By Collett Smart
Has the artist of Hedger Humour been peeping in my windows? We often wonder about the benefits of chores, and whether the sighing, dodging and procrastination are worth the effort – and that’s just the parents I am talking about!
Yet, it appears, chores lead to success – later in life! But, to be fair, does anyone like doing chores? I love a neat house as much as the next person. In fact, a clear kitchen bench actually unclutters my brain and makes me feel more calm. Marie Kondo aside, there’s actually research that this occurs (an article on what clutter does to your brain and body can be found here). I love chores – after the fact, but I certainly don’t love doing them. As it turns out, neither do our teens!
Yet, when I was asked by The Press (UK) to answer a parenting question on chores, I happily obliged. Not because we have this all sorted in my own house, but because I know of the benefits – long term.
The question went, “My 12-year-old son says he’ll help around the house – if we pay him. How can I get him to do chores without payment or an argument?”
Basically my response was:
A complaining 12-year-old sounds like a very normal tween, who doesn’t jump for joy at the thought of chores! I think we should expect some complaints (without rudeness), but then expect our kids to get on with the job anyway. Particularly because the studies reveal that participation in doing chores, is instrumental in predicting children’s overall success into their mid-20s.
One study used data collected over 25 years, to find out whether asking children to help with household chores (starting at age 3 or 4) was instrumental in predicting children’s success into their mid-20s. It was! (See specific findings here, here and mentioned in a TED talk here). In summary, what the studies discovered is that children who were expected to participate in doing chores developed a stronger work ethic, and a strong work ethic leads to success. I should emphasise that success is not simply defined as material or financial.
Chores lead to success through:
- learning how to acknowledge the importance of contributing to family
- developing an ability to work well with others
- developing a ‘pitch-in’ mind-set
- developing better relationships with friends and family (through said collaboration)
- gaining a sense of empathy as adults
- delaying gratification (putting off something while a job is done), which in turn fosters self-discipline
- promoting resilience (because one aspect of resilience includes skill development)
- allowing greater career success.
Essentially young people learn that “life is not just about me and what I want in this moment. Stuff needs to be done and it’s up to me to do it. I can’t simply wait for someone to serve me.”
How to respond when teens complain about chores
Will they complain about the dishes? Of course they will – don’t you? Yet, the family culture should be that chores are simply something the whole family does, like brushing teeth or attending school. Chores are not optional – we don’t live in a hotel. Chores should benefit the whole household (not just their own space). Perhaps we could rephrase family ‘chores’ as family ‘contributions’?
Just as adults might cook for the family before sitting down to scroll through our news feed (to read about chores), it is OK to have an expectation that our teens do their bit in the home, in a reasonable time frame. If your teen is already in the middle of a game or activity, and yours is a new request, ask that it be done as soon as he is finished, or set an agreed time.
When someone complains, simply and politely state, “Today is your turn to vacuum, so you can watch your show/go out as soon as it’s done. Thanks so much.” If your teen complains, avoid arguments or bribes. Just calmly empathise with, “I can see you don’t really feel like doing the dishwasher. Goodness, I don’t enjoy it much either, but it’s just what we all do as part of being in this family,” and then repeat your request, “Please vacuum. You can watch your show/go out as soon as it’s done.” Then walk away and don’t stay behind to negotiate – I’m still working on this bit!
If it is not done, then it is important that you follow through with a natural consequence and don’t take it personally.
Afterwards, thank him for his effort and contribution to the family.
At this point, some parents say, “But no-one thanks me when I pack the dishwasher.” Yes – but wouldn’t you love it if someone did? As the adult, this is a great opportunity to model gratitude.
Of course, we can also be flexible. Some days when I know my teens have had a big day or are furiously studying for exams, I will gladly take on their chores. I am not trying to cripple my child with tasks. I will also get their siblings to pitch in and help, knowing that we will care for them in the same way when the time comes. This is an opportunity to teach empathy and compassion. We all help each other.
What if my teen does a sloppy job?
It is important that we have high expectations of our teens, but not criticise and expect perfection. As my husband says, “They live in a home not a museum.” Also, we need to resist the urge to go after them and “fix it”. Teens will either get a sense that it’s never good enough or, mum/dad will follow behind and “fix it”, so I can just do a half-job and then run off.
However, if the task is done with little effort calmly call your child back to finish off the task adequately. When tweens are learning a new chore, like cleaning the bathroom, this is the time we can do it with them and show them how we need to do a particular chore in our home, to keep the place hygienic and pleasant for others to use too.
Should chores be tied to pocket money?
I do not believe that chores should be part of pocket money. The reason being, when we tie money to chores young people begin to expect to be paid for fulfilling basic responsibilities.
Extra jobs around the house, like washing the car, might be used for pocket money. For example, my husband is very good at DIY, so when he decided to build a deck around the pool, rather than get someone in he asked my tween and teens if they wanted to earn extra money and he paid them to help. They got to be outside together and chat, and my sons and daughter learned new skills with power tools and earned extra money.
What chores can they do?
Tweens and teens are often capable of more than their parents give them credit for. Having a roster can help eliminate the negotiation and things like, “But I’m sure I did the bathroom last week!”
In my home we have a whiteboard with a rotating weekly roster, which is very helpful, so that everyone can see who does what and when. Having a specific time each day for contributions to be done is also helpful and can prevent responses like, “But I didn’t know you meant I needed to feed the dogs before midnight?”. Importantly the chore/contribution schedule needs to work for you and your family routine.
By the tween years (10 to 12) our kids are more than capable of:
- feeding pets
- watering plants
- setting and clearing the table
- wiping tables and counters
- taking their dirty clothes to the laundry basket
- folding items of clothing after the washing is done
- preparing school snacks
- vacuuming floors
- loading and unloading the dishwasher/washing and drying dishes
- helping prepare simple meals
- unpacking groceries
- cleaning the bathroom
- changing their bedding
- taking out rubbish bags
- (you can add your own).
By the teen years (13+) they are capable of:
- all of the above
- helping shop for groceries with a list
- cooking a simple meal
- helping with laundry
- (older teens) babysitting younger siblings, driving siblings to events, going shopping.
One last thought
If you didn’t start at a young age, it’s not too late to start now – it’s never too late to begin a new family habit. When you wonder if it’s worth it, remind yourself that you are helping your children to be more successful later in life (see more in chapter 14 of my book).
Now I’m off to put in a load of washing.
Subscribe now to Collett Smart’s Raising Teens podcast – wherever you get your podcasts.
Article supplied with thanks to Raising Teenagers
About the author: Collett Smart is a psychologist, qualified teacher, speaker and internationally published author. She lives with her husband and 3 children in Sydney, Australia. The heart of Collett’s work is to support and bring hope to parents of tweens and teens.