Why kids need chores

Some parents do everything for their children, from the moment they are born right up until they leave the nest. They cook, clean, wash and take care of every need their child has, right through the teenage years. They do it out of love, a sense of duty or a combination of both. 

With most parenting choices, I don’t really worry too much about what other people do. People are usually doing their best for their kids. They mean well and, even if I don’t agree with their choices, their intentions are good. Yada yada yada, right? Nothing to do with me and I shouldn’t judge.

There are some things, however, that I draw the line at. Doing absolutely everything for our kids is one of them. Not because I’m a lazy mother who wants her kids to wait on her hand and foot, but because kids need chores! They should learn how to do basic things. In our family, all children are expected to do chores. From a young age, they are expected to make their own beds and tidy their rooms as well as helping out in the rest of the house. 

We’ve never expected hospital corners on beds or perfection in cleaning, but over the years the bigger kids have become pretty good at basic chores. The older children (11, 13 and 14 years) are now also adept at cleaning the bathroom, folding laundry and dusting, among other things. Their favourite “chore” is cooking and yes, they clean up after themselves, too. Not perfectly, but they’re getting better! They make basic meals as well as cakes and fun stuff. Why shouldn’t they? Sure, we’ve had a few unusual cakes and slightly singed taco shells, but seeing them so proud of what they’ve managed to cook is worth it.

There are three main reasons that we ask our children to do chores:

They Are Contributing Members of the Household.

The parents in this household both work. In between work, we have quite a big home to look after plus 4 kids to ferry around to sport and activities. If we all pitch in, the housework isn’t a great burden on anyone and the kids are learning how to share and manage tasks for that reason. If they have some laundry to fold, they divide it up and get it done. It teaches them about fairness and removes the expectation that all chores should be done by the parents or (worse still) only the mother. It helps to remove the stereotypical gender roles associated with certain jobs. Girls can take the rubbish out, boys can mop floors and the world doesn’t end. To most people, I would imagine that this idea is pretty standard, however, I do know grown men who will refuse to do certain chores because they perceive them as ‘women’s work’. Yep, it’s 2016 and there are men out there who won’t sweep a floor or cook a meal.

They Learn To Care About Helping Others.

We used to have a payment system where each chore had an assigned value. The kids could choose a chore and make a note of it. Each week, they’d get “paid”. This was an epic fail for us. The jobs listed were things like “empty the kitchen bin” or “clean the glass doors”. Turns out, kids would rather have no money than voluntarily do a little housework. When I looked a little deeper, I found that research suggests that external rewards like money can actually lower their motivation to help out – who knew?

Kids are apparently better motivated by the belief that they are doing something helpful that shows they care about others. We are looking at instigating a regular pocket money system, but we won’t be tying it to chores for those reasons. Currently, we focus on chores as a way of looking after each other and being part of the family unit. The chores our children perform relate to the whole household as opposed to individual chores. They don’t just fold their own laundry, for example, they fold the whole family’s laundry. They don’t just clean their own rooms, but help dust the lounge room and clean the bathroom. Our youngest, at three, isn’t up to the bigger jobs, but she is capable of smaller tasks like putting rubbish in the bin or clothes in the washing basket. 

They Are Learning Basic Survival Skills.

I don’t mean that they are learning how to survive in the wilderness with nothing but a magnifying glass and some string – I’m talking survival skills for a modern world. There are people I know who entered adulthood having never operated a microwave or a washing machine. People who moved out of their parents’ homes without the ability to boil a potato. Seriously! And it’s really not their fault. Yes, they could have been proactive and asked their parents how to use the microwave or whatever, but I think back to when I was a teenager and I know it honestly wouldn’t have occurred to me to ask how to do a chore (luckily, my parents did teach me these things!). Teenagers are far too busy being wrapped up in their own world to worry about things like that. That’s just how they are. Their parents should have given them these basic survival skills whether they asked or not. A massive part of being a parent is preparing your children to be adults. How can you prepare them if you do everything for them and never show them how to do things?

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Image: Getty