Photo: Getty Images/Erin Lester
By Miss Gina Gardiner
Research has shown that only 28 percent of children today are asked to do chores, a figure that is in sharp contrast to what their parents experienced when they were young (82 percent of that generation were expected to help out at home).
Why is there such a marked decrease? Is this a positive change, or are we doing our children a disservice? Does asking children to help around the house help or hinder their development?
Having worked for more than 30 years with children and their parents, I am absolutely convinced that — approached in the right way — there are lots of benefits to children and their parents in creating a whole-family approach to getting jobs done inside the house and out.
Here are 5 super important life lessons your kids learn from chores:
1. How To Take Care Of Themselves When They’re Older
We hugely underestimate what children are capable of doing. They have the capacity to learn a wide range of skills, but adults need to take time to teach them—with patience. It’s important that children learn skills associated with daily living. (There’s a list of age-appropriate chores at the end of this article.)
Too often children leave home for college unable to look after themselves adequately. They have to rely on junk food or expensive ready-made meals. They store up their laundry until they go home for the holidays because they never learned the intricacies of the washing machine.
Even very young children love to cook. Of course they need lots of supervision, but it’s in the creation of simple things like making jam tarts and vegetable faces that spark a lifelong interest in cooking. What starts out as fun is actually a building block of an irreplaceable life skill: being able to create nourishing tasty foods.
2. Improved Self-Esteem And Accountability
Doing kid-appropriate chores can give your children a great sense of self-esteem. This doesn’t happen automatically, though. The process needs to be carefully managed and requires parents to be consistent in setting their expectations and in holding their child accountable. It’s in the structured approach that great success lies, as children have a great need for certainty.
Be very clear about what you want the child to do. Always state it in the positive “I’d like you to lay the table now please.” Changing behaviors works best when you give lots of praise and encouragement when the job is done.
3. The Importance Of Being Responsible
Helping around the house gives children a great sense of responsibility. Of course we want children to enjoy their childhood, but it’s been my experience that all too often we expect people to suddenly discover a sense of responsibility simply because they have turned 18 and then are disappointed and surprised when they appear to lack it.
Learning to “be responsible ” is a process that comes with having experience of taking responsibility. Learning to be responsible for things and to take the credit when successful—and to understand the consequences when they aren’t—is an incredibly important part of maturing.
Children who have had the opportunity to take responsibility in a measured way are better prepared for future relationships and find it easier to adjust to adult life.
4. That They Have A Lot To Contribute In The World
Helping around the house on a regular basis demonstrates the importance of fairness and contribution to the family unit. It’s been my experience that children can have a very well developed sense of what is fair.
Helping around the house and making a contribution is a great way of teaching children that they have a valuable contribution to make to the family.
There is a paradox in society at the moment. Far fewer children are expected to help around the house and yet many parents are overburdened trying to juggle long working hours, child care, being a taxi service to take their children to their many activities, running a house and being a parent and partner.
Many parents I believe are suffering from the. “It’s quicker, easier and less hassle to do if yourself syndrome.” Of course if takes time to teach children how to do chores and a real commitment to motivate children to do the chores and understand why it’s important—but it is well worth the investment. Not only will you be able to spend more quality time with the family without being frazzled, but your children will be learning the skills for successful adulthood.
5. There Are Consequences (And Rewards) That Come With Their Choices
Getting your children involved in doing chores is an ideal way of teaching your child the principle that everything we do in life is a choice. Everything we do and say, the way in which we do it, the timing and the approach is a choice. Even not choosing is a choice. Every choice we make has consequences.
When we set expectations it is important to share the consequences when they are done and when they are not.
When a child helps they need to know that their efforts are appreciated and that it makes a real difference. It works well when children are young for them to see that when they help out there is more time for family activities.
As children get older it works really well to offer a clear connection between their making a contribution to helping around the house with achieving certain privileges.
Parents often use money as the motivator, but I believe this has several disadvantages. It can become ever more expensive, but more importantly the young person fails to see that they are making a contribution and will often set up a belief that they shouldn’t do anything unless they are paid for it.
Don’t know what chores to give your kids? Here are some age appropriate activities:
Under age 5
• Help to put their toys and books away
• Play housework or gardening with you
• Help you when you are cooking—mixing, being given a bit of pastry to roll out
Ages 5 to 7
• Make their bed (parents to change the bedding for laundering)
• Put their toys and books away
• Help set the table — great way to help them count, learn left and right
• Help clear the table
• Help you cook
• Help put shopping away (unbreakables)
• Put paper in the recycle bin
Ages 8 to 11
• Help empty the dishwasher
• Put all dirty washing in designated basket or by the washing machine
• Help with cooking at the weekend and during the holidays
Ages 12 to 15
• Change their bedding and make their own beds
• Pour their own beverages
• Help cook on a regular basis learning how to prepare fruit and veg, make simple snacks, etc
• Load the dishwasher and empty it
• Help with dusting
• Put laundry in designated place
• Help hang out washing
• Mow the lawn
• Sort out the recyclables
Ages 15 and up
• Make the family meal at least once a month
• Know how to use the washing machine
• Know how to iron
• Help with general housework or gardening when not actively involved in studying
Gina Gardiner is a YourTango Expert and life coach. Find her at genuinelygina.co.uk.
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