Chores, a Good Choice
By SM Ford
“Only 28% of parents today require their kids to do chores,” a Parenting Today Facebook video claims. Here’s a link to the page. Their source may be this 2014 survey. Wow, that’s a sad percentage.
Chores, however, are one way we prepare children for adulthood. Think about how often toddlers imitate their parents. They might want a baby to rock, feed, and dress. Pushing a play grocery cart or stroller, talking on a pretend phone, and “going to work” are common play activities. Children want to be like mom and dad.
I remember when my first daughter was only two she self-nominated herself to help with several chores. One was putting the clothes in the dryer. I’d take clean clothes out of the washer, drop them on the dryer door, then shove them inside. She took over the shoving part and closed the door. The other chore was unloading the dishwasher. She’d pull silverware out and hand them over her shoulder to the nearest adult to put away. Then she’d start on the dishes on the bottom rack. And she loved pushing her baby sister’s stroller when we went out.
It wasn’t long before we taught her how to fold wash cloths and match up socks while we folded the rest of the clean clothes. Yes, sometimes we had to refold, but she loved the sense of participating, being part of the team.
Of course, we’d been teaching her to pick up toys and books and put them away, and throw things in the recycle or trash.
Once she was out of a high chair or booster seat she could clear her own plate and cup from the table. And she loved helping cook. We started with dumping ingredients into a mixing bowl.
My oldest was four when visiting extended family, she got to help hand wash dishes. She loved it. For her it was a sign of getting big, growing up. Plus, she had the full attention of an older family member instructing her. And, of course, playing in water is always fun.
Researcher Marty Rossman says, “The best predictor of young adults’ success in their mid-20’s was that they participated in household tasks when they were three or four.” Wow!
Sometimes, parents need to be creative when teaching chores. I remember teaching our daughters about folding towels lengthwise. We called it folding them hotdog. Next step was folding the towels from top to bottom, which we did twice so they fit in the cupboard. So, the code was “hotdog, hamburger, hamburger.”
At six our daughter was very interested in what happens after everyone clears their places at the table. I showed her how the leftover food is put away, dishes rinsed and put in the dishwasher, how we wipe the table and the stove. She got to help with the activities by using a step stool.
We taught our daughters to sort dirty clothes by color for the wash. How to use a broom, a vacuum cleaner, a dust rag, a toilet bowl brush, etc. They helped take out the trash, recycle, plant flowers, pull weeds, water plants, shovel snow, and other outside chores. They learned to clean their rooms and make their beds.
They learned to feed and water pets, change the bedding in hamster and gerbil cages, brush cats, clean bird cages. I used to have nightmares about waking up and finding some small creature dead because the kids had forgotten to give it water, so of course we followed up to make sure these chores were done.
Our girls were in fifth and seventh grade when they helped build a fence for the dog they wanted. Our youngest was better in shop class in high school than a number of the boys because of her experience.
They were both in middle school when they complained one too many times about what I’d fixed for dinner. They each got assigned to be responsible for one dinner a week, prep, cooking, and clean up. We ate a lot of the same meals over and over (Bisquik quiche served with green beans comes to mind), but we modeled not complaining about whatever they fixed. They learned not to complain about what was served to them as well. Both girls became good cooks by the time they left home.
In high school the girls became responsible for doing their own laundry. Their practice at home meant when they went away to college they had no clothing disasters as my husband did in college when he shrunk a favorite sweater. They also learned some basics about auto maintenance and grocery shopping.
Having children do chores is more about the children than a convenience for parents. Often the training is more time-consuming than the adult simply doing the job, but once the child learns, he has acquired a new skill.
Amy Morin, a licensed clinical social worker, says, “Kids who do chores learn responsibility and gain important life skills that will serve them well throughout their lives.” I like this article that talks about the seven reasons kids should do chores:
Our main goal as parents should be to prepare our children to be functioning adults. And how else do we learn things, but by practice? Let your children practice doing chores at home and thereby learn responsibility and accountability. “Kids who never have any accountability for their actions will continue through life thinking nothing is their fault, and everything is owed to them.” - Dr. Laura
About the Author
SM Ford is a Pacific Northwest gal, who has also lived in the Midwest (Colorado and Kansas) and on the east coast (New Jersey). She and her husband have two daughters and two sons-in-law and three grandsons. She can't figure out how she got to be old enough for all that, however.
Sue likes traveling and animals, especially those in the cat family, and has a dog and cat who own her.
You can read Sue's "Real Parenting" column on the 4th Thursday each month here at Pandora's Box Gazette.