Chores and Children

KVH Contributor*
Elise Herman
Dr. Elise Herman
KVH Pediatrics

Chores for Children
Little girl washing dishes in the kitchen

As parents, one of our goals is to raise our kids to become responsible, independent adults. Part of this process is having kids do chores, although it is safe to say most kids do not see the value in this activity. Besides becoming proficient at basic household duties, chores also teach kids responsibility and the importance of making a contribution. Doing chores makes kids feel needed and valued – even if they complain about it!

Chores seems to be a waning part of family life, squeezed out by pressure for kids to compete academically and be involved in lots of extracurricular activities.  It has been shown, however, that giving kids chores early (starting at age 2-3) leads to good relationships with family and friends, as well as academic and early career success. Besides creating a sense of self-sufficiency, doing chores teaches empathy and consideration for others, according to psychologist Richard Weissboud of the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

So how to make those kids do chores? Ideas abound, including household chore apps and chore charts. Just the way we adults phrase the concept can make a difference. Saying, “Thanks for being a helper” was much more persuasive to kids than “Thanks for helping,” according to a recent study in the journal Child Development. Emphasizing the child’s identity as a ‘helper’ was very motivating. Telling kids that they “get to help” as opposed to “have to help” feeds into a child’s desire to be ‘grown up’.

We all like to have a choice in life – and the same holds true for kids and chores. Listing all jobs to be done and letting kids choose from the list each week increases the odds they will feel positively about their tasks. Rotating jobs is a fair way to divvy up responsibilities. Tying chores to allowance has actually been shown to be counterproductive; when paid to do housework, kids actually are less motivated to work hard and help out the family. When creating a chore chart, remember to be specific, stating the steps to a job. “Cleaning the bathroom” is vague; “scrub the toilet, clean the sink and tub” is more precise and easy to follow.

Being consistent with a time for the family to do chores together makes it more of a group activity – everyone pulling together for the greater good. Phrasing it as a time to do “our” chores as opposed to “your” chores emphasizes that doing chores is a way we take care of each other. Listing time for chores on the calendar makes the expectation very clear. Kids are also more likely to have a good attitude if we remember not to complain about our own household duties – those little ears are listening!

Start kids out early in terms of household responsibilities. Toddlers can help by putting away toys, clearing unbreakable dishes from the table and putting clothes in the hamper. Preschoolers can sweep, wash plastic dishes and empty wastebaskets. By age 8 or 9 kids can load a dishwasher, vacuum, pull weeds, etc. The child “gets to do” more and more as they get older, and you get the satisfaction of raising a self sufficient and responsible child! There might be some grumbling along the way, but doing chores is an important part of childhood and ultimately kids feel good about contributing and becoming more self-reliant.

*Opinions expressed by KVH Contributors are their own. Managed by Kittitas Valley Healthcare, HealthNews does not provide medical advice. For medical advice, please see your healthcare provider.