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Don't Call It Chores

February 20, 2011

As they get older, the job can change to match their skill set — but everyone benefits from having a job.

Research published in the Journal of Developmental Psychology (December, 2009) reveals that kids who spent more time doing household jobs reported greater levels of happiness than kids who spent less. Why might this be?

Investigators speculate that participating in family life through assigned tasks leads to feeling more valued by and better connected to the other members of the family. Household jobs also help define children's identity (I'm the sister who rakes the leaves. I'm the brother who loads the dishwasher.) and add an early sense of meaning to life (I make a contribution).

There's no shortage of research in recent years supporting the value of jobs in children's early lives. Here's a few ways to approach it:

  • Start young. When they can hold or carry or lift, they're ready for a job.
  • Match their skill level. We want them to enjoy success in their job, so be sure they can comfortably perform what's asked.
  • Value effort over performance. There may still be a few crumbs on the kitchen floor after junior gives it a sweeping, but be glad for the effort and commend it nevertheless. Parental perfectionism leads to discouraged children.
  • Provide choices. Give the kids the option to choose the jobs they'd prefer, and draw straws to assign the leftovers or rotate the jobs in high demand.
  • Don't pay a wage. Nobody pays dad to unload the dishwasher. Nobody pays mom to fold the laundry. And nobody should pay junior to walk the dog. It's simply what's expected in family life.
  • Watch your language. Don't call it chores (with all the negative associations of that particular word) and don't call it helping. The assembly line worker at General Motors isn't "helping" the CEO any more than our children are helping us when they do their jobs. It's simply how life works: everyone needs a job.