The Importance of Giving Children Chores and Responsibilities

Written by our in-house psychotherapist Judith Ashton BA ITEC MFPhys IMTA,
I recently visited an African friend of mine who has three small boys under four years old. She is a wonderful mother and I have never seen her stressed or raising her voice to her children. She appears very relaxed and unflappable. She is firm and fair with her children and they are very well behaved. At  29 years old she seems to have embraced motherhood in a very happy and fulfilled way. I have often marvelled at her poise and wondered how she manages to manage her life with three little ones. They are all energetic , they play well but are rarely over the top.  Many young Irish mums with three under four would be freaking out, out of control , complaining of soaring stress levels and there would be noise and mayhem.
What is my African friend’s secret? Given , she has a wonderful partner and they are both consistent in their approach to their children but he works shifts and she is alone and housebound much of the time . How is she coping so very well?
The children have tasks that she expects them to do every day. These tasks include tidying up their toys, cleaning their teeth, laying the table, putting their used plates in the sink ( even tho they can hardly reach it!)putting on their pyjamas, going to bed when told , helping her and each other and sweeping the floor. She has gently and effectively trained her sons to do these chores . They know they have to do them and accept that it is expected of them and they will not get a treat if they don’t. A treat in this case may be: a biscuit, an apple or to watch TV. As a consequence these boys are very well behaved and polite.
When I was a child we all had chores. Many young families these days, don’t seem to . According to Richard Rende, developmental psychologist and co-author of “Raising can-do kids.”, chores benefit  kids emotional, academic and even professional development. He says, “ Parents today want kids spending time on things that can bring success, but ironically, we’ve stopped one thing that’s actually been a proven predictor of success and that is household chores.”
Research shows that giving children household chores at an early age builds such qualities as self-reliance and  responsibility. Professor Rossman from University of Minnesota followed a  group of 84 children from pre-school to their mid 20s and she found that the ones who had done chores from the ages of 3 and 4 achieved higher academic scores, had better relationships with friends and      family, earlier career success and were generally more self-reliant than the kids who had no chores or who started chores in their teens.
Another study from Richard Weissbourd of Harvard Graduate School of Education found that chores teach children about empathy and being responsive to other’s needs. He  surveyed 10,000 high school children and asked them to rank achievement or happiness over caring for others. The interesting result was that 80% chose happiness and achievement over caring for others…..He says that this shows, “We’re out of balance because research suggests that most personal happiness comes not from high achievement but from strong relationships and caring for others! A good way to  start readjusting priorities, is by learning to be kind and helpful at home.”
The message seems to be; do not to fixate on grades and academic achievement over and above chores . Grades are not more important than caring for others. Chores teach a child about emotional intelligence and caring , the very human qualities which in turn lead to happiness.
Ways to engage and motivate your child to do chores
In a study of 150 3 to 6 year olds published in the journal of Child Development  researchers found that thanking young children for ,”being a helper” rather than, “helping” increased their desire to pitch in. This seemed to create a positive identity, eg being known as a person who helps.
It is important to schedule chores : so make a timetable and stick it on the fridge. This creates a routine along with other commitments.
Start from an early age and slowly add more responsibility.
Chores are things that do not always need rewards… they simply have to be done! Who rewards mum for doing the ironing or dad for cutting the grass ?!
Psychologists differentiate between self -care tasks e.g.; tidying your bedroom and family- care tasks e.g. Sweeping the kitchen floor or washing up. Family care tasks foster empathy for others and build sense of social responsibility. Let your child choose his/her task and then they are more likely to follow through.
Language re: chores is important when co-operation counts. There is a difference between commanding a child, ”Do your chores!” as opposed to, “Let’s do our chores.”  Chores are more of a way of caring for others as opposed to a punishment.
The more we complain about housework…. So will children, so try to keep as positive as possible about what needs to be done and hopefully home life will be harmonious and everyone will be caring and happy!
I look forward to following my friend’s 3 boys over the years ahead.
Good luck and today is a good day to start with giving your child some chores around the home!


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