Household Chores—Why They Instill So Much More Than You Think


Household Chores—Why They Instill So Much More Than You Think

When most Baby Boomers, Generation X and even the older Millennials were being raised, chores around the house were expected. For many of us, it was a given we’d pitch in with the dusting, washing, or yard work.

Fast forward to present day and there’s a growing trend that asking our children to assist with these household duties would be placing too much responsibility or stress on them—perhaps becoming too emotionally or psychologically taxing. After all, they have school activities and college to start planning for…some day.

While initially it may appear more of a hassle for a parent to engage the children in tasks, rather than just doing it themselves, allowing the children to learn responsibility and master skills is important to their development in numerous ways. If you are looking to render the best emotional, psychological, and social outcomes for your children and teens, taking on all the household duties solo, isn’t the best approach.

This is why…

If you think about it, so much of what we learn growing up is a direct reflection of watching our primary role models—our parents. The breadth of emulation can be quite expansive—everything from our religious convictions and social views to the way we organize our home and our food purchases.

From a practical perspective, chores have a common sense benefit, as it teaches skills necessary for a child to one day manage a household of their own. It also allows them to play an important role in the upkeep of the home; however, there are much greater benefits that last even into adulthood.

Professor Emeritus Marty Rossman of Family Education, University of Minnesota, evaluated historical data from a longitudinal study to determine how engaging in childhood chores potentially impacted one’s life as an adult. The results were insightful. According to the analysis, involving children in household tasks as young as around three and four, was the best predictor of a young adult’s success in their mid-twenties. Ironically, if the children didn’t have any household responsibilities until they were fifteen or sixteen, the benefits backfired. This is probably due to the fact that at this age, so much of the children’s values had already been instilled.

Dr. Jean Illsley Clarke, an educator on parenting, states not allowing children to have responsibilities at home and doing too much for them decreases their competency levels. Her work suggests when a parent takes on all the household duties and requires nothing from the children, this overindulgent behavior decreases a child’s practical skill capabilities, thus self esteem. Allowing the children to assist in household tasks boosts confidence levels and reinforces responsible behaviors.

Further research reveals adolescents living in homes where they are involved in routine household tasks are less likely to engage in delinquent behaviors such as running away, using drugs, being suspended from school, or have a high level of behavioral problems (Moore, Chalk, Scarpa, & Vandivere, 2002). It also encourages prosocial behaviors and an increased concern for others in older children (Grusec, Goodnow, & Cohen, 1996).

Benefits of chores…

Supports Independent Behaviors
Provides a Sense of Accomplishment
Teaches Teamwork
Creates Responsibility
Enhances the Family Unit
Encourages Prosocial Behavior
Less Likely to Engage in Delinquent Behaviors

Getting started…

Rather than the parent designating individual duties within the family, the better approach is to hold a family meeting and involve the children in the chore selection process. This gives everyone the opportunity to come to agreements on how and when the tasks will be completed. Beginning as a collaborative effort, rather than having tasks dictated, also increases the engagement and likelihood the chores will actually be completed. Be sure not to frame chores as punishments, but necessary activities to keep the household running. This further reiterates the family is a team working together to accomplish goals.

While determining who will complete what chore, it’s important the activities are reflective of the child’s capabilities. You want the experience to enhance their skills and self-esteem, not have them frustrated with chores that aren’t age appropriate. If the task is too difficult for them to complete by themselves, do the activity together or assign to another person. Avoid gender-based division of labor as much as possible, as you’ll want the children to experience all that needs to be accomplished within a home.

As you move forward, continually reiterate the household is something all the family members keep up together. Rende (2015) suggests the family plays the most significant role in reinforcing the child as a helper within the family and recommends utilizing the term “helper” as a noun rather than “helping” as a verb. This motivates the child’s sense of self as someone who supports and assists others. Additionally, framing the duties as “we will do” rather than “I will do” further validates a team approach and a collaborative lens from which to view the household tasks.

In regard to rewards, past research suggested that paying children for chores was early preparation for future employment and taught them how work output led to rewards; however, this approach undermines many of the intrinsic benefits associated with being an active participating member within a household. The inclusion of money as a reward for chores lessens the desire to help, as it becomes a business exchange. This would override the opportunity to develop family cohesion, contribution, and support.

Having the children assist in the family duties isn’t just good for the children–it’s good for the parent as well. Turning household responsibilities into shared activities provides social support and reduces mental labor and stress (Rende, 2015).

For those who believe some encouragement is needed to get the chores going, there are wonderful apps available to make household task completion a bit more fun. Parents can create special bonuses for children such as additional device or play time as substitutes for monetary rewards.
App Options…

Chores offer both immediate and long-term benefits, as they provide a sense of responsibility, accomplishment, increased self-esteem, and most importantly build family cohesion and teamwork!

If you haven’t yet implemented household accountabilities, give it a shot!  The family can work together towards a common goal, while getting the home spick and span in the process!

Grusec, J. E., Goodnow, J. J., & Cohen, L. (1996). Household work and the development of concern for others. Developmental Psychology, 32(6), 999-1007. doi:10.1037/0012-1649.32.6.999

Moore, K.A., Chalk, R., Scarpa, J., Vandivere, S. (2002). Family strengths: Often overlooked, but real. Child Trends Research Brief, 1-8.

Rende, R. (2015). The developmental significance of chores: Then and now. Brown University Child & Adolescent Behavior Letter, 31(1), 1-7.

Chores offer both immediate and long-term benefits, as they provide a sense of responsibility, accomplishment, increased self-esteem, and most importantly build family cohesion and teamwork!
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