Stay Sane Mom Founder
Published in Kids, Small Humans on December 10, 2018
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In a conversation between two adults about their respective childhoods, given enough time the topic of chores will inevitably be discussed. There is an instantaneous and mutual comradery felt based on the shared hardship of the then-onerous tasks, such as clearing the table or taking out the garbage. This common ground is so potent because it is usually a common practice for children to be given household chores as soon as they are old enough to do them responsibly (and without causing a bigger mess than they clean or setting the house on fire) and are expected to complete them (with a minimum of complaint, ha bloody ha).
Reasons parents give for assigning chores to their children range from simply enjoying the benefits of cheap (or free) labor to fostering a sense of responsibility, self-efficacy, and duty in their offspring. Parents across the ages have espoused the benefits of chores on a child’s development, yet few are familiar with scientific research verifying whether or not such benefits ever actually come to fruition as a result.
Especially in today’s climate of childrearing, in which there are too many tutoring sessions, instrument practices, extracurricular activities, lengthy homework sessions, and after-school events to count, it is important that if children are forced to take time out of other important activities to perform household chores, that it should actually be to their long-term benefit to do so.
Even though performing chores has long been a staple of American childrearing, not all kids actually have chores. In 2013, only 47% of kids got an allowance, yet by 2015 that figure had risen to 70%.
While the act of performing chores is a quintessential feature of being a kid that is, according to statistics, here to stay, life as a kid is not quite as simple as it was 30 or 40 years ago. The increasing difficulty of the college admissions process has turned childhood from a bucolic idyll in which children help clean out the barn before they run down the road to play with their neighbor into a frenzy of tutoring sessions, volunteer activities, extracurriculars, sports practices, SAT prep classes, and (if a child is lucky) hopefully a decent night’s sleep (yeah right).
Some even question whether it is still a worthwhile endeavor to have children take time out of other beneficial activities to perform household chores.
If you can't hear my dripping disdain through the computer, let me just tell you that I emphatically disagree with that.
So glad you asked!
Many studies would agree with me (neener neener) and tell you that kids definitely need chores.
The act of performing chores as a child has been linked to a great number of positive psychological side effects both in childhood and later in life. As a child, children who do chores have been shown to have greater levels of empathy, responsiveness to the needs of others, self-reliance, responsibility, and intrinsic motivation (Why Children Need Chores, The Wall Street Journal).
Another study linked the act of doing chores to an increase in self-worth, responsibility, and self-esteem both as a child and later in life. Further, children who were regularly asked to do chores have been shown to turn into adults with higher levels of psychological adjustment, greater happiness in their interpersonal relationships, and a higher level of success and fulfillment in their careers.
So we know that giving chores makes them more responsible, have higher self-worth and self-esteem, have higher happiness, intrinsic motivation, and responsiveness to the needs of others. Can we all agree that chores are good for kids yet?
Good. To add more fuel to the fire, there are also positive effects of kids doing certain types of chores.
There has also been a demonstration of positive effects when it comes to the eventual comfort a child has with their interactions between the two genders. Boys who were forced to do chores show a greater level of overall competence with household chores and were not as rigidly adherent to the confines of traditional gender roles than those that did no chores as children.
Similarly, girls who performed household chores, especially ones that were not stereotypically “female” tasks were later less hewed in by traditional gender stereotypes than those that were not asked to do household chores. It is also interesting to note here that children who watched parents perform non-traditional household tasks for their gender (e.g. men who washed the dishes or women who fixed the water heater) grew up to have much less dependence on traditional gender roles.
There has also been an empirical demonstration of even more tangible benefits of performing chores on children.
The presence of chores, often as a result of a broader authoritative parenting style, was shown to act as a buffer against multiple manifestations of juvenile delinquency. Children who performed household chores manifested fewer behavioral problems, showed a lower incidence of early drug use, had higher levels of positive mental health once they became adults, showed a higher degree of later professional success, and a lower degree of entitlement behaviors both as an adolescent and once they became adults.
They were also more likely to demonstrate higher levels of family cohesion, positive home functioning, and academic achievement. Authoritative parenting as a whole (which includes but is not limited to the institution of a mandatory chores system) has been shown to decrease the prevalence of juvenile delinquency, adolescent smoking, and other problematic teenage behaviors.
As well as acting as a buffer against problematic adolescent behaviors, studies have also shown chores to enhance a child’s motivation levels and chances of academic success. In the younger years, research shows that a well-orchestrated system of household chores can capitalize on toddlers’ natural desires to be a “helper” and can lead them to have a “want-to” relationship with chores (and later with other duties) as opposed to establishing a “have-to” relationship with mandatory tasks. This can lead a child in better patterns when it comes not only to chores, but to other mandatory tasks like homework, studying, and (as an adult) work for their career or family.
While it was rare that a quantitative study examined the relationship of childhood chores with eventual academic achievement, there are studies to show that receiving specific and measurable chores, especially ones related to academic tasks, did enhance performance in school. This shows that a link between chores and academic achievement does exist, but that the type and structure of chores has to be properly structured to maximize academic benefits.
There is a crapton of research around the idea of chores (and their subsequent reward system) as a way of teaching children financial skills.
Some research has indicated that receiving money in exchange for chores performed helps children learn about budgeting, enhances their creativity, and teaches them to think critically about money (The Right Way to Give an Allowance, Time). This is essential because, as of 2015, only 1% of children set aside money in any kind of savings account.
