Updated: Apr 26
I did a lot of cleaning one week while Veronica was home sick for 5 whole days last year year (pre-covid, pre-children-being-home-all-the-time, sigh). Got me thinking about how we approach chores in our house. Thankfully my kids like to help clean, organize, fold laundry. Luck? Maybe, partially. Roberto (my 7 year old) was born a cleaner, Veronica was definitely not. Intuition may have led me in the right direction, but I think I accidentally helped my kids be willing to pitch in.
So for those parents who are actively recruiting help with household chores from unwilling children, try these proven methods...
1. Ask for "help"
A study recently published in January 2020 in the journal Child Development shows that when asking children for help with a challenging task, they are more willing to help and more willing to stick with the challenging task if asked "to help" vs "be a helper".
Children who were asked to "be helpers" had a higher negative attitude about helping when they faced challenges with the task and were less likely to work through those challenges and complete the task than those who were asked to "help". Perhaps this is because the setback caused the children to question whether they were really qualified members of the "helper" group.
Asking children to "be a helper" was effective in situations where there was little chance of failure at the task.
2. Frame chores as a way to support each other and benefit the entire family
A small study from 2009 shows that children are more likely to help with chores if they feel it benefits the the family as a whole versus out of obligation.
3. Work together
Working together turns household responsibilities into a shared activity that provides social support and labor and stress for all.
4. Skip the allowance
A study from 2009 shows that children who are paid an allowance participate in chores at the same rate as those who do not receive an allowance. Further, the study showed that receiving an allowance did not play a strong role in developing a sense of obligation or responsibility to their families, which we know increases the chance that children will contribute to household chores.
A family who cleans together... raises children to be more successful?
So, is it worth the effort to get your kids to help you clean? Or should you just do it yourself? Or even better, hire it out? This little nugget of info may get your parenting majo going!
If you haven't already heard the famous research by Marty Rossmann showing that the single biggest predictor of success in adulthood (including career and relationships) is children who contribute to chores at age 3 and 4, it may make you a little giddy. Really, it is this simple? Well, Rossmann's research was a small and self-reported study, so it is hard to say how giddy we should really get.
However, there is a much larger study published by the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics in 2019 showing similar (though much shorter term) results. This 2019 study found that children who did chores in Kindergarten were more likely to rate themselves 3 years later as having better peer relationships, felt more confident with their academic achievements, said they were satisfied with their life, and had more pro-social behaviors, as compared to those who did less or no chores. Okay, anything that makes my kiddos feel good about themselves and helps them to be good people gets my mommy heart excited!
Though this study shows association, and not causation, it contributes to a body of science that points in the same direction. Chores are helpful in raising helpful, confident, and possibly more successful children.
Let's make this happen!
We know our kids should do chores so they can be happier and more productive people. And we know the best ways to encourage our children to help around the house. Never too early (or late) to begin!
How to include your toddler and preschool-aged kiddos with your overflowing basket of laundry?
Age 2 - Match socks Age 3 - Stack underwear in a pile Age 4 - Fold pants, put clothes away Age 5 - Fold shirts
For the Type A parents who can't stand when the pants/shirts are folded the wrong way, breath slowly. Ask your kiddo to help with a task and then fix it when they aren't looking. I like to fold my laundry alongside my kiddos. As we fold, we can chat and listen to music, I am there to help if they are getting frustrated, and I can teach them new tricks for folding as I seem them struggling. It doesn't take me any longer to have them have the first go at it, even if I need to fix it later.
Sometimes I need to fold laundry when my kids aren't around. My kids don't fold every basket of laundry with me. They do help me with different household chores every week, but it isn't always the same one. I like to ask for help when I actually need it, instead of scheduling a particular chore ahead of time at this age. It feels much more natural, less like an obligation, and more like a chance for them to see that I need help and pitch in.
White, Elizabeth, et al. (2019) Associations Between Household Chores and Childhood Self-Competency. Journal Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics 40:176–182.
Foster-Hanson, Emily, et al. (2020) Asking Children to “Be Helpers” Can Backfire After Setbacks.