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To help kids develop, give them chores

August 31, 2018
By Billy Handmaker

“The parenting style that is good for grit is also the parenting style good for most other things: Be really, really demanding, and be very, very supportive.” Angela Duckworth

Although the joys of parenting are endless, there are moments when we have to grit our teeth, fight the same battle as yesterday, and stick to our guns. Outside, we may be calmly stressing that “yes, we are serious, the dishes need to be washed, the laundry needs to be folded”, while inside we may be thinking, “seriously, this discussion again?!” I say this as a parent preparing to send our youngest child to college and wondering how many things we could have done differently along the way.

In a recent New York Times opinion piece, Happy Children Do Chores, KJ Dell’Antonia points to research as well as common knowledge to explain the benefits of children doing household tasks. As Dell’Antonia points out, this is true even when our children are very busy with school work and extracurricular activities. Don’t get me wrong-homework, sports practice, dance rehearsal, music lessons, etc. are crucial and instrumental in our children’s growth and development as students and as well-rounded, interesting and interested people.

Nevertheless, doing chores also teaches them that they are part of something greater than solely themselves. Performing jobs around the house on a regular basis helps them learn that the functioning of a family unit depends on them doing their part. They learn that teams can only function when everyone fulfills her role, and that they have duties on which others rely. As Dell’Antonia says, “Being a part of the routine work of running a household helps children develop an awareness of the needs of others, while at the same time contributing to their emotional well-being. Children who consider themselves necessary to the family are less likely to feel adrift in a world where everyone wants to feel needed.”

There are a number of reasons for us to require our children to do chores. One is that it makes them feel better to accomplish something and realize that they do make a difference. They understand that what they do matters and they contribute to the well-being of the family. In a world where it is easy to feel anonymous, we want our children to understand their importance for their own self-esteem. One could argue that one of the best reasons for children to play team sports is to learn that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The pleasure of making an assist in basketball or soccer, a bunt in baseball to advance a runner, or a perfect set up in volleyball can as good as scoring the goal or point itself.

Another benefit of their doing chores is that they comprehend the interdependent nature of organizations and social structures. As the Harvard professor Robert Putnam described so eloquently in his 2000 book Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, a fundamental shift occurred in American society in the half-century after WWII as we became more isolated from one another and we invested less of ourselves in communal organizations. Whether it was the disintegration of bowling leagues, lower attendance at houses of worship, or decreasing attendance in neighborhood organizations, the institutions in American society that built and perpetuated social capital deteriorated. Consequently, more Americans felt alone and cut off from one another than ever before.

Perhaps I am overreaching here to say that if we want our children to feel they are part of a larger social fabric, they need to learn at home how successful institutions depend on people fulfilling their various roles. Maybe our houses function as microcosms of our larger society and the lessons we teach them at home they can then apply to our society as a whole. If we want to them to learn responsibility, we need to have them actually be responsible for something around the house.

As parents, we know this intuitively. In her article, Kell D’Antonio points to data supporting this point, “In a survey of 1,001 American adults, 75 percent said they believed regular chores made kids “more responsible” and 63 percent said chores teach kids “important life lessons.” However, as Kell D’Antonio also explains, only 56% of parents actually have their children doing chores. Why this discrepancy? Because haranguing our children to do their chores gets old. It’s tiresome having the same discussion around taking the garbage out or cleaning up the kitty litter. It’s all too easy to just say, “fine, I’ll do it.”

Nevertheless, as Dell’Antonio reminds us we need to “insist and persist.” We have to steel ourselves and just suck it up. It’s not fun, but we’re doing an essential duty for our children and our society in teaching them to be contributing citizens in their homes and that good things don’t just magically occur; they require hard work and people joining together in a common endeavor.

We should look at it this way. In requiring them to do chores, we’re teaching them three of Keystone’s core values-ethical growth, community involvement, and responsible leadership. We’re investing in the well-being of our children and our country, and that’s an investment that will repay itself many times over!