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Why to make your kids do chores— and how to get them to do it

How do you help your children get ready to “adult?” Science says you need to start them early.
Loraine Balita-Centeno Toronto, ON

Before you know it, your two-year-old will be twenty-two, eating noodles from a plastic cup because he can’t cook anything else. He'll be wanting you to do his laundry, to pick up dirty socks and pants, to tidy the sticky floor. There will be nothing but water and some dried leftover takeout food in his fridge, and a mountain of dirty clothes sprawled all over his bed.

As you tiptoe around the trash in his apartment you realize that you should’ve taught him how to clean, cook, and wash his clothes way before you asked him to move out of the house. He’s not ready to be a responsible adult, and because he lived his life knowing you’re there to pick up after him he never learned to do chores.

While the thought of your baby depending on you for everything seems cute at first, after a while it will get annoying and then frustrating. Especially if he also doesn't learn to manage his time and money so you constantly have to rescue him from every financial trouble he gets himself into. But how do you help your children get ready to “adult?” Science says you need to start them early.

Chores produce well adjusted adults

A 20-year long study by Marty Rossmann, emeritus professor of family education at the University of Minnesota, found that assigning children tasks early can have a positive impact later in life. Giving kids chores at home teaches them self-reliance, and a sense of responsibility and self-worth—things that will stay with them for the rest of their lives.

Data of the study collected over 25 years indicate that those children who participated in household tasks at age three or four grow up to become more well-adjusted adults later in life. When little children are assigned even simple tasks at home it makes them feel important and needed because they learn that they play a crucial part in the family. Assigning them tasks at home also teaches kids the concept of delayed gratification and problem-solving, things they will need to thrive in the workplace.

What can kids do?

Dr. Brittney Schrick, Assistant Professor and Family Life Specialist at the University of Arkansas put together a resource that parents can use as a guide. The chart has a list of all age-appropriate chores a child can do at home.  Kids as young as two years old can already start helping out around the house.

For example, two-year-olds can be assigned to organize toys and place them in the designated toy box or containers, throw away trash, dress or undress, put dirty clothes in the hamper, and even pull weeds in the garden. Four-year-olds can be asked to do so much more. They can feed pets, put away dishes, set or clear the table, water plants, and sort and fold clothes among other tasks.

By age six, children should be able to brush their teeth on their own, put away their laundry, sweep or vacuum the floors, prepare snacks using a toaster or microwave, dust furniture, wipe counters, and rake leaves outside. By age eight, on top of the previously mentioned tasks, he can also be assigned to clean the shower or tub and toilet, put away groceries, and prepare school lunches. Bigger kids aged 10-12 should be able to also do the laundry, babysit younger siblings, change bed linens and mow the lawn.

You’ll be surprised by what your children can already do on their own and what they are willing to do if guided or encouraged properly. Some experts advise against using chores as a punishment since they might associate household tasks and responsibilities with negative feelings and emotions.  

Parents can instead use this as a chance to spend time with their kids so their children will associate doing chores with fun memories with the family together. Teaching chores might get frustrating at first and can get draining the first few times when you feel children can’t get it right but remember that you are doing them a huge favor by giving them tasks at home since this could eventually shape their future and determine the type of adults they will become in the long run.

Loraine Balita-Centeno
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