- From the Child’s Point of View
- Is it Worth the Struggle?
- The Benefits of Chores
- Setting the Tone
“Just wait a minute. I promise – I’ll do it later.”
“Aw Mom, do I have to??”
“Angie doesn’t have to do this; why do I have to?”
How many times have you heard these refrains or something similar when you ask or tell your children to do a chore around the house? Chances are it has been often. Children can be pros at procrastination, excuses, resistance and refusal when it comes to chores, causing much concern among parents and conflict between children and their parents.
Why do children resist doing chores? Part of the explanation rests with the very nature of children. Young children and teens are:
- lacking in judgment. Most young children have no idea how much work is involved with the running of a household.
- impulsive. They want what they want when they want it. Working at activities that are not immediately gratifying to them is not inherently on their agenda.
- self-absorbed and concerned mainly about themselves and their own needs. They do not naturally consider the needs and expectations of others.
Doing chores willingly requires mature judgment, less impulsivity and more awareness of others’ perspectives and needs. Children are not born with these traits; they develop gradually as children grow and mature. Part of your job as parents is to socialize your children during the 18 or 20 years that they live with you by helping them to develop these mature qualities. Therefore, it should not be a surprise, and perhaps you should accept and expect, that they resist helping at home.
Insisting that chores be completed can feel like a never-ending battle. Because it can feel like you are constantly reminding, nagging, or imposing consequences just to get your children to follow through, you may decide to let chores slide. It becomes easier in the short run to do the jobs yourself.
Children, often unrelenting in their resistance, can wear parents down. Parents may be reluctant to engage in continuous struggles for fear of damaging their relationship with their children. Or they may feel guilty asking their children to help; after all, children are so busy with all the other demands on them from school, peers and extra-curricular activities that you may be reluctant to add to the pressures. Or parents may believe their little ones are too young to take on responsibilities, not realizing how capable their youngsters actually can be.
Even though it is more difficult at the time to persist in having children do chores, research indicates that those children who do have a set of chores have higher self-esteem, are more responsible, and are better able to deal with frustration and delay gratification, all of which contribute to greater success in school. Furthermore, research by Marty Rossman* shows that involving children in household tasks at an early age can have a positive impact later in life. In fact, says Rossman, “the best predictor of young adults’ success in their mid-20’s was that they participated in household tasks when they were three or four.”
Doing chores gives a child the opportunity to give back to their parents for all you do for them. Kids begin to see themselves as important contributors to the family. They feel a connection to the family. Holding them accountable for their chores can increase a sense of themselves as responsible and actually make them more responsible. Children will feel more capable for having met their obligations and completed their tasks.
One of the most frequently sited causes of over-indulgence stems from parents doing too much for their children and not expecting enough of them. Not being taught the skills of everyday living can limit children’s ability to function at age appropriate levels; for example, 5-year-old Sara goes to kindergarten and is one of the few students who has no idea how to put on and button her own coat. Or Sam, age 7, goes to a friend’s house for dinner but does not know how to pour juice for himself. Or fast forward to Beth who at age 18 goes away to college not knowing how to do her own laundry. By expecting children to complete self-care tasks and to help with household chores, parents equip children with the skills to function independently in the outside world.
With only so many hours in a day, parents need to help children decide how to spend their time and to determine what is most important. If you let children off the hook for chores because they have too much schoolwork or need to practice a sport, then you are saying, intentionally or not, that their academic or athletic skills are most important. And if your children fail a test or fail to block the winning shot, then they have failed at what you deem to be most important. They do not have other pillars of competency upon which to rely. By completing household tasks, they may not always be the star student or athlete, but they will know that they can contribute to the family, begin to take care of themselves, and learn skills that they will need as an adult.
