15 March 2017
“Not now. I’ll take the trash out it later, I promise.”
“I walked the dog yesterday. Why do I have to do it again?”
“My friends’ parents don’t make them do chores.”
How many times have you heard this or something similar when you ask your kids to do a chore? I’d venture a guess that it’s A LOT. Children can be experts at procrastination, excuses, resistance and refusal when it comes to chores, causing parents to be frustrated and angry and kids to be in conflict with their parents.
However, after decades of taking care of thousands of children, we at Westchester Health Pediatrics feel strongly that doing chores is actually good for children and should be encouraged. Carrying out assigned tasks develops your child’s character, teaches him/her a sense of responsibility and important life skills, and last but not least, helps take some of the burden of household duties off of you. A win-win!
Why do children resist doing chores?
A young person who gleefully does chores without complaining is very rare indeed. (Does such a child exist?) More common is the girl or boy who would much rather keep doing what they’re doing instead of what you’re asking them to do. But why the unwillingness to pitch in? Primarily it’s because children of any age, toddler to teen, are:
- Lacking in judgment. Most children have no idea how much work is involved with the running of a household.
- They want what they want when they want it. Activities that are not immediately gratifying to them (such as chores) turn them off.
- Self-absorbed. Mostly concerned about themselves and their own needs, they don’t naturally consider the needs and expectations of others.
Part of your job as parents is to help your children during the 18-20 years they live with you to develop a mature sense of pulling together as a family and contributing their fair share.
Is it worth the struggle?
Getting your kids to do their chores can feel like a never-ending battle. In fact, a lot of our parents tell us that it’s easier just to do the tasks themselves and bypass all the reminding, nagging and consequences.
Yet, even though it is harder to insist that they do chores, research has shown that children who do them have higher self-esteem, are more responsible and are better able to deal with frustration and delayed gratification, all of which contribute to greater success in school. Plus, doing chores enables kids to see themselves as important contributors to the family, having met their obligations and completed their tasks.
Doing too much for your children robs them of the ability to do for themselves
Parents who do too much for their children and do not expect enough of them are actually failing to teach them the skills of everyday living. This can limit children’s ability to function at age appropriate levels, which can be embarrassing for them. For example, consider the kindergartener who can’t button her coat, the middle schooler who doesn’t know how to pour his own drink or clear the dishes at a friend’s house, or the college student who has never done laundry.
By expecting your children to complete household tasks, you’re actually equipping them with the skills to function independently in the outside world, begin to take care of themselves and learn skills they will need as an adult.
You set the tone
Your own attitudes toward doing chores will greatly influence how your kids view them, too. Remember: You are your children’s most important role model. You can send the message that chores are something to be avoided at all costs or that they are tasks that need to be completed in order for your household to run smoothly, and are something that everyone in the family is expected to participate in.
Children even as young as three can be assigned their own tasks, such as putting away their toys, making their bed, placing napkins on the table or sorting the laundry. The size of the task does not matter, it’s the responsibility associated with it that’s important. For younger children who are not putting away their toys, etc., the toy might be taken away for awhile, or rewards like TV or video games might be withheld until the issue is resolved.
As your children get older, re-evaluate their responsibilities
Some families use birthdays as natural markers for re-examining what responsibilities and privileges their children should have. Others choose the beginning or end of the school year or returning from vacation as good times to re-evaluate.
At these times, you might want to consider:
- What chores need to be done in your home?
- Is your child already doing the chores that are the best fit for his/her age and ability?
- Are there life skills that he/she needs to learn?
- Do you need to have a conversation about allowance?
- Ask your child for his/her input. (They’re more cooperative when they have a say.)
- Brainstorm ways to overcome obstacles you’ve encountered in the past, such as constant objections to doing the chore, not following through, arguing or not doing a thorough job.
Allowance: yes or no?
One question we frequently get from our parents is whether they should give their kids allowance and whether this should be tied to the completion of chores. At WHP, our position is that this is a personal call, to be decided within your family. Plus, this decision (like the assigning of chores) can be re-visited from time to time.
On this subject, here’s what we’ve observed over the years:
- Some parents don’t want to give their children money if they refuse to help out around the house when asked. For these parents, money is an incentive. Just as adults must learn to complete a job satisfactorily in order to be paid, some parents want to instill that same work ethic in their children and only pay allowance as compensation for a job well done.
- Other parents want their children to help with household chores as a contributing member of the family, not because there is money or other external rewards associated with it. These parents believe that it takes a lot of effort for a household to function smoothly and that their children should participate because they are a part of the family, not because they expect allowance.
- And still other parents want their children to learn to be financially responsible, to budget and to make smart spending choices. Therefore, these parents often want to separate chore completion from allowance.
- One alternative to giving allowance may be to have your children earn privileges for completing their chores. For example, a teen may earn the right to use the car by washing it. A school-age child may earn the privilege to go shopping or play a favorite video game if he/she takes out the trash and cleans his/her room.
Have questions about chores? Come see us.
If you’re wondering what chores are appropriate for your child or whether or not to give allowance, or if you have any other questions relating to your child’s health and well-being, please make an appointment with Westchester Health Pediatrics to come in and talk to one of our pediatricians. Together, we’ll decide on the best course of action for your individual child.