job because it doesn’t pay enough” attitude. Choosing to pay kids for bigger contributions is up to your family, but every kid should have work to do around the house that is free of charge. (See Chores- To Pay or Not to Pay?)
I want to add a note on service. Having the family value of contributing will teach kids service, but as someone who values service, I want to show this to our kids. That means I will do things for them from time to time. Sure, they can pack their own lunches or make their own breakfast, but it’s nice to do things for those we love, especially if it is appreciated and fill their love tanks. I know my love tank gets filled when someone does something nice for me. And our kids deserve the same.
A child can never be too young or too hold to pitch-in around the house. Sparing them from helping isn’t helping them. We want to show our children they are valued members of our family and their contributions to daily life are important, noticed, valued, and beneficial. I don’t want our kids to think everything will always be taken care of for them. Sure, I am happy to help them out if they need it. Our family is a team and every member of the team must work together.
By: Emily Scott, PhD
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