In defense of chores

Young girl washing dishes

Cropped image. Jenny Lee Silver, Flickr. CC license.

Picture any Saturday morning, in the late 1970s or early ’80s: American Top 40 is on the radio, I have my dust cloth in hand, and I’m ready to roll. I know that before I can do anything fun, I have to finish my chores.

Sound familiar? Not for many of today’s kids! A recent study of children’s household work found that only 13 percent of the chores were done by the kids, and that chores took only 3 percent of kids’ activities at home (Klein et al., 2009). An article in Psychology Today noted that kids spent less than 3 hours per week on chores, but over 14 hours a week watching TV! The Washington Times notes that more than 82 percent of parents had chores growing up, but only 28 percent required their own children to do any.

When I ask families about chores, I get a wide range of answers. Some parents give a sheepish grin and say they try to get their kids to do chores, but that it’s easier to do it themselves, or the kids don’t follow through and they get tired of nagging. Others cite their children’s busy schedule with homework, extracurricular activities, and sports.

Yes, life can get hectic. But I hold an unashamed bias that all kids should be taught to do chores. Of course what we ask our kids to do will vary according to their ages, ability levels, and other time commitments. It may be a busy week for us as parents, but we still have to do laundry, buy groceries, clean the kitchen, etc. Why teach our kids that if they are busy, they don’t have to help out? Yes, you have a baseball game. And you are also still taking out the trash!

There are lots of great tips in the articles cited above, but here are some highlights:

  • Start small. Even toddlers can put toys away. Non-breakable items can be carried from the table by a young child. Kids can help with so many things once you open your mind to the possibilities.
  • Show kids exactly what you want. Saying “clean your room” is vague. “Make your bed, put your clothes in the hamper, put all your books away, and hang up your clean clothes” is nice and clear.
  • Be flexible where you can. Loading the dishwasher can be done many different ways, so long as the items are not jammed on top of one another. A 5-year-old doesn’t need to make her bed so well a quarter can bounce off it.
  • Give sincere praise, but don’t pay for “common chores”. Sometimes there may be special or complicated jobs you are willing to pay for, but helping contribute to the running of the household is everyone’s job. We’ll have an upcoming blog on allowances!
  • Chores help kids gain critical developmental skills; you owe it to them to teach them to take care of themselves as best they can. Don’t feel guilty — this is part of good parenting! Kids learn to be part of a team, and feel positive about contributing and learning to be independent.
  • Be a good role model. Remind yourself that chores are part of a healthy home and busy family life. I may not love laundry, but I love the people who wear it. Try not to gripe about chores and your kids will see them differently, too!

– Lori Warner Ph.D., LP, BCBA-D, Director, HOPE Center at Beaumont Children’s Hospital


2 Responses to “In defense of chores”

  1. 1 Anonymous June 20, 2016 at 10:39 am

    LOVE THIS ARTICLE! Going back in time is not always a bad thing. Assigning children household chores is a perfect example of things we did right in the 70’s and 80’s. American Top 40 was pretty cool too! 🙂

  2. 2 Nichole Enerson June 28, 2016 at 4:16 pm

    Yes! One of my favorite articles ever.

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