You’ve been there before: dinner is over, you’ve got a pile of dishes to clear and the kids are—surprisingly—nowhere to be found. It’s a rare kid who clamors to scrub the kitchen, but studies show that assigning chores helps children build life skills and grow into well-adjusted young adults. So, if you’ve found yourself too often doing the work on your own instead of summoning up the energy for the inevitable battle about responsibilities, we’ve got 11 reminders about why chores make kids better people. Keep reading to see more.
1. They’ll believe that they’re capable. As kids become adept at household tasks, they start seeing themselves as capable—and that builds confidence. Furthermore, they come to see themselves as agents of change. All that peeling and chopping means that the whole family gets to enjoy a delicious apple pie for dessert.
2. Taking on responsibility teaches children about consequences. Delegating tasks helps children understand that their decisions affect them. You forgot to do the laundry? Well, that's why your soccer uniform isn't clean. There are also positive consequences: remembering to water the family vegetable garden means fresh food for dinner.
3. Chores teach kids to take care of themselves. It may seem obvious, but your child won’t learn how to be self-sufficient if he never learns how to do something himself. By teaching your kids how to make their beds and assemble their own lunches, you know that they’ll be able to meet their basic needs even when you’re not hovering over their shoulders.
4. They’ll develop empathy. According to psychologist Richard Weissbourd, chores teach children more than just hard work and mastery. Kids have an innate desire to be helpers, and chores build on this by teaching them how to take care of others, which engenders empathy and responsiveness. In his report, Weissbourd states that we “need to create more settings where children engage in traditions and rituals that build appreciation and gratitude and a sense of responsibility for one’s communities, and that enable them to practice helpfulness and service.”
5. They’ll build self-esteem. By assigning tasks that tee your children up for success, you’re giving them an opportunity to experience accomplishment and feel good about themselves. 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 master important life skills. Kids become aware that, by taking on responsibilities, it feels good to meet their obligations and complete tasks—and to receive recognition and praise from people they care about.
6. It paves the way for success in adulthood. Research shows that kids who do chores become adults that work well in collaborative groups. Taking on hard work builds a foundation for developing a “can-do” attitude—which supports success in the workplace and in interpersonal relationships. Dr. Marty Rossman, the author of The Worry Solution, corroborates this, “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.”
7. Chores teach kids problem solving skills. Engaging with real-life manipulatives—like sorting socks or setting the table—builds a strong foundation of representational experience and a deep understanding of abstract mathematical concepts. But there are obvious concrete lessons to be learned, too: what’s the most efficient way to pick up toys? What are some space-saving strategies when loading the dishwasher? What can be done the night before to make school mornings less rushed? Letting your kids “figure it out” gives them agency, too.
8. They’ll internalize delayed gratification. Whenever we choose to work for a later or larger goal, we are modeling the value of delayed gratification. This might include saving up for a family vacation or making something when it would be easier to buy it. Studies cited in Daniel Goleman’s book, Emotional Intelligence, showed that children who deferred gratification grew into teenagers and young adults who were more socially competent, better able to cope with frustration, more dependable, more academically successful, and better at setting and reaching long-term goals.
9. They’ll cultivate a sense of community and connection. Julie Lythcott-Haims, who served as Stanford’s Dean of Freshman and Undergraduate Advising for more than a decade, notes that “By making [kids] do chores—taking out the garbage, doing their own laundry—they realize I have to do the work of life in order to be part of life. It’s not just about me and what I need at this moment, but that I'm part of an ecosystem. I'm part of a family. I'm part of the workplace.” Kids crave a sense of belonging, and doing work for the good of the whole helps them understand why a connection is important.
10. Chores support motor development. Many opportunities to help around the house allow kids to engage in movement-cued development: consider raking leaves in the garden, rolling out a trash can, carrying bags of groceries or scrubbing a sink. You can also show your children how to replace a toilet paper roll, or work on their fine motor skills by tearing lettuce leaves or cracking eggs. Learning of all kinds changes your child’s brain’s functional anatomy—movement-based tasks are even linked to the foundational skills needed for reading and writing.
11. Chores provide an opportunity for connection. You may not think that shared responsibilities mean “quality time,” but you never know what might come up as you fold laundry together. Meaningful exchanges can quietly emerge whenever you spend time with your child—even when washing dishes, weeding the garden or walking the dog side-by-side. As our children grow, these collaborative exercises can continue to strengthen our relationships into the teenage years.
—Katie Brown with Gabby Cullen