When my siblings and I were kids, my mother constantly used a phrase that would make the hairs on the back of our necks stand on end: division of labor. It simply meant “time to do your assigned daily chores,” but to a six-year-old child, labor was labor. Chores were chores.
Each time my sisters and I would drag our heels, whiningly asking why we needed to do work around the house. Our mother would respond, “Trust me, you’ll understand when you get older.”
Now, more than 20 years down the line, research proves that my mother was right.
What is the importance of doing chores for kids?
Making your kids do chores has benefits that go well into their adulthood.
A 20-year study by the University of Minnesota found that doing chores at an early age — as early as 3 years old, in fact — is the best predictor for growing up into a young adult with a completed education, a career with a clear direction and healthy personal relationships with family and friends.
A Harvard Grant Study, which started in 1938 and is still ongoing, also investigates the factors that enable children to grow into happy and successful adults. So far, the study identifies positive relationships and a good work ethic as key to being a stable adult.
Having a good work ethic and thinking like a team player are linked to doing chores as a child. Indeed, making kids work in the household is identified as one of the things that parents of successful people have in common.
Chores teach responsibility.
Being responsible means recognizing the need to get certain things done even when they are unpleasant. Daily and regular chores instill the mentality of “There’s work that needs doing. I will do it because, while it’s unpleasant, it’s also necessary.” This type of mindset shapes a child’s work ethic and sense of competence. Kids learn that they don’t have to be best at everything or awarded for every single effort; they just need to get things done!
Parents who like to make decisions and unpleasant-yet-necessary work on their children’s behalf need to be careful. In her TED Talk, Julie Lythcott-Haims, author of How to Raise an Adult, discussed how being a helicopter parent can endanger a child’s development. Doing chores for kids could turn them into codependent adults.
“We send our children the message: ‘Hey kid, I don’t think you can actually achieve any of this without me.’ With our over-help, over-protection and over-handholding, we deprive our kids of the chance to build self-efficacy, which is a fundamental tenant of the human psyche,” she said, explaining how unconditional love and chores shape a child’s budding sense of self-efficacy.
Chores teach kids to contribute.
Kids develop an instinct to look around in their environment and figure out how they can assist, a la, “How can I contribute? What problems might come up and how can I address them?”
When they do household work, kids start to view the home as one system wherein everyone has a role to play and failing to do one’s part can affect other areas of the system.
More importantly, when children don’t do chores, then someone else must be doing it for them — which might convince them that housework isn't and will never be relevant to them. In an interview with Tech Insider, Lythcott-Haims pointed out that chores could implant the right kind of mentality, where children can say to themselves: “I have to do the work of life in order to be part of life.”
Chores teach time management and self-control.
Managing priorities can teach kids to recognize struggle and power through it even if it gets unpleasant. Kids understand early on the feeling of working hard and accomplishing something despite receiving no accolades for it.
Chores can teach kids to discern their priorities, put first things first and ensure that important tasks get done on time. In other words, kids develop self-control, time management and an understanding that their actions lead to outcomes.
Indeed, developing self-control early in life helps kids to grow up as well-functioning adults who exercise discipline with their time, money and resources and are able to thrive in any environment.
How to get kids to do chores.
You may know the benefits of chores, but it's challenging to actually get them to do them. Here are some tips for success:
• Set time limits for completion.
• Offer rewards (within reason, of course).
• Use chore charts.
• Make chores part of the routine — not a punishment.
• Create consequences for failing to complete chores.
The reality: Fewer kids do chores today.
Despite the benefits of doing chores, only a fraction of parents today assign household work to kids. A Braun Research study found that out of 1,001 parents, 82% grew up doing chores at home, but only 28% assign regular chores to their kids.
Why? It’s certainly not for a lack of chores that need doing at home.
Many parents may be focused on more elaborate types of achievements. “Maybe we’re afraid our kids won’t have a future we can brag about to our friends and with stickers on the back of our cars,” says Lythcott-Haims’s during her TED talk. So, some parents might not want to add more activities to their kid’s plate, hoping they’ll focus on “more important things” instead.
However, chores can be as simple as clearing the table after dinner or taking the clothes out of the dryer. As kids get older, they can progress to more complex chores, like buying groceries or monitoring house expenses. What is more important is that chores are done on a regular basis. Assigning regular housework means you are setting your child up for success later in life.
Chiara writes about business, finance, social enterprising, health and medicine, and the unique placement of women across these areas. She is also a co-creator at FictionFolk, which designs events that aim to peddle the literature culture.