The basic financial skills that will be necessary to survive and thrive in adulthood are rarely taught in schools, and most research points out that a chore structure in which children receive financial compensation for some of their chores will help them gain such skills.
However, other research indicates that simply paying kids to do chores eliminates some of the subtler benefits (in the areas of learning about duty, increasing intrinsic motivation levels, etc.) of having household duties that you perform without any compensation at all.
The best and most current research advises some kind of two-tier system in which some chores are paid while others are mandatory without any kind of remuneration is best (Raising Money Smart Kids, Kiplinger's Personal Finance).
In my humble (yet very well researched) opinion, there are four main components to any good chores system. Each of the following parts has a practical, real-world-oriented purpose that should teach your kids a specific set of skills they'll need later in life.
Primary Goal: To teach your kid that they are part of a family and, as such, they have to pull their own weight without needing to be compensated for it.
Real-World Equivalent: In the scary land of actual adulting, the degree of goodwill your child has with their boss, coworkers, and family will not be determined by what your child (by then a full-fledged adult) is "required" to do. They will be good employees, spouses, and parents because of the things they do just to make their immediate surroundings better, happier places.
Sample Chores: For me, these are usually "keeping the peace" and "doing their part" type chores, like keeping their rooms clean, clearing their plate after dinner, and putting away their laundry (older kids can fold or even wash as well). I wouldn't put anything too huge on this list, just enough that they actually pull at least some of their own weight.
Primary Goal: To teach your kid how to manage money. This shouldn't be enough to buy anything significant (or they'll casually neglect their other chores because they don't need the money), but it should be enough that you can use it to teach them the basics of saving, spending, and giving.
Real-World Equivalent: In real life, this won't really exist (because no one gets money for nothing) but childhood is a time to practice things they'll use later on, so now is when they need to practice their future financial skills.
Sample Fee: This differs based on the child's age, but I'd give a loose guideline where you take 1/5th the price of an average toy. That way if the kid forgoes their paying chores (parts 3 and 4) completely, they'd have to save for 5 weeks to buy themselves a toy. For a toddler, this would probably be $2 or $3. For a teenager, it might be $5.
Primary Goal: To teach your kid that there's a certain standard that has to be upheld in order for him/her to get their paycheck. This is not negotiable and you can't split it up (aka no "you did 5 of 6 chores so you get 5/6 your allowance"...it's all or nothing).
Real-World Equivalent: This teaches your kids how it is to work for a salary. There's no haggling, you have no say in it. You do 100% of your job and get 100% of your paycheck. If your kid misses a chore you should act like a boss would: give them a warning and if it happens again (or with a three strikes policy two more times) they get "fired" and don't get allowance that week. If you want to be really "authentic" with it you can let them skip chores on special occasions (e.g. the night before a big test or the day of a long sporting event) if they give you written notice in advance, just like a boss would give leave upon employee request.
Sample Chores/Fee: Make sure the amount of chores is enough that they do something every day, but not so much that they can't get it done on a normal homework night. In our house, our 13-year-old has to fill up all the dog bowls (daily), do the dinner dishes, read for 30 minutes, and practice piano. I'd probably have this weekly fee the same amount as one cheap-ish toy for the age group or 1/3 to 1/2 of one nicer toy for that age group.
Primary Goal: To give kids a way they can earn extra income when they have something they reeeeally want to buy. This is important because, as they ask for things, you can control their spending by making them earn it. Begging for that shiny new *insert crazy useless kid gizmo here*? You know what to do, kiddo.
Real-World Equivalent: This is similar to picking up some extra shifts at work, taking on more contract work, or other variable-fee jobs in the adult world.
Sample Chores/Fees: I'd make a "menu" for kids so they have a list of tasks to choose from, each with a different amount of money. This could be stuff like helping vacuum, windexing windows, folding laundry, emptying the dishwasher, walking the dogs, or basically anything else that's age-appropriate for them to take on. If you want to maximize real-world parallels, you can also add a "propose a task" option where they have to suggest the task and negotiate their fee for completing it.
Two Quick Caveats: Before you make your menu, keep these two key points in mind. They might not make a huge difference now, but they'll play a huge psychological impact on your kids later.
With that in mind, you can start creating your chore system. Give it a few weeks of trial and error, weeks in which both parties can suggest and discuss potential changes, but after the trial period you should try and adhere to the system as much as possible. Consistency is key and your kids won't respond as well if they think they can negotiate, impact, or otherwise game the system.
To get you started, try out the free chore chart template attached to this article. It has all the basic structure in place, so all you need to do is plug in the chores and prices for your little/big one and hit print.
Let me know how it works! Please comment with what you noticed as you went through the process and how your small humans reacted!
Founder | Contributor
Liz is a wife, mom, blogger, coder (and unabashed digital nerd), PhD student (and huge psychology geek), workout masochist, and occasional human being. She founded The Stay Sane Mom after marrying into the role of stepmom to a preteen girl (and Instagram addict) and shortly thereafter having her first bio kid (now a toddlernado supreme). Her goal is to provide tools and support to help other capable, sleep-deprived, soul-hungry moms master their domains so they have the time and energy to be more than just 'mom'.
Stay Sane Mom gives support to the over-worked, under-slept, marker-stained, soul-hungry moms of the world, so they can be more than just "mom".
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