By Jan Cheek, MSW, LCSW
Sometimes when we as parents or grandparents are trying to get our children and teens to do basic household chores, we determine it is easier to just do it ourselves. We may be concerned about things being done the “right” way, or just when we want things done (NOW!), and without argument or hesitation so we think it might simply be less problematic to do things ourselves. Not assigning chores to kids and teens prevents them form having an opportunity to gain valuable life skills and be a contributing member of a community (the family system).
Children (and even teens) desire to belong and to be important. Participating in household chores is a great way for a child to recognize they contribute positively to family life. There is research (Rossman, University of Minnesota, 2002) that indicates that children who start young (ages 3-4) doing chores are more successful as young adults than children who have not participated in chores. According to multiple researchers, starting at any age is helpful and better than never participating with routine chores. However, the younger a child is when regular participation in chores is introduced, the greater the likelihood that the benefits carry over into adulthood.
So, what are some of the benefits of chores aside from getting other people in the household to carry some of the load? Participation in chores contributes to: increased independence while also learning the value of teamwork, a sense of responsibility, learning the value of hard work, being self-disciplined, being better prepared for challenges and difficult life experiences, being accountable, being better with delayed gratification, being trustworthy, learning time management, being less self-centered, being more empathetic and cooperative. This is a long list of benefits, but certainly not all of the benefits of children doing chores.
Children (and adults) learn relationship skills doing chores including cooperation, communication, and the art of negotiation and compromise. Relationships are strengthened when families incorporate chores as a way for children to have an important part of busy family functioning. When children complete tasks and when they become more competent at completing tasks, they build self-confidence and have improved self-esteem. Children develop a greater sense of personal satisfaction when they complete assigned chores.
Doing chores helps children learn to be more planful and more organized. Chores offer an opportunity to have small daily goals or greater weekly goals that ultimately gives a child a sense of accomplishment and improves their work ethic over time. Having a good work ethic is a life-long benefit that helps with academics, sports, employment, and relationship dynamics.
Doing chores assists children with the concept of time. Children will learn how to prioritize and plan as they learn how long specific things actually take to do. This becomes beneficial as they grow older and have to balance multiple activities and commitments including school, fun and extra-curricular activities, friendships, family obligations and eventually a career.
Doing chores can be a commitment to teamwork. Multiple family members working together to keep the household running smoothly is teamwork and children value being an important team member. Strengthening the team concept becomes an important way for families to bond.
It is important to allow chores to become a “habit”. Consistency and establishing routines about chores are keys to eventual success with implementing chores. Match chores to children’s ages and abilities, but realize that until children become proficient, a parent must offer guidance and supervision. We cannot expect a child to just know how something is to be done without teaching them. The recommendation is to teach, offer instruction, and coach without criticism. Correction can and should be offered without criticism.
Children who are allowed to have input about what chores they will do become more invested. Consider some chores that are required for all family members over the age of two such as cleaning up one’s own mess (a two-year-old can place toys back in the toy box or basket with assistance initially) and making one’s own bed. In addition, children might become more invested if they choose from a list of other chores for additional daily duties. Of course, the parent creates the list so that any choice by the child is a valuable contribution. The options on a list or chore chart must be something that a child can do successfully on their own; or, if there is something where guidance is necessary, there should be indication that Mom/Dad will be a helper until there is competency so a child will not be reluctant to choose that chore.
So, most children will not initially be eager to do chores! That is no surprise! However, children are more likely to repeat behavior that is praised or rewarded. Praise can be as simple as, “I like how you put all your folded shirts in your drawer.” It is an authentic observation and stated in a positive way. It is definitely preferable to praise the action taken to complete the chore and avoid saying, “You are such a good girl for putting away your shirts!” Simple praise and other rewards such as playing a game with a parent, TV time, electronic device time, play time with friends, and even an allowance can be ways to positively acknowledge effort and accomplishments with chores. Again, children tend to repeat behaviors that are positively reinforced. This repetition is what leads to doing chores and the chores becoming good habits.
Age appropriate chore ideas include, but are not limited to the following: Toddlers can pick up toys, put dirty clothes in the laundry basket, place empty cups next to the sink, help set the table. Pre-schoolers can make their bed, put clothes in the laundry basket, help sort clean laundry into piles for each family member, fold wash cloths and small towels, set the table, and put away toys. School age children can organize and clean their rooms, help with pet care, sort laundry, load and unload the dishwasher, vacuum and sweep, help with food preparation, and dusting. Teenagers can be responsible for doing their own laundry (wash, dry, fold, and put away), pet care, lawn care, preparing some family meals, and washing vehicles. Of course, each age group can do chores that they have done as a younger child as well!
Expecting our children to be perfect with chores will set us up for frustration and disappointment. Learning how to become competent and responsible with household tasks is a process for a child and it takes guidance and patience from parents as doing chores becomes an ingrained habit. Lashing out in anger with our children who are in the process of developing this good habit will ultimately not be helpful. Teaching, guiding, and incorporating rewards and consequences with consistency regarding doing chores will ultimately be helpful with building good chore habits.
The providers at Behavioral Healthcare Associates, LLC (BHA, LLC) have experience with family functioning and family dynamics. If implementing doing chores in your household is met with resistance, emotional melt downs, difficulty staying on task, and even defiance over time without resolution, then we can be helpful to identify what might be going on to create such interference. BHA, LLC is a multi-disciplinary and comprehensive mental health and substance use disorder clinic. BHA, LLC has experienced psychotherapists and a double boarded child/adolescent and general psychiatrist available to assess and treat family systems and individuals. For additional information contact our office (919-292-1464) or review our website www.behavioralhealthcareassociates.org