Belonging Isn’t a Chore

Chores are making headlines again, thanks to a blogger who found her best take away from one of the longest studies Harvard ever did. She was dancing over the research finding that the younger kids start to do chores, the more successful they are in their work-life later.

Graduates from