Chores lead to success – (but no, they won’t love them!)
Whenever I share an article or meme on family chores, it gets shared at a crazy rate. I think this speaks to how much we wonder about the benefits of chores, and whether the sighing, dodging and procrastination are worth the effort (and that’s just the parents I am talking about!)
I mean – does anyone like chores?
I love a neat house as much as the next person. In fact, a clear kitchen bench actually unclutters my brain and makes me feel more calm. Marie Kondo aside, there’s actually research that this occurs (article with links to research here).
So when I was asked by The Press (UK) to answer a parenting question on chores, I happily obliged. Not because we have this down pat in my own house, but because I know the benefits – long term.
The question went, “My 12-year-old son says he’ll help around the house – if we pay him. How can I get him to do chores without payment or an argument?”
This is my longer response…
A complaining 12 year-old sounds like a very normal tween, who doesn’t jump for joy at the thought of chores!
I think we should expect some complaints, but then expect our kids to get on with the chores anyway. Particularly because the studies reveal that participation in doing chores, is instrumental in predicting children’s overall success into their mid-20s. One study in particular used data collected over 25 years, to find out whether asking children to help with household chores (starting at age 3 or 4) was instrumental in predicting children’s success into their mid-20s. It was! (See findings here, here and mentioned in a TED talk here).
In summary, what the studies discovered is that children who were expected to participate in doing chores developed a stronger work ethic, and a strong work ethic leads to success (success is not simply defined as material or financial).
Doing chores is part of what leads children to become successful adults through:
- learning how to acknowledge the importance of contributing to family
- an ability to work well with others
- developing a ‘pitch-in’ mind-set
- developing self-discipline
- a sense of empathy as adults.
- developing better relationships with friends and family (through said collaboration)
- delayed gratification (putting off something while a job is done)
- improvement of gross and fine motor skills
- greater career success
Essentially we learn that ‘life is not just about me and what I want in this moment. Stuff needs to be done and it’s up to me to do it. I can’t simply wait for someone to serve me.’
How to respond when kids complain
The family culture should be that chores are simply something the whole family does, like brushing teeth or attending school. Chores are not optional, you don’t live in a hotel. Chores should benefit the whole household. Perhaps we could rephrase family ‘chores’ as family ‘contributions’?
When someone complains, simply and politely state, “Today is your turn to pack the dishwasher, so you can watch your show/play outside as soon as it’s done. Thanks so much.” If your child/teen complains, avoid arguments or bribes. Just calmly empathise with, “I can see you don’t really feel like doing the dishwasher. Goodness, I don’t enjoy it much either, but it’s just what we all do as part of being in this family,” and then repeat your request, “Please pack the dishwasher. You can watch your show/play outside as soon as it’s done.” Then walk away and don’t stay behind to negotiate.
Just as we might cook for the family before sitting down to scroll through our news feed, we need to follow through with the expectation that chores need to be done, before our kids run off to do their own activities . Afterwards, thank him for his effort and contribution to the family. (At this point, some parents say, “But no-one thanks me when I pack the dishwasher.” Yes – but wouldn’t you love it if someone did? As the adult, this is a great opportunity to model gratitude.)
Of course, we can also be flexible. Some days when I know my teens have had a big day or are furiously studying for exams, I will gladly take on their tasks. I am not trying to cripple my child tasks. And this is an opportunity to teach empathy and compassion. We all help each other.
What if my child does a sloppy job?
It is important that we have high expectations of our children but not criticise and expect perfection. As my husband says, “They live in a home not a museum.” Also, we need to resist the urge to go after them and ‘fix’ it. Children will either get a sense that it’s never good enough or, mum/dad will fix it, so I can just do a half-job and then run off. However, if the task is done with little effort calmly call your child back to finish off the task adequately.
When children are learning a new chore, like cleaning the bathroom, this is the time we can do it with them and show them how we need to do a particular chore, to keep the place hygienic and pleasant for others to use too.
Should chores be tied to pocket money?
I do not believe that chores should be part of pocket money. The reason being, when we tie money to chores young people begin to expect to be paid for fulfilling basic responsibilities.
Extra jobs around the house, like washing the car, might be used for pocket money. For example, my husband is very good at DIY, so when he decided to build a deck around the pool, rather than get someone in he asked my teens if they wanted to earn extra money and he paid them to help. They all got to be outside together and chat, and my sons and daughter learned new skills with power tools and earned extra money.
What should we expect from each age group?
Children are often capable of more than their parents give them credit for. Having a roster can help eliminate the negotiation and things like, “But I’m sure I did the bathroom last week!”
In my home we have a whiteboard with a rotating roster, which is very helpful, so that everyone can see who does what and when. Having a specific time each day for contributions to be done is also helpful. Importantly the chore/contribution schedule needs to work for you and your family routine.
Some ideas by age (from chapter 14 in my book):
- 2–3-year-olds can put away toys and pick up scatter cushions in the lounge room, set out their clothes for the next day, help put clean dishes away by helping to sort plastics, and take their dirty clothes to the laundry basket.
- 4–5-year-olds can help feed pets, make their beds (perhaps not perfectly), help clear the table after dinner, water plants, fold small items of clothing, or set part of the table.
- 6–7-year-olds can wipe tables and counters, put their laundry away, prepare school snacks, and vacuum floors.
- 7–9-year-olds can load and unload the dishwasher, jointly help prepare simple meals and prepare school lunches, unpack groceries, and help clean the bathroom.
- 10–11-year-olds can change their bedding, clean the kitchen or bathroom, do some laundry, vacuum/mop, and take out rubbish bags.
- Children aged 12+ can do any of the above, help shop for groceries with a list, iron, and cook a simple meal. Older teens can babysit younger siblings.
If you didn’t start at a young age, just start now – it’s never too late to begin a new family habit. When you wonder if it’s worth it, remind yourself that you are helping your children to be more successful later in life.
Now I’m off to put in a load of washing…
My interview with Mums At the Table on Channel 7, Sunday mornings.