By: Mrs. Lisa Fida
Here at MSK, we believe in the ever-growing potential of all children. It is imperative that parents and teachers work together to help our children develop a love of learning in all aspects of life, both within the classroom and beyond. The establishment of responsibilities for your children at home is essential to their development, sense of competence, and self-esteem. Through these everyday experiences, our children learn the important values of self-discipline, leadership, responsibility, collaboration, and accountability. These skills further connect to the essential habits of mind that allow our children to become compassionate and successful citizens in the greater community.
In order for our children to develop essential life skills at home, we must take into consideration the following factors when contemplating how to introduce chores in the home:
“Just wait a minute. I promise – I’ll do it later.”
“Aw Mom, do I have to??”
“Mary doesn’t have to do this; why do I have to?”
How many times have you heard these refrains or something similar when you ask or tell your children to do a chore around the house? Chances are it has been often. Children can be pros at procrastination, excuses, resistance, and refusal when it comes to chores, causing much concern among parents and conflict between children and their parents.
Why do children often resist completing chores? Part of the explanation rests with the very nature of children at specific developmental stages in their lives. Young children and teens are:
- Lacking in judgment – Most young children have no idea how much work is involved with the running of a household.
- Impulsive – They want what they want when they want it. Working at activities that are not immediately gratifying to them is not inherently on their agenda.
- Self-absorbed – children in this stage of development are mainly concerned about themselves and their own needs. They do not naturally consider the needs and expectations of others.
Doing chores willingly requires mature judgment, less impulsivity, and more awareness of others’ perspectives and needs. Children are not born with these traits; they develop gradually as children grow and mature. Part of our job as parents is to socialize our children during years that they live with us by helping them to develop these mature qualities.
Is it Worth the Struggle?
Insisting that chores be completed can feel like a never-ending battle. Because it can feel like you are constantly reminding, nagging, or imposing consequences just to get your children to follow through, you may decide to let chores slide. It becomes easier in the short run to do the jobs yourself. However, there are natural consequences to this.
Children are often unrelenting in their resistance, and can wear parents down. As parents, you may be reluctant to engage in continuous struggles for fear of damaging your relationship with your children. You may feel guilty asking your children to help; after all, children are so busy with all the other demands on them from school, peers, and extra-curricular activities that you may be reluctant to add to the pressures. Or you may believe your little ones are too young to take on responsibilities, not realizing how capable they can actually be.
Even though it is more difficult at the time to persist in having your children do chores, significant research indicates that those children who do have a set of chores have higher self-esteem, are more responsible, and are better able to deal with frustration and delay gratification, all of which contribute to greater success in school. Furthermore, research by Marty Rossman shows that involving children in household tasks at an early age can have a positive impact later in life. In fact, “the best predictor of young adults’ success in their mid-20’s was that they participated in household tasks when they were three or four.”
Doing chores gives a child the opportunity to give back to their parents for all you do for them. Children begin to see themselves as important contributors to the family. They feel a connection to the family. Holding them accountable for their chores can increase a sense of themselves as responsible and actually make them more responsible. Children will feel more capable for having met their obligations and completed their tasks.
One of the most frequently sited causes of over-indulgence stems from parents doing too much for their children and not expecting enough of them. Not being taught the skills of everyday living can limit children’s ability to function at age-appropriate levels. By expecting children to complete self-care tasks and to help with household chores, parents equip children with the skills to function independently in the outside world.
With only so many hours in a day, parents need to help children decide how to spend their time and to determine what is most important. If you let children off the hook for chores because they have too much schoolwork, or need to practice a sport, then you are saying, intentionally or not, that their academic or athletic skills are most important. And if your children fail a test, or fail to block the winning shot, then they have failed at what you deem to be most important. They do not have other pillars of competency upon which to rely. By completing household tasks, they may not always be the star student, or athlete, but they will know that they can contribute to the family, begin to take care of themselves, and learn the vital skills that they will need as an adult.
In addition to being steadfast in the belief that it is important to have children complete chores, your attitudes, as parents, can significantly help set the tone that will increase possible cooperation in your household. You can consider how you look at your “chores” –you are your children’s most important role model. As such, it is imperative that you lead by example. As Barbara Coloroso suggests in her book Kids Are Worth It, if parents “do chores with a sense of commitment, patience, and humor, our children will have a model to do likewise.” You can send the message that chores are a bore and something to be avoided at all costs. Conversely, you can send the message that these are the tasks that need to be completed in order for your household to run smoothly, and that everyone in the family is encouraged and expected to participate. Young children naturally want to be a part of the family and want to help. Ideally, you will encourage their participation (even if it takes more work on your part in the short run). By the age of three, youngsters can be assigned their own tasks, for which they are responsible, such as pulling up the sheets on their bed, placing the napkins on the table, or sorting the laundry. The size of the task does not matter; it is the responsibility associated with it that does.
For those parents who did not begin a chore regimen when their children were little, you can still start a plan now. You can take some time to think about what tasks you need help with, what life skills your children need to learn, and what are each child’s interests and abilities.
As your children grow, it is important to re-evaluate your chore plan. Some families use age as natural markers for examining what responsibilities their children are receiving. Other, naturally occurring breaks that lend themselves to instituting or revisiting a chore plan include the beginning, or end of the school year. Consider:
- What chores do you want completed in your home?
- Are the ones already selected the best fit for each of your children and ones that are most meaningful to the running of your household?
- Are there life skills that a particular child needs to learn?
- Are you happy with your decision to tie/not tie allowance to chore completion?
As a Montessorian parent, and as you contemplate these decisions, you can ask your children for their input. Children are more cooperative when they have a say. Also, brainstorm ideas for overcoming any obstacles you have faced in the past, such as children not following through, arguing, or not doing a thorough job. Many parents hold a family meeting to discuss chores and when and how they will be starting, revising, or re-instating them. Such times together can build morale, improve relationships, and facilitate creative problem solving.
The MSK Montessori classroom is an extension of a child’s home. It is the place where you, the parents, entrust us with your most precious cargo. It is where they learn about all aspects of life, and where the whole child is acknowledged. It with this trust that we work with you and your child(ren) to instill the precious life skills that will build character and resilience in preparation for the challenging real world ahead. When you model and enforce the importance of taking part in chores within your home…the importance of contributing to the family dynamic…you instantly open up the world of potential and opportunities for your child. Children learn vital lessons and acquire vital life skills when completing practical, hands-on tasks within the home. They sharpen their critical thinking and problem-solving skills, become more confident leaders, and use creativity and innovation to make things happen. Children learn the importance of discipline and being accountable for their actions. They come to understand that all actions, positive or negative, have natural consequences. It is these natural consequences that innately allow your child to build the foundation upon which they grow and develop into the fine adults we hope they will become. The hard work that we, as parents, invest in helping to build this foundation will certainly pay off in the end. Once a consistent chore routine is established in your home, your child will ultimately earn genuine satisfaction at a job well done. Subsequently, all of the skills they attain will naturally propel academic success and future job potential.
As a Montessori parent myself, and as a mother who instilled the routine of chores for my own children at a very young age, I can unequivocally speak to the essential relevance of said skills, and the positive impact that they have had on my children’s work ethic and sense of responsibility. As young teenagers, they now understand how valuable their contributions, big or small, are to our family unit. I urge you to take the time to establish a comfortable chore routine for your child(ren) at home. Your child will thank you later.
Giving Your Child the Gift of Inner Discipline: Kids are Worth it! By Barbara Coloroso
The Washington Time Article: Study Finds Having Kids do Chores is a Good Thing
The Centre for Parenting Education