For many parents, getting the kids to do chores is a chore. But, experts say, since studies have shown that doing chores is beneficial to children academically, emotionally, socially and professionally, they’re not doing their kids any favors by letting them opt out.
Assigning kids things to do around the house builds self-sufficiency, responsibility and confidence, according to research from the University of Minnesota. And the earlier, the better. Children who are assigned chores starting at age three or four tend to do better in school, have early career success, are more self-reliant and independent and tend to have better relationships with friends and family than those who aren’t given chores, or don’t start until they’re teenagers. “There’s a correlation between successful young adults and early childhood chores,” says Gail Gross, PhD, a child psychologist, family and child development expert and host of the PBS show Let’s Talk. “Children mature when they are given chores because they are being held accountable for getting something done.” (See which chores are perfect for their age).
Richard Rende, PhD, developmental psychologist and co-author of Raising Can Do Kids: Giving Children the Tools to Thrive in a Fast-Changing World, says chores benefit kids in a host of ways.
“Chores help children learn how to contribute to being a part of a broader group,” he explains. “Kids also learn how to complete tasks and develop social skills, empathy and responsibility.” All of that combines over time to create success in the classroom and the workplace once they reach adulthood, he says.
A survey of more than 1,000 parents done by Braun Research showed that while 82 percent of Americans polled grew up doing chores, only 28 percent regularly assigned them to their own children. Another recent study by the Maryland Population Research Center found that children six to 12 years old spend an average of just under three hours a week on housework, but 14 hours a week watching TV.
Gross points to a big reason behind the trend. “There are too many scheduled activities outside of the home and not enough time with Mom and Dad,” she says, offering some suggestions for assigning chores:
• Chores should be fair. Rotate them so the same child isn’t always stuck doing the same task.
• Make sure all chores are safe and age-appropriate. Three-year-olds shouldn’t be washing dishes, obviously, but they can put away their toys.
• Have reasonable expectations. While it’s important to follow through and give children feedback, don’t crush any egos. It’s all about building a sense of competence.
• Engage your child in a discussion. Come together as a family while planning what needs to be done around the house so things run smoothly for everyone.
Marla W. Deibler, PsyD, a clinical psychologist at the Center for Emotional Health and a spokeswoman for the New Jersey Psychological Association, says offering rewards for doing chores can motivate kids.
“As they grow older, children learn to internalize their sense of accomplishment, but while they are young, tangible rewards are important to them,” Deibler explains.
She gives the example of filling a clear glass jar with small, brightly-colored pom-poms. Once a child completes a chore, a pom-pom is added to the jar. When the jar is full, the child can trade them in for something he wants, such as a game, toy or trip to a special place. “Using something like the pom-pom jar is simpler and a lot more fun than keeping charts,” she says.
Chores teach children how to make a plan and carry it out, she says, adding that over time, helping around the house contributes to a sense of self-worth, which translates into a good work ethic and can have positive effects on relationships with others.
Rende agrees, noting that chores also teach kids to stick with a task, even if it’s not a particularly exciting one. “Many kids today don’t understand the concept of hard work to reach a goal—they only see the finished product,” Rende says. “It’s not always glamorous. Much of it can be grunt work. But it propels you to greater success.”
Martta Kelly has been a health and wellness writer for more than 15 years. She lives in West Orange with her husband.