Give your son the vacuum cleaner, and give him the world! Can household chores really do all of that? You might have heard about the research that shows that chores are good for children. It teaches them things like responsibility, practical living skills, and how to participate within a family. But have you heard or seen the research that shows that the earlier we begin having our children participate with family chores, the better off they will be, well into adulthood?
It turns out that those times you might struggle with getting the kids to help wash dishes or just put their toys away can mean the difference between adult children who have self-confidence and those who are struggling with self-image. Not only is it essential to give children chores and responsibilities, but the younger we start, the better off their futures can be.
Marty Rossmann, an associate professor of family education, has explored the numerous ways that children are impacted by having responsibilities around the home, and has specifically studied how the ages at which chores are given changes the future dynamics. During a detailed study, Rossmann conducted formal explorations of 84 children from ages 3 – adulthood, following the same group as they aged, in relation to the household and family chores they were given at various ages. At three separate times in their lives Rossmann studied several influencing factors:
- Parents’ styles of interacting with the children in the study
- Genders of children and participating parents
- Types of chores and responsibilities given
- Time required of and/or spent on chores
- Attitudes about and motivations for chore completions
- Participation in families of each subject by doing chores at three specified times in their lives:
- Ages 3-4
- Ages 9-10
- Ages 15-16
- Follow-up research with each adult child when they were in their 20s
All of these factors were analyzed and compared to other research data in the field. The results were clear – the best predictor for success as an adult in mid-twenties when it comes to household responsibilities among other things was the participation in household chores when that person was just 3 or 4 years old. The results also showed that when children were not given responsibilities until their teenage years that they were less likely to be successful in their twenties. The definition of success in this research included the completion of educational goals, their IQs, beginnings of careers, positive relationships with family and friends, and the non-use of drugs.
How do I Give My Young Child Chores?
Chores and responsibilities included things like putting toys away, helping with dishes, laundry, taking out the trash, and other routine household necessities. As with so many things with parenting it is imperitive that the responsibility is age and ability appropriate. Just don’t let yourself make excuses for why your child can’t do a particular chore. Give gentle directions and guidance, but don’t do it for them (even if it isn’t done just the way you would do it yourself). The only way your kids will learn how to do these chores and do them well is to try for themselves. Just the other day my 8 year-old son volunteered to sweep and mop the floors. While his muscles are barely strong enough to compress the mop, he worked like a trooper and did the floors. He was so proud of himself and I really did appreciate the help.
- Give them clear instructions for the tasks, including which tools they might need to help.
- Avoid tasks that are large in time commitment or scope – “Clean your room” might be too overwhelming in task, but “Put your games on the shelf and your toys in your toy box” helps to clarify expectations.
- Don’t worry about how you would have done it – appreciate their small steps as they learn how to do it for themselves.
- Make sure the tasks are age and ability appropriate. Younger children need to be monitored with cleaning supplies, but a 3 year old can do a great job lint rolling the sofa.
- Tap into their learning and activity styles. Kids who need to move but aren’t the most grateful might be better off vacuuming or carrying stacks of laundry than dusting the small knick-knacks.
Rossmann and other researchers agree that when young children are given responsibilities early in life that they are more likely to have senses of responsibility, be competent, self-reliant, and have higher levels of self-worth later in life. Author of Indulge Them Less, Enjoy Them More: Finding a Balance Between Giving More and Saying No to Your Children, Jean Illsely Clarke, agrees with Rossmann and says that when parents overindulge their children by not giving them chores, they do a disservice that often results in a lack of skills and low self-esteem for adult children.
When our kids are younger they are more likely to try to tackle household chores with their unique and untainted vision of the world – everything is an adventure for younger children. Take advantage of that spirit and energy and give them the opportunities to help around the house. When we start young with small chores and responsibilities we can build upon those and give them strong foundations for their futures. Who knew a mop and broom could do so much?