Why Children Need Chores

As we hit the end of the school year, let’s take a look at Ms. Jennifer’s thoughts on  the value of instilling a strong work ethic in our students, starting with chores at home. 

I am always delighted when I come across a media article that openly or inadvertently promotes the Montessori philosophy. Many such articles have been included in my blog at https://jenniferdaveysedblog.blogspot.com. I recently came across an article in the Wall Street Journal by Jennifer Breheny Wallace on “chores and children”.

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Several of our parents have indicated that they would like parent education on “Montessori in the Home”. This is where it begins …there is no magic to it! However, while giving children chores at an early age helps to build mastery, responsibility, and self-reliance, many families are falling down on the task.

In 2002, Marty Rossmann, Professor Emeritus at the University of Minnesota, analyzed data from a longitudinal study that followed 84 children across four periods in their lives—in preschool, around ages 10 and 15, and in their mid-20s. She found that young adults who began chores at ages 3 and 4 were more likely to have good relationships with family and friends, to achieve academic and early career success, and to be self-sufficient, as compared with those who didn’t have chores or who started them as teens.

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Not being taught the skills of everyday living can limit children’s ability to function at age appropriate levels: a 5-year-old going to school and not being able to put on and button her coat or a 7-year-old at a friends house not knowing how to pour juice for himself. Fast forward a few years and we can expect to see an 18-year-old who goes to college not knowing how to do his/her own laundry! 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.

Richard Rende, a developmental psychologist and author of Raising Can-Do Kids says,“parents today want their children spending time on things that can bring proven success, but ironically we’ve stopped doing the one thing that’s actually been a proven dictator of success”. Letting children off the hook for chores because they have too much homework or need to practice a sport sends the message that academic or athletic skills are more important than caring about themselves and others. Decades of studies show the benefit of chores to be academic, emotional, and even professional.

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Here are some of the best ways to keep your children properly motivated to do chores:

  • Make chores a regular part of the family routine. Write them into the calendar to maintain consistency- it is expected that everyone over the age of 3 will be responsible for certain tasks to keep the household functioning.
  • Involving children in choosing the tasks make them more likely to buy in .
  • Build in chores that focus on both taking care of the family (dusting the living room or emptying the dishwasher) as well as self-care  (tidying one’s bedroom or doing personal laundry). Chores are not just a duty but a way of taking care of each other.
  • Consider how you look at your own “chores’ – you are your child’s most important role model. Show that responsibilities are met with grace and acceptance not resentment and anger.
  • Keep allowances and chores separate. Research suggests that external rewards can lower intrinsic motivation and performance. Chores need to be an altruistic act, not a business transaction.

Children may not thank you in the short term for giving them chores. This is a case where the goal is not necessarily to make your children happy; rather, it is to teach them life skills and a sense of responsibility that will last a lifetime.

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