Neuropsychological research shows that those children who 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 relationships, school, and future endeavors. These are all aspects of executive functioning, which include planning, organizing, sequencing, sustaining effort, and self monitoring, all mediated by the frontal lobe of the brain. One study by Dr. Martin Rossman showed that the best predictor of young adults’ career success in their mid-20’s was participating in household tasks when they were children. Also see the What Is Executive Functioning
In my practice, parents often express concern that their kids are so busy with school work, sports, and social life, that they have little or no time to contribute to household tasks. I believe that household tasks and chores are absolutely essential, contribute to brain development, and help with prioritizing, scheduling, and multitasking. I specifically assign household tasks that are developmentally appropriate as part of a treatment plan for each family.
I often ask kids, are you important in your family? 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 capable. Not being taught the skills of everyday living can limit children’s ability to function at age appropriate levels. 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.
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 more important than life skills. I work with young adults who go off to college and don’t know how to do their laundry or who live with roommates and leave piles of dishes in the sink, causing friction. Chores are an important part of relationships, with family, colleagues, and friends. One goal I emphasize is for kids to plan and help make a meal for the family each week. By accomplishing goals that are not related to school or athletic prowess, there can be huge gains in self-efficacy and self-esteem.
You can model a message that there are tasks that need to be completed in order for the entire household to run smoothly, and that everyone in the family is encouraged and expected to participate. Or, alternatively by being allowed to avoid tasks, children may receive the message that chores are boring, mundane, can be put aside, and are to be done by others.
Young children 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). The size of the task does not matter; the responsibility associated with it does. Praise hard.
When tasks are assigned, and completed on a consistent basis, they are creating new neural pathways. Being overly critical or judgmental is not the objective, making chores part of a daily routine is.
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 in the home, what life skills your children need to learn, and what are each child’s interests and abilities.
As you contemplate these decisions, you can ask your children for their feedback and input. This shows teamwork and connection. Also, brainstorm ideas for overcoming any obstacles 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.
Giving an Allowance
One question that parents frequently ask is whether allowance should be tied to the completion of chores. This is a personal call for families. ￼Many 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. The option I most often discuss is that chores and allowance can be separate. I also encourage providing an allowance or reward for a task that is above and beyond everyday routines, such as cleaning the garage, painting a shed, or other major house projects.
One alternative to paying an allowance 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 with friends. Often parents expect kids to finish their schoolwork, before they get on their favorite video game. All of these actions demonstrate earning privileges, and when done consistently, show that chores and fun are both important.