A recent poll found that although 82% of American adults regularly did chores as children, only 28% expect their children to do tasks, such as laundry, cooking, and cleaning. While our children’s days are now filled with extracurricular classes, excessive homework and ubiquitous screen time, many kids have no idea how to perform even the most basic tasks. Which begs the question: are our children missing out on worthwhile learning and character-building opportunities when we don’t give them chores? Of those 28% of polled parents who do expect their kids to contribute to household chores, 43% reported that the kids complained, 37% of the kids tried to get out of the chores, and 13% of parents said that their children would only do chores if they were paid. If kids are putting up such opposition, why is it so important to push these often-loathed tasks? Read on for several reasons why chores should become a part of your child’s life.
Image via Maria Montessori’s Facebook page
Childhood wasn’t always the constant cupcake party our society often makes it out to be now: kids worked hard as soon as they were physically able. Families depended on young ones (literally) to do their part in helping farms or businesses survive. While I’m pretty jazzed about the fact that I don’t have to enlist my kiddos to walk miles to get buckets of water or to do tedious amounts of hand-washing (something tells me they wouldn’t be so psyched about those chores either), I agree with the many experts, including Maria Montessori, that chores offer a valuable way to foster independence and responsibility while boosting confidence and teaching kids some of the basics about life’s upkeep. It’s possible for our kids to enjoy the freedom of childhood while still making sure that they will be able to function on their own some day. Kids learn plenty of things at school that they will never ever use again, yet we value the learning process for these tasks and routines. Unless your children become ultra wealthy and can afford to outsource all of life’s little details, they will someday have to do their laundry, clean dishes, and cook food.
The handy chart above indicates numerous age-appropriate chores for your child(ren). Learning how to complete these tasks at an age-appropriate time with Mom and/or Dad will be a worthwhile venture for everyone, even if you find yourself bemoaning the fact that doing the chores with your kids takes exponentially longer than just accomplishing them on your own. Interestingly, little kids are often the most eager to get involved with chores (and are too innocent to expect a monetary payback) simply because they want to model our behaviors. There’s so much that little ones aren’t allowed to do (hence the inevitable tantrums), but getting them started early with tasks they can do gives them confidence and helps them understand that they are an integral part of the family. My five year-old daughter will gladly wipe off any surface that needs cleaning because she likes using a spray bottle. My seven year-old has been helping me with baking since he was tall enough to reach the kitchen counter with the help of a stool.
The additional benefits to these simple tasks is that they also learn other skills simultaneously: my son loves math and fractions and figuring out how much of each ingredient we need if we multiply or divide a recipe, and my daughter gets a basic lesson in natural cleaning solutions and why we use them. Also, now that they are older, they are ready and eager to take on more chores: my son had to wait until he was five to crack eggs by himself, then until six to make (supervised) scrambled eggs. They both moan and groan more than I’d like when it’s time to clean up toys, but it’s important to our family that my kids know how to do some basic chores. Their professional lives may be far off in the future, but very few people find jobs that are all fun and excitement all the time. Virtually every job requires taking on certain tedious tasks that aren’t anyone’s favorite. Even the most successful entrepreneurs all have stories of the early days of their businesses when they designed, made, assembled, mailed, and multitasked before they could focus on their preferred job aspects.
As parents, it’s tempting to want to allow the little free time most kids have at home to remain chore-free. But we’re also potentially missing out on areas in which they can gain mastery and feel good about themselves. Side note: just because you are the parent doesn’t mean that you should get stuck with all the unsavory life tasks, especially if you weren’t the one who decided to use every single towel, cushion, and blanket in the house to make a monster fort. Completing these tasks, at least initially, alongside your children helps persuade them that chores are a part of family life and that working together makes for more opportunities for the whole family to relax, play a game, or engage in some other pursuit. It also will prepare them to become an active parent, spouse, friend, and co-worker one day. And while I think there’s value in children earning an allowance for certain tasks, here’s an idea for parents whose kids will only do chores when paid: tell your children that they have to start paying YOU for all the chores that they won’t do and leave for you. We guarantee that almost any tot or teen would rather clean up their toys or mess than part with what’s in their precious piggy bank.