A major U.S. newspaper recently ran a piece detailing all the ways children benefit from doing chores. Well, not all the ways. They failed to mention the most important benefit: chores, properly managed, teach citizenship values.
“Properly managed” means children are not compensated monetarily for doing chores. Another parenting pundit once disagreed with me on that issue, pointing out that adults are paid for the work they do. That’s true, but apples are not watermelons.
First, working adults are trading labor for certain standards of living. Those adults then provide their children with that same standard of living. The money earned by adults is not an entitlement. The support those adults provide children is an entitlement. The two situations cannot be logically equated. From this perspective, chores are a child’s means of acknowledging that he or she is on a free ride.
Second, when a child is paid for doing chores, said child is likely to reason that if she does not need any money during a given week, there is no reason for her to do that week’s chores.
Third, adults are paid for working at banks, factories, and stores, but they are not paid for doing work in and around their own homes. Can someone please give me a logical, rational reason why a child should be paid for clearing the table after supper when his or her mother was not paid for cooking it? You can’t!
Democracies cannot survive when citizens have no need to perform uncompensated service, as when big government provides everything. Since we are still a democracy, however tenuously, it is vital that children be taught proper citizenship values. And, as your great-grandmother probably said, “Good citizenship begins at home.”
During his 1961 inaugural address, President John F. Kennedy succinctly defined proper American citizenship: “Ask not what your country can do for you,” he said. “Ask what you can do for your country.” The strength of a democracy depends on service. Likewise, the strength of a family is greatly enhanced when everyone pitches in to do what needs to be done to maintain a clean, comfortable, organized environment.
My experience with my kids, who were doing a significant amount of housework at ages six and ten, is that chores are a source of legitimate pride. They also prevent the development of a generally ungrateful (think “entitled”) attitude. Contribution to household chores also helps children to bond to the family’s values. Fundamentally, it teaches what the word family really means.
The ideal time to begin assigning chores to a child is shortly after his or her third birthday. If you’ve ever lived with a three-year-old, then you know that he or she generally wants to help when their parents are doing housework. Capitalize on that! Give the young child his or her own chores to do. Responsibilities define roles, so provide your child with a functional role in your family.
“But I can’t!” you say. Why? “Because my kids are involved in so many outside activities that they don’t have time to do chores!” Then those outside activities need to be trimmed so your children do have time for chores. Let’s face it, the overwhelming majority of the outside activities your children are involved in right now will be irrelevant to anything they do someday as adults, whereas chores will provide lifelong benefits. The operative word is priorities.
Family psychologist John Rosemond is the director of the Center for Affirmative Parenting in Gastonia, North Carolina. For information about his talks and workshops, contact Tracy Owens-Jahn at email@example.com or (817) 295-1751.