Parents often wonder whether or not they should assign chores to their children, wrestling with the idea that it’s their responsibility to manage the household and kids should be allowed to ‘just be kids’, versus viewing the practice as helpful in the development of their life skills.
Parents and kids alike have very busy schedules these days, with a variety of activities, co-curricular sports, after-school clubs, etc. not to mention that many older children have a considerable commute time to and from school.
But despite those concerns, many child development experts, psychologists and scientists agree that giving your child chores may actually be one of the most important things you’ll ever do.
The children that are encouraged to participate in the smooth operation of the family home learn responsibility and gain important life skills that will serve them well throughout adulthood.
In fact, many go as far as to say that assigning chores to your child will help them grow up to be more successful.
The idea was proven by a well-known 75 year Harvard study, which showed that people who did more chores and housework as children progressed to be happier and more successful in their lives.
Chores were actually the most accurate predictor of which kids went on to be happy, healthy, independent and successful adults.
So why is this so important?
Firstly, it gives children a feeling of competence when they do their chores – helping out around the house helps them feel both capable and valued.
Pitching in and helping the rest of the family gives children a sense of responsible, increases self-esteem and encourages them to be good citizens.
Giving children a list of chores to be completed during the week, involving them in the chore selection, and allowing them to plan their time accordingly develops organisational and time management skills.
The chores they do, and their impact on the rest of the family and the chores of other family members also helps to build an understanding of teamwork.
For example, when your child sets the table before everyone sits down to eat, they can see how they have contributed to the family meal – a first-hand, tangible benefit. Watch the sense of pride as they make this connection. You might find they will start to get creative with the table settings, so remember to praise them for doing a great job and making the meal more pleasurable.
Once this feeling of pride takes hold, chores become routine and you won’t have to keep reminding them – it will actually become something they enjoy.
Let’s have a look at what chores might be appropriate by age group.
We don’t want to overwhelm little ones and we need to try to make chores fun for them at this stage, to help instil the habit.
Here’s a few to consider:
• Picking up their toys at the end of each day.
• Taking their dishes to the kitchen after each meal.
• Putting dirty clothes in the wash basket.
• Checking a pet’s water bowl.
It’s important to remember that picking up toys, for example can be a huge task, and asking a child this young to tidy their whole room probably won’t end well – it’s just too daunting and they haven’t yet learned the organisation skills required. Start by breaking it down into smaller tasks by getting them to put one group of toys away into a certain place.
Once they’ve gotten used to doing that, you can build up gradually to tidying everything away. It will take a while, but you have to start somewhere.
Young children have short attention spans, so the tasks need to be manageable at this stage – and something they can do very easily, so they will feel that sense of achievement and pride. Having them fail because the task was too difficult for them will lead to frustration and engaging your child in chores will become a challenge.
A great way to engage is to explain how their chore has a beneficial impact – for example, putting their toys away in the right place, means they won’t lose anything and will always be able to find the toy they want to play with.
Sticker charts often go down well for a sense of reward with younger children.
Primary School Children
With the grounding described above, we can increase their responsibility as they grow.
School-age children should continue to do chores that involve picking up after themselves, but you can consider adding some new tasks such as:
• Emptying school bags of any lunch containers.
• Putting away their uniform, bag and shoes.
• Putting their clothes away after washing – you will need to do this with them a few times, agreeing where everything should go and how to hang and fold items.
Middle School Children
This is a good time to increase responsibility children to tasks like:
• Cleaning the bathroom.
• Sweeping and vacuuming.
• Emptying the dishwasher.
• Feeding and grooming the family pet.
These should be in addition to keeping their room tidy and continuing the habits they have learned so far of always picking up after themselves.
The consensus among experts seems to be that reward should not be given for agreed designated tasks, as children are simply contributing to maintaining a tidy and pleasant home. They do suggest, however that paying children of this age group to take on extra chores is a good way to incentivise them, while teaching them the basics of financial responsibility.
High School Children / Teenagers
At this stage, we really need to start assigning chores that are going to help them in the real world, such as:
• Cooking dinner.
• Preparing their school lunches.
• Doing the laundry and/or ironing.
• Washing the car.
• Washing windows.
• Managing the bins and recycling.
If you have two or three children, you might want to start a rota system of chores so they each get to do all of them over time – or have them decide on the chores and how they will be assigned.
These are all skills they need to develop to live independently, and to cohabit with other people.
Again, deciding with your kids which chores should form their regular contribution to the household and rewarding them with an allowance for extra chores is the best combination for teaching both responsibility and money management.
The Golden Rule
Whatever their age, it’s unlikely that any child will complete a chore as well as you would do it yourself, but bite your tongue, and resist every urge to take over and re-do the task.
You will only succeed in sending the message that their efforts are not appreciated and they just aren’t good enough at the task in question.
Praise is the way to go, so just suck it up and they will improve in time.
Always let your children know their contribution is appreciated – thanks, hugs, kisses, and yes, rewards too will ensure success all round.