Do you expect your son to make his own bed? Is it your daughter’s job to feed the dog? It turns out that chores for kids bring plenty of benefits – for them, and for us.
Last weekend my sons sat drawing together at the table – a rare, peaceful playtime – each with a snack bowl on the table. As I was picking up toys around them my eldest (6) waved his bowl with his free hand and, without looking up, said, “finished”. I dutifully took it and turned towards the kitchen before I had a thunderbolt moment.
Are my kids so used to being waited on, so entitled that they presume this is my job? Well of course they are. I’ve never asked very much of them and yet everything is always in place in time for the morning rush or the swimming lesson.
So, tempting as it was to have a rant at them, instead I calmly gave the bowl back to him (to his surprise), took a piece of their drawing paper and scribbled a list of chores – now pinned on the fridge.
From now on, they will be expected to contribute. Partly so that they grow up taking responsibility for themselves and their environment. And also, so that one day they’ll make good family men.
My youngest is only 3, but he’s more than capable of doing simple tasks – feeding the dogs or watering the plants – and in fact, when he does help out, he seems to derive a lot of pleasure from it.
Psychotherapeutic child counsellor Chloe Billington, says: “One of the challenges of parenting is to build the spirit of co-operation in a climate of respect rather than becoming either a sergeant major or the family slave.
“Generally speaking it’s not about the chore itself, but the feeling your child is left with when you ask them.”
So, avoid sarcasm, commands and comparisons with other siblings. But definitely, get them involved.
Research indicates that children who have a set of chores that they regularly complete have higher self-esteem, are more responsible, and are better able to deal with frustration and delayed gratification – all of which contribute to greater success in school.
In a study Marty Rossmann, Professor at the University of Minnesota found that young adults who began chores at 3 and 4 were more likely to have good relationships with family and friends, to achieve academic and early career success and to be self-sufficient, compared with those who didn’t (or who started them as teens).
In fact, says Rossman, “the best predictor of young adults’ success in their mid-20’s was that they participated in household tasks when they were three or four.”
But with so much pressure from school, homework and even extra-curricular sport, parents who do expect their kids to contribute at home are likely to let them off the hook in lieu of ‘more important things’.
Psychologist Madeline Levine, author of Teach Your Children Well says that being slack about chores for kids when they compete with school ‘sends your child the message that grades and achievement are more important than caring about others’.
“What may seem like small messages in the moment, add up to big ones over time.” She says. So if you let children off chores because they have too much schoolwork or need to practice a sport, then intentionally or not, you’re saying that their academic or athletic skills are more important than taking a positive role in the family.
If kids have a responsibility in the home, they begin to see themselves as important contributors to the family. They will feel more capable for having met their obligations and the more responsibly they behave, the more responsible they become.
All the evidence suggests that the younger children start, the better: after all, kids love to mimic the adults around them. So next time you get the Hoover out, instead of asking them to lift their feet for you, hand it over and see how they get on. You may have to do it again later on, but you might all benefit from letting them have a go.
What do you think about chores for kids? We asked some friends of Mr Fox what their kids do (and don’t do) around the house. Find out what they had to say.Lydia Gard is editor of Mr Fox. She has two boys aged 3 and 6. Lydia tweets @mrfoxmag. Find her on Instagram @mrfoxmag.