Completing chores promotes the development of many basic skills necessary for success in life. For younger children completing simple chores such as folding clothes or help with making their bed can improve coordination and motor skills. Completing chores also enhances a child’s ability to follow directions and helps develop planning and organization skills. Completing chores also helps children develop time management skills. Researchers in the groundbreaking, Learning Habits Study found that children who did household chores also scored high on measures of academic success.
Doing chores also helps children develop a sense of responsibility. They not only engage in self-help skills which fosters a sense of independence but also a sense of shared responsibility and contributing to the well-being of the whole family. Successfully completing chores also promotes feelings of self-worth and belonging. When parents do everything, children may feel either dependent on others or may feel entitled and expect things to be done for them.
When the topic of chores comes up in a family therapy session, I remind kids there is a reason we call chores, chores. Most people, including parents, don’t love doing them, but they need to be done anyway. I may ask about the things their parents do and what the home would be like if they were not completed. I point out that learning to take care of themselves and help around the house helps them to become more independent and ready for the freedom that will come when they get older. I think it is essential to distinguish between self-help and maintaining the household. Some children look a picking up toys, making their bed, or even brushing their teeth as a chore.
The obsession with screen time by many children adds to the problem. They detest any activity that may rob them of a few more minutes on their electronic devices. One rule of thumb should be that activities related to personal care, homework, and helping out the family or the family pet comes first. When responsibilities are met if there is time left, it can be used for recreational activities.
Many parents debate whether children should be paid for chores. The average kid in the U.S. receives an annual allowance of $800. In his book, The Opposite of Spoiled: Raising Kids Who Are Grounded, Generous, and Smart About Money, Ron Leiber a New York Times personal-finance columnist states, kids should do chores “for the same reason we do – because the chores need to be done, and not with the expectation of compensation”. He suggests that an allowance “ought to stand on its own, not as a wage but as a teaching tool.” For example, allowances can teach kids about the value of saving, how much things cost, budgeting, and giving to others.
What children and teens should receive instead of an allowance is praise and a thank you. They also should be taught to feel good about themselves and to be proud of their abilities, their independence, and their contributions to the good of the family. Praise should be intermittent and sometimes just a thank you or I am proud of you will do. Constant praise takes away from a sense of initiative and personal responsibility. Sometimes praise should be descriptive such as, “I like the way you put all of your toys exactly in their place,” “I am proud that you did all of your chores without being reminded” or “You are really getting good at making your bed and being careful to make it neatly.”
Starting kids off early with chores (personal responsibility) is best. With toddlers, you can make it a game, “playing being mommy & daddy.” Younger children may need to learn at first from observation or coaching. Praise should be based on effort, not perfection at first. This goes for older children learning new chores as well.
If your children are older, including teens, a different approach may be needed to welcome them to the world of personal responsibility. I suggest holding a family meeting to discuss the issue. Welcome input and suggestions from your kids. Come up with a plan that everyone agrees with. Make a chore checklist for all members of the family (that means parents also). This helps serve as a reminder, provides accountability, and also demonstrates that all family members are “pulling their weight.” Seeing all that parents do in addition to earning a living, can be an “eye-opener” for some kids.
Once you have agreed to a plan, you should use praise for accomplishment and reminders for lack of achievement. Sometime reminders may need to be stated several times. Any materials or devices for fun time mustn’t be available until the chores are completed. Again effort is what needs to be reinforced. Two techniques may be helpful. One is referred to as “Grandma’s Rule.” It states, “when your chores are done, you can use your phone.” The other is the “broken record” technique. “Remember the rule is to complete your toys before personal time…Again, chores before fun time”. Being assertive does not include yelling or putdowns. It just requires calm consistency.
By the way, chores should NEVER be used as punishment for inappropriate behavior.
Finally, chores should be appropriate for your child’s age and development. Toddlers (ages 2-3) should be able to put their toys away, place clothes in the hamper, fill up a cat or dog’s food bowl. Preschoolers (ages 3-5) can help clear the table, water flowers, or dust with a cloth. Elementary School kids (ages 6-9) can sweep floors, load the dishwasher, or clean their own bedrooms. Middle Schoolers (ages 10-13) can wash the family care, prepare meals, or take out the trash. High Schoolers (ages 14+) can clean out the fridge, mow the lawn and iron clothes.
It is never too late to help your child learn to be self-sufficient and responsible. Down the road of life, they will probably thank you for assisting them in gaining valuable skills and developing admirable traits. This is important to living a happy and successful life.
In my book, The Well-Balanced Family: Reduce screen time and increase family fun, fitness, and connectedness, you will find more suggestions for improving organization in your home and developing a cohesive, loving family environment.
The Brilli app can help your child to stay organized and keep up with responsibilities.