Is it really worth the effort to get kids to help out with family chores? According to research, the answer is yes.
Researcher Marty Rossmann of the University of Minnesota discovered that the best predictor of young adult success was whether the young adult helped out with household chores at ages three or four.
Rossman identified five key elements of household tasks that help children grow into successful adults:
• The household tasks are not overwhelming.
• Parents present the tasks in a way that fits with the child’s preferred learning style.
• Kids are involved in choosing which household chores they will do.
• The household chores are not tied to an allowance.
• The younger children are when they start doing household chores, the easier it is to get them to do them as teenagers.
So how can you start coaxing your kids into helping out with household chores?
One Simple Tip: Break up the tasks within a household chore and notice which chores your kids gravitate toward.
Here’s how we did it in our household: In our family, no one likes to take out the trash (even though that was my major task as a child) so neither of my kids has ever taken out the garbage. But we found other ways to get our kids to help with household tasks.
- One of my kids enjoys being outside. My son likes household chores such as mowing the lawn, weeding (in small doses), and fixing things outside. When we tried getting him involved in inside chores as a young child, he resisted most of them. Still, we were firm. What would motivate him to do an inside chore? Doing them with someone else. He liked cleaning up if someone was right next to him doing the same. So that’s what we focused on with him.
- My other son loves cooking and doing anything in the kitchen. We’ve always included him in preparing meals, setting the table, and emptying the dishwasher. As a preschooler, he enjoyed tearing the lettuce for salad. He liked placing the napkin and the silverware at each place setting. Even though these are small tasks, young children take great pride in doing these tasks well.
Children are more apt to stick with household tasks if you do them together as a family (or with one child and one adult). There’s something about working side by side and enjoying your time together that make household tasks not seem so arduous.
As my kids are going through the teenage years, we keep talking about how household tasks are things that everyone does. They’re not chores (even if some feel that way), and they’re not punishment. Every individual who lives in a home should help out with these tasks. They’re like a different type of homework. (They’re work you do for the home instead of for school.)
Over the years, I gradually encouraged my oldest child to do more with the laundry so that by the time he was a senior in high school, he was doing all of his laundry on his own. We talked about how college life is more than studying. It’s also about taking care of your dorm room and your health. Cleaning up your dishes after you’ve had a snack is important and so is doing the laundry. So I give my kids one full of year of practicing this before they leave home for college.
The other day, I asked my 14-year-old how many household chores he does. He looked at me strangely and said, “I don’t do any household chores.”
I then listed all the household tasks that he regularly does: He folds the laundry. He empties the dishwasher (on most days). He shovels snow. He helps organize closets and drawers.
“Really?” he said. “Those aren’t household chores. They’re not awful. Those are things we’re just supposed to do.”
He’s right. Household tasks are something we all should do, and we do our kids a great service when we get them started with these tasks at a young age.
1. University of Minnesota, College of Education and Human Development, “Involving Children in Household Tasks: Is It Worth the Effort?” news release, September 2002.
2. Chores and Responsibilities, Parentfurther.
3. Image via Pink Sherbet Photography on Flick’r.