What are chores and why is it important for children to have to do chores? Chores are simple tasks that help build planning skills and teach basic life skills. These basic life skills will help your child for the rest of his life with such tasks as cleaning, cooking, doing laundry and household maintenance. The better the parents are able to teach these skills while the child is young the more capable the child will be to do more complicated tasks later in life.

Jim Fay, co-founder of the Love and Logic website, says we all need to feel needed and to know we are making a contribution. It is more important that the child feel that he is part of the family and feels a sense of accomplishment. When your child makes his bed, a parent might say something like “I like it when you work hard to make your bed it makes our home nicer to live in.” The bed doesn’t have to be made perfectly. These kinds of chores and parental support help build self-esteem and helps the child learn that working on a task leads to tangible and worthwhile results.

A small study at the University of Minnesota evaluated 84 young adults to see if they could determine what could predict that they would be successful. The best predictor turned out to be if they had participated in household chores by age 4. If chores were not started until adolescence the positive effects were not seen. Don’t delay in starting chores, even young children can get clothes to the laundry.

John Cover, co-author of “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Families: A Proactive Family Guide Book,” describes four ways parents can motivate their children to do chores.

Parents must be role models by doing household work themselves. Parents must share a caring relationship with the child. The family culture must be one that is cooperative where each person is expected to work together and to help each other. Parents should view chores as a way of teaching their values and life skills.

As a child grows older the tasks can become more complicated. All chores need to be taught and supervised by the parents. Some suggestions for chores for young children are as follows: A 2-year-old can help sort the laundry into colored and white clothes, pick up toys and help set the table with napkins and some silverware. Three- to 5-year-olds can set and clear a table, water plants, feed pets, make beds, match socks from the laundry, fold laundry and put it away, help wash the car and help with the garden. Six- to 9-year-olds can take out the garbage and sort recyclables, load/unload the washer and dryer and help prepare meals. Seven- to 10-year-olds can help with raking the lawn and cleaning a room that is not their own such as the bathroom. Additional ideas may be found at www.family education.com.

Sally Robinson is a clinical professor of pediatrics at UTMB Children’s Hospital. This column isn’t intended to replace the advice of your child’s physician.

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