CHILDHOOD CHORES AND ADULT SUCCESS
by Elizabeth Foss
Some of the most powerful character training tools are in the broom
closet. They are called mop, broom, and dustrag. Several studies,
including one done at Harvard which spanned over 40 years, have proven
that having household responsibilities as children is one of the strongest
predictors of adult success.
When our society was more agrarian, children were integral to the survival
of the family. Even school schedules were devised to enable children to be
at home at peak times on the farm. Now, children are largely a leisure
class unto themselves and school breaks are clearly vacations. While that
may seem to be progress, it can also be said that the lack of purposeful
work in a child's life may be a cause of an increasing tendency towards
many social ills, including delinquency, adolescent depression, and
suicide. Children have no sense of self-worth because they are not
required to contribute to anything meaningful.
A young child who learns early that he is integral to the smooth operation
of his home has the distinct advantage of feeling important beyond the
"I'm special; you're special" hype promoted by Barney the dinosaur. The
teenager rises above "Life's short. Play hard" advocated by Reebok. For
children who build their self esteem on nothing more than messages from
popular culture, the inevitable questions are "Why am I special? Is there
more to life than play?"
Children who are charged with household responsibilities reap the benefits
of learning life skills, time management, and perseverance. They earn
genuine satisfaction at a job well done which goes far beyond canned warm
fuzzies and carries them much further into the real world than advertising
hype ever will.
In large families, delegation of responsibility seems to happen more
naturally. Mom and Dad simply can't do it all. Families with several
children either have well- organized home management systems, where chores
are delegated to all members, or very obvious chaos. The growing trend
toward smaller families and greater wealth has contributed to a distinct
lack of purpose for children.
In smaller families, there aren't as many tasks to perform and they don't
have nearly the magnitude. It's much simpler to cook and do laundry for
four than it is to do the same tasks for eight. In families of greater
wealth, everything from yard maintenance, to child care, to housecleaning
can be hired out. Children need to contribute nothing and indeed live an
artificial life of leisure just before they are launched into the real
world where life doesn't work that way. Needless to say, the world of work
can be a shock to their systems.
Children are capable of helping with household chores from the time they
can toddle. A two-year-old is very proud when he puts his own clothes in
the hamper or helps Mommy dust a table. From there, the logical growth
into other areas of responsibility is slow but steady. In her book, (Moody Press), Elva Anson provides an
excellent chart outlining age-appropriate chores.
When instituting a system of chores, the experts (parents whose children
are doing chores and doing them well) maintain that the most important
rule of thumb is to inspect what you expect. Teach a child how to do a
task. Do it with him until you are satisfied that he knows it well, then
check his work, every time, correcting if necessary. To require work and
not ensure that it meets an acceptable level of workmanship is to
encourage disobedience. By the same token, specific, honest praise is a
necessary part of the system.
It helps to have a list from which chores are assigned. By listing the
chores to be done each day and referring to the list when assigning tasks,
the assignment seems less arbitrary. The child must do that chore because
that is what is on the list, not because mom or dad is a dictator.
Another helpful technique we've discovered in our home is doing different
tasks together in the same room on a rotating basis. When my six-year-old
and I work together to clean a bathroom, he sees that I have a job too. He
cannot claim to be the maid. He is part of a team. Close proximity makes
it easier for me to correct mistakes and to praise instantly. Since we
rotate the chores (every room gets a thorough cleaning twice a week), I
know that at least once a week I will have done everything necessary to
keep things clean. With a very young helper, rotation has assured that
while he is learning, the chores are still being done with adult
efficiency. He is learning. He understands what constitutes a clean house.
One day late in my pregnancy, we had several children over to play. When
they left, we left the mess downstairs and went upstairs for much-needed
naps. When Michael woke up, he found me at the computer in a
deadline-intense mood. Without a word, he went downstairs. An hour later,
when his father came home, he looked like he would burst with excitement.
We all went downstairs to discover he had cleaned the entire bottom floor
by himself. It was a pleasant surprise and something I honestly would not
have thought he was capable of doing.
While the clean house was nice, the proud look of satisfaction on my
child's face was utterly lovely.
This article appeared in the October 13, 1994 issue of "The Arlington
Courtesy of the "Arlington Catholic Herald" diocesan newspaper of the
Arlington (VA) diocese. For subscription information, call 1-800-377-0511
or write 200 North Glebe Road, Suite 607 Arlington, VA 22203.