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Zero Chores During a Pandemic Will Spoil Your Children

Household chores teach children how to work and learn valuable life skills.

Everyone has been asked to stay at home during the pandemic. The pandemic and our response to it have caused increased stress and major disruptions in family dynamics as well as family economics.

Home: The New Office Space

Working parents, especially mothers, have had to navigate a new full-time office space at home while juggling child care, online learning, and homeschooling.

"Parents everywhere stepped up; they are the unsung heroes of this crisis. Moms in particular went into multitask mode with color-coordinated home-school schedules that attempted to track and organize what their kids would be doing each hour of the weekday." —Misty L. Heggeness, Review of Economics of the Household

According to the Pew Research Center, this is true not only for parents with small children in 2020 but also for parents with young adults. "The share of 18- to 29-year-olds living with their parents has become a majority since U.S. coronavirus cases began spreading early this year, surpassing the previous peak during the Great Depression era."

Children and Young Adults Living at Home, Parents Need Your Help

In a 2015 Braun Research poll of 1,001 parents, 28 percent said they regularly assigned chores to their kids, even though 82 percent said their parents required them to do chores. A 2012 national survey of American families by the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture found that the most common areas of conflict between parents and children over children’s messiness, picking up after themselves, fulfilling daily chores or obligations.

Why Parents Should Require Children to Do Chores

Parents, the research is on your side! Assign and teach your children to do chores! It will help you! Children will contribute to the family! Chores will help them to become happy productive adults in the future. Let me highlight several important studies that underscore this.

Chores at an Early Age Help Children Become Well-Adjusted Adults

Research by Marty Rossman, Emeritus Associate Professor of family education from the University of Minnesota "shows that involving children in household tasks at an early age can have a positive impact later in life. By involving children in tasks, parents teach their children a sense of responsibility, competence, self-reliance, and self-worth that stays with them throughout their lives."

Rossman followed 84 children from ages 3 to in their mid-20s and asked them questions about types of household tasks, time spent on tasks, and attitudes about doing these tasks and then linked them to measures of success: completion of education, getting started on a career path, IQ, relationships with family and friends, not using drugs, and involvement in household tasks at each time period.

Gustavo Fring/Pexels/License CC0
Source: Gustavo Fring/Pexels/License CC0

"Rossmann determined that the best predictor of young adults' success in their mid-20s was that they participated in household tasks when they were three or four. However, if they did not begin participating until they were 15 or 16, the participation backfired and those subjects were less 'successful.'"

Kindergartners Who Perform Chores Do Better in School

White et al. (2019) analyzed data from 9971 children who participated in an early childhood longitudinal study and found that children who performed chores have a significantly different perception of their abilities with peers. They also had greater empathy toward others, more self-confidence in their academic abilities, and more satisfaction with their life circumstances:

  • "The frequency of chores in kindergarten was positively associated with a child’s perception of social, academic, and life satisfaction competencies in the third grade, independent of sex, family income, and parent education."
  • "Children who rarely performed chores had greater odds of scoring in the bottom quintile on self-reported prosocial, academic ability, peer relationship, and life satisfaction scores."
  • "Performing chores with any frequency in kindergarten was associated with improved math scores in the third grade."

Household Chores Teach Children How to Work

Loderup, et al., (2020) conducted a qualitative study investigating the question, "How do parents teach their children about work?" The sample of 115 included 90 emerging adult children between the ages of 18 and 30, 17 parents, and 8 grandparents. The authors found that when children did chores when they were in early elementary school, as young adults they had greater self-competence, prosocial behavior, and self-efficacy.

"Parental use of house hold chores coupled with allowances can be very helpful, especially when monetary rewards are contingent upon completing work assignments in the home. When parents facilitate paid employment outside of the home, children learn that money does not grow on trees or magically appear from a parent’s wallet, but actually comes as the result of labor." Loderup et al. (2020)

Not Requiring Chores Is a Type of Overindulgence Called Overnurture

Bredehoft et al. (1998) researched childhood overindulgence. The sample of 730 adults included 124 who identified themselves as being overindulged as children. When asked how they were overindulged by their parents, participants reported "having things done for them" and "having no chores" at the top of the list.* This is a type of overindulgence called overnurture. Overnurture is being over-involved in your children’s lives. It is doing things that children should be doing for themselves, smothering them with love, allowing them too many privileges, making sure they were always entertained, and hovering over them constantly trying to insulate them from frustration, stress, and anxiety.

The Top 5 Ways Parents Overindulged Children

  • 53%: Having things done for me that I could do or should do for myself
  • 53%: No consistent chores expected
  • 41%: Clothes
  • 36%: Privileges
  • 35%: Toys

*Does not add to 100% because participants could select more than one response.

When asked which skills they feel are deficient because they did not learn them as children, the respondents' open-ended responses were coded into the following categories: communication, interpersonal, and relationship skills (31%), domestic and home skills (13%), mental and personal health skills (12%), decision-making skills (11%), money and time management skills (10%), and ability to be responsible (8%).

"Parents who overindulge miss opportunities to teach their children valuable life skills. Overindulgence appears to inhibit the development of a child’s communication and relationship skills, decision making, and time management skills. Further, overindulged children may not know how to take on adult responsibilities. They rely on others to complete tasks for them." Bredehoft et al. (1998)

Children learn valuable life skills by doing chores. Many good-intentioned parents who overnurture don't give their children opportunities to learn the skills that prepare them to take on adult responsibilities. One of the ways parents teach helplessness is by not requiring their children to do chores. Instead, parents do all the chores and over-function for their children.

As a result of the pandemic, families are spending more time together. More parents are working from home trying to juggle work, home-schooling children, and managing the household. Household chores have a positive effect on children including; growing up with a sense of responsibility, competence, self-reliance, self-worth, doing better in school, life skills, and how to work.

Practice Aloha. Do all things with Love, Grace, and Gratitude.

© 2021 David J. Bredehoft


White, E. M., et al., (2019). Associations between household chores and childhood self-competency. Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics. 40(3),176-182 doi: 10.1097/DBP.0000000000000637

Loderup, C. L., et al. (2020). How do parents teach their children about work? A qualitative exploration of household chores, employment, and entrepreneurial experiences. Journal of Family and Economic Issues.

Heggeness, M. L. (2020). Estimating the immediate impact of the COVID-19 shock on parental attachment to the labor market and the double bind of mothers. Review of Economics of the Household.

Rossman, M. (2002). Involving children in household tasks: Is it worth the effort? The University of Minnesota Publication.

Culture of American Families: A National Survey. (2012). Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture.

Bredehoft, D. J., Mennicke, S. A., Potter, A. M., & Clarke, J. I. (1998). Perceptions attributed by adults to parental overindulgence during childhood. Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences Education. 16(2), 3-17.

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