Those of you who have been through one of my coaching programs know that a big piece of my work involves helping kids to share in the responsibilities that come with family life. Usually I frame this in terms of “chores.” Cleaning a shared space, washing the dishes… yardwork… taking out the garbage… walking the dog, feeding the cat… Chores go beyond just personal self-care, and someone is responsible for getting all this done! And for so many parents, it’s not actually a priority that kids share in this responsibility. Why is this? Here’s what my clients tell me:
- Asking my kids to do chores just makes more work for me.
- I can’t trust my child to do a good job (or, I’m too OCD to let anyone else do anything).
- Our family has so little down time, I don’t want to spend that time doing chores.
- My kid won’t do chores even if I tell him to.
In this newsletter I’m going to tell you why I pay do much attention to chores in my work with families. If you’re interested, in another newsletter I’ll share more about how to actually get your child to do chores – in a way that works for you. But I do want to start with my rationale for really teaching kids to participate in the operations of the household, because I see so many families where this just isn’t happening! Here’s why I think it’s so important for kids to contribute their share of the work:
When kids take part in household operations, whether consciously or not, they see themselves as part of the team. In turn, this teamwork enhances both parents’ and kids’ ability to work well together, to make decisions and solve problems in collaborative, productive ways that ensure that everyone’s needs are met, all with a minimum of strife and bad feeling.
And that’s it! This is why “chores” play such a big role in my work. Yes, I know, chores have a lot of other benefits, too. Kids need a work ethic and they need to know how to wash the bathroom sink. But this is not why I prescribe chores for my kids.
In fact, I prescribe chores because I know without a doubt that when kids share in the responsibility, they become more willing and able to address the problem behavior that brought their parents to me. This is true when the problem is oppositional behavior, and it’s true with other issues too, for example, anxiety, low impulse control, or school problems.
Why and how does this happen? To borrow from both psychology and social psychology, the short answer is this:
Responsibility has a direct impact on group cohesion and self-efficacy.
While there are always exceptions, generally speaking, responsibility enhances one’s self-image, and it also enhances one’s role in life. In part, kids experience responsibility as elevating their position in the family; and when they have responsibility they’re also in a position where the family is depending on them to serve an important function. Social psychologists tell us that group cohesion increases when everyone shares common goals and everyone shares in the effort. In the course of my work with hundreds of kids and families I see this over and over:
In the case of kids who are more oppositional, they become much more open to functioning as team players. In the case of kids who are anxious or otherwise lacking in confidence, responsibility helps them to see themselves as more capable; responsibility raises their self-esteem and increases their sense of self-efficacy.
I share an excellent example of the positive impact of responsibility in my book.
In this case the girl’s refusal to do any household work was one of the problems that brought the mom to me. And by the end of our time together the girl was not only doing chores; she had also developed real empathy for her mom, so her contributions linked to a genuine desire to support her mom and reduce some of Mom’s burden.
Of course, the process isn’t always this straightforward. In the example I refer to above the daughter started with, “You’re the parent; you should do all the work” and at the end of our program she wanted to help her mom. But it doesn’t always happen this way. Some kids never feel that they want to contribute, and some kids always grumble when it’s time to do their chores. And that’s OK. Please, do NOT make your kids’ emotional response to chores the measure of whether or not chores have the positive impact I describe here. This family cohesion, this development of role and self-confidence, are in no way contingent on the child’s feelings about responsibility, nor are they contingent on a mature, rational acceptance that it’s good to assume responsibility. Sharing in the work that keeps the home running does exactly what I’m saying it does whether your child is thrilled or grumpy.
Would you like to use household chores and responsibility-sharing, not just to get stuff done, but most important, to enhance your child’s role in the family and develop their “team spirit”? As I said above, I can talk more about how to implement and use chores in a future newsletter. For now, I want to be clear:
When I assign chores to the kids in the families I work with, this is not just some “add-on” pet value I want to pass on because who doesn’t benefit from a healthy-living tip. Instead, chores are one of the keys to your child’s self-esteem and social development.
“Asking my kids to do chores just makes more work for me.” “I could never trust my child to do a good job.” “I don’t want to spend what little down-time we have doing chores.” “My kid won’t do chores.”
I get it – this is where we start. But I can teach you to teach your child to do chores in a way that actually makes less work for you and I can teach you to teach your child to do a good job. And I understand the point about no down-time, but I can help you to turn work time into quality time – and the work I’m talking about here is too important and has too many benefits to just not do it because you’re real busy. Finally – your kid won’t do chores? Well, I can help with that, too, but this raises a good point: Your child does have to be willing to listen to you and cooperate with you before you implement a chore system – and this is why I don’t implement a chore system with my families until after we’ve taught the kids to listen.
Chores are more than just a value-add that gives your child the skills he’ll need when he gets his own apartment! Do you have questions about chores? Do you have questions about getting your child to do chores? I’d love it if you’d share your thoughts!
This article was repurposed with the author’s consent from her website. Rebecah Freeling is a regular contributor this blog because she has a partnership with EB. She has lead a training in the Fall of 2018 with assistant teachers on "working with spirited children".