In addition to being steadfast in the belief that it is important to have children complete chores, your attitudes can help set the tone that will increase possible cooperation in your household. You can consider how you look at your “chores” –you are your children’s most important role model. As Barbara Coloroso suggests in her book Kids Are Worth It, if parents “do chores with a sense of commitment, patience and humor, our children will have a model to do likewise.” You can send the message that chores are a bore and something to be avoided at all costs. Conversely, you can send the message that these are the tasks that need to be completed in order for your household to run smoothly and that everyone in the family is encouraged and expected to participate. Young child naturally want to be a part of the family and want to help. Ideally, you will encourage their participation (even if it takes more work on your part in the short run). By the age of three, youngsters can be assigned their own tasks, for which they are responsible, such as pulling up the sheets on their bed or placing the napkins on the table or sorting the laundry. The size of the task does not matter; it is the responsibility associated with it that does.
For those parents who did not begin a chore regimen when their kids were little, you can still start a plan now. You can take some time to think about what tasks you need help with, what life skills your children need to learn, and what are each child’s interests and abilities.
As your children grow, it is important to re-evaluate your chore plan. Some families use birthdays as natural markers for examining what responsibilities as well as what privileges their children are receiving. Other, naturally occurring breaks that lend themselves to instituting or revisiting a chore plan include the beginning or end of the school year or returning from vacations. Consider:
- What chores do you want completed in your home?
- Are the ones already selected the best fit for each of your children and ones that are most meaningful to the running of your household?
- Are there life skills that a particular child needs to learn?
- Are you happy with your decision to tie/not tie allowance to chore completion?
As you contemplate these decisions, you can ask your children for their input. Children are more cooperative when they have a say. Also, brainstorm ideas for overcoming any obstacles you have faced in the past, such as children not following through, arguing, or not doing a thorough job. Many parents hold a family meeting to discuss chores and when and how they will be starting, revising, or re-instating them. Such times together can build morale, improve relationships, and facilitate creative problem solving.
One question that parents frequently ask is whether allowance should be tied to the completion of chores. This is a personal call, with experts weighing in on both sides. Some parents feel quite resentful of handing their children money if the youngsters do not assist with the running of the household. For these parents, the money is an incentive for a job well done. Just as adults must learn to complete a job satisfactorily in order to be paid, some parents want to instill that same work ethic in their children. Under these circumstances, parents would want to pay the child an allowance as compensation for a job well done.
Other parents want their children to help around the house as a contributing member of the family, not because there is money or other external rewards associated with it. These families believe that it takes a lot of effort for a household to function smoothly and that their children should participate without pay because they are a part of the family. These parents would not want to tie an allowance to chores.
In addition, some families want their children to learn to be financially responsible and are concerned that if the chores are not satisfactorily completed, then their children will not receive pay and will not have the opportunity to budget or make spending choices. These families may want to separate chore completion from allowance.
One alternative to paying money may be to have children earn privileges for completing their chores. For example, a teen may earn the right to use the car on the weekends by washing the automobile. A school-age child may earn the privilege to have friends over to play if he throws away the trash and puts away the games after a previous gathering.
Providing an allowance and under what circumstances is an individual decision, one that parents can revisit and alter during any of the re-evaluation sessions they hold as a family.
- Be convinced of the importance of chores in developing your children’s character. If you firmly believe in their value, you will communicate this message to your children and you will be less likely to give in to their delay tactics or resistance.
- Consider how you look at your “chores” – you are your children’s most important role model. As such, they will watch you and decide if responsibilities are met with acceptance and grace or with resentment and anger.
- Make chores a regular part of the family routine – it is expected that everyone over the age of 3 will be responsible for certain tasks to keep the household functioning.
- Decide if allowance will be given for the completion of chores.
- Children may not thank you in the short term for giving them chores. This is a case where the goal is not necessarily to make your children happy; rather it is to teach them life skills and a sense of responsibility that will last a lifetime.
For more information about children and chores, check out the following books. Purchasing from Amazon.com through our website supports the work we do to help parents do the best job they can to raise their children.
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