As students across the country file back into their classrooms for the year, parents are following suit and firming up on routines, chores and household responsibilities. Summer’s leisurely days are gone, as American families are officially back to the grindstone. In this spirit, lists of age-appropriate chores are popping up everywhere. Web MD offers this list, Pinterest has a plethora to choose from, and Focus on the Family offers yet another list here.
Comments often follow these ever-so-helpful charts with a predictable theme: “Just let kids be kids… kids do not need to work, they are kids… I refuse to make my kids do my housework,” etc. This prompted me to start researching this important subject. The overwhelming consensus of leading experts is that chores are valuable in the lives of young children.
My 91-year-old grandmother grew up in Mississippi in the 1920s. At that point in our country’s history, kids worked. In her community, school-age children were released from school to go home for lunch. They would then enjoy a nap—mostly to escape the heat of the day—and then hit the cotton fields. A whole afternoon of work would yield a whopping twenty-five cents. While no experts are advocating third graders picking cotton every afternoon, the kind of woman my grandmother is today was shaped by her early start in the working world. Her body finally began to slow down in her mid-eighties, but even today she gets as much work done as she can, then rests until she is ready for her next task. Far from afternoons in the fields, her days are now filled with making meals for friends in her apartment complex, knitting hats to send to third-world countries, and writing letters to encourage her friends and family. Her work ethic was instilled in her at a very young age and it has endured for over nine decades.
Research concurs that having responsibilities—such as chores—from a young age benefits children. One study conducted by Marty Rossmann took a sampling of 84 individuals from the San Francisco area. She followed these individuals from as young as three years old until they were in their mid-twenties. The study concluded that children who “[take] an active role in the household, starting at age 3 or 4, directly [influenced] their ability to become well-adjusted young adults.” Participants’ education, relationships, IQ and drug use were all evaluated and Rossman “found that the best predictor for young adults’ success in their mid-20’s is that they participated in household tasks at age 3 or 4.” WOW! She went on to stress “the key is to start early.” If you wait until your kids are 9 or 10, you’re going to get more attitude from them, so starting young is the way this expert says is best.
Psychology Today says doing chores helps to develop competence, values and personal well-being in children. “Research tells us that children actually feel happier when they make a meaningful contribution to the family,” like chores. Children learn to efficiently complete the everyday responsibilities of living in a home and get to do so in a way that contributes to their entire family. Chores help children to feel involved and useful to their family unit.
Developmental psychologist Richard Rende says chores are “a surprisingly influential factor that offered a strong prediction of positive mental health in adulthood and professional success.” He says the trend of parents decreasing household responsibilities for their children is “troubling” when one considers the long-term benefits of children helping with chores.
Happy children with positive mental health — that is certainly what our family is striving to produce!
A study at Duke University further reiterates what the above scholars have concluded. “Lessons in responsibility should begin early and continue throughout childhood and adolescence.” This Duke study urges parents to look for ways to let their children “demonstrate that they are responsible for their actions, schoolwork, chores and relationships.” Responsibility is something that can be taught to children at a young age, not something that has to wait until adolescence. If we can teach our children this important life skill at a young age, why would we wait? As Rossman (above) suggests, we only make it harder on ourselves if we delay.
So in our home, the day our son demonstrated he could steadily walk and carry an object, we taught him to throw his own diaper away. After each diaper change we cheered him on as he walked the few steps to the trash can and we gave a wild round of applause each time he got the diaper into the garbage can. Within two weeks he was begging for his diaper and happily walking it to the trash can after each diaper change. We also taught him to put his dirty laundry in the hamper and to put his toys into his baskets when he is finished playing. He is such an enthusiastic helper that we often find him putting stray socks in the hamper and making sure any trash he finds gets thrown away. He is not even two and we have put very minimal effort into teaching him these chores, but he already understands and enjoys having those responsibilities.
As parents, we have so much potential to train our children. The end goal is that they become productive members of society. Our own worldviews influence what exactly makes a productive member of society, but helping our children to learn responsibility is a skill people in all walks of life (and future employers) can appreciate. We can begin training our children to be responsible the day they start walking. You can begin teaching your children responsibility today, no matter your children’s ages. Having chores around the house will keep your home in a cleaner state and give kids the tools they need for long-term success in life. This is a win-win equation that is too good to pass up for our family.
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