The benefits of chores for your child

As quoted by Abigail Buren, if you want children to keep their feet on the ground, put some responsibility on their shoulders.

Kids these days are very busy and over-scheduled. It may seem impossible to add one more thing, even household chores. There are many arguments about why children cannot do chores these days. They have a full day of school, a variety of after-school activities, dinner and, for older children, homework. While children shouldn’t be required to do tasks that are more appropriate for adults, pitching in by helping with household chores won’t hurt them and may even help them.

"Parents should present chores in a way that makes little ones feel they're contributing to the family," says Robert Billingham from Indiana University in Bloomington. By setting the table, kids see they are successful, important and needed, all of which help build their self-esteem. Weekly chores teach children life skills like responsibility and setting priorities that will be important for the future.

Similar to other habits, the earlier kids learn to help with daily duties, the more likely they will continue as they get older. In other words, start early. Even if it is a simple task like feeding the dog or cat. After all, it takes about 3 minutes to make a bed, 20 seconds to put laundry in the basket and putting dishes in the sink requires less than a minute. Chances are your child may not grow up to be a pro-athlete, but they are definitely going to need the life skills of making a bed and doing dishes (responsibility and contributing). When we think about kids spending approximately 14 hours a week watching television, a few age-appropriate chores seem reasonable.

Chores should never be used as a punishment. They might get done in the short term, but the effects won’t last. This approach does not give the child the feeling of doing something because it is the right thing to do. It only makes them detest chores and helping out even more. Chores should be used as a sense of purpose and pride rather than as a consequence.

Chores show kids that everyone contributes to the household. Michigan State University Extension offers the following suggestions on how to activate your kid’s natural drive to get chores and other boring tasks done.

Child bakingSwitch jobs. To make chores a little more entertaining, have your kids switch jobs. Ask them to clean a sibling’s room instead of their own for a change, or while one makes a creative dinner the other child can be the DJ—have them play their favorite tunes while the family meal is being prepared. Reverse roles later in the week. Try this once a week and inspire them not to cook the same meal twice.

Do chores together. Young children will need to learn how to do certain jobs. Doing chores with them will allow you to help them and acknowledge their hard work. “You put all of your clothes in the clothes basket.” Plus, if everyone helps, tasks will get done quicker and possibly be more tolerable.

Establish a schedule or routine for chores. If a chore has a routine, it will become a habit. To help with this, establish a “when/then” routine. For example, “When you hang up your coat after school, then you can have a snack.” “When you’ve put their dishes in the dishwasher, then you can go outside and play.”

Keep chores manageable. Kids are more likely to repeat a chore that requires 10 – 15 minutes versus a 3-hour stretch of time. Make it a game by seeing how much you can clean up in 15 minutes while listening to some fun music. Chores can also feel more manageable if you can get rid of clutter. It can feel overwhelming to put clothes away in an already stuffed drawer or books away on a book shelf over-flowing with books. Cat in the Hat exclaims, “This mess is so big, and so deep and so tall, we cannot pick it up! There is no way at all!”

Invent more difficult challenges. Kids like to be challenged. Easy tasks are boring and kids lose interest. If it is a task they have mastered, add a level of difficulty to peak their interest. For example, if they learned to feed the dog, ask them to give the dog water as well. Or, if they have mastered putting the dishes in the sink, ask them to rinse them off and put them in the dishwasher or put clean dishes away (remember to keep the task age appropriate).

Nothing good happens when kids don’t do anything. “When kids don’t have the responsibility of chores, they have little resilience, little patience, become easily frustrated, have difficulty setting long-term goals and delaying gratification” says Bruce Cameron, licensed counselor who works with children.

Research from a 75-year Harvard study examined the factors from earlier in life that predict health and well-being later. Results found that children who were given chores became more independent adults. It may be easier to just do it ourselves because parents are overscheduled as well. But let kids do it their way, and thank them for it. They’ll eventually take pride in their work, feel good about themselves and maybe even offer to help without being asked over and over again.

In the words of Mary Poppins, “In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun!”

To learn about the positive impact children and families experience due to MSU Extension programs, read our 2016 impact report: “Preparing young children for success” and “Preparing the future generation for success.” Additional impact reports, highlighting even more ways Michigan 4-H and MSU Extension positively impacted individuals and communities in 2016, can be downloaded from the Michigan 4-H website.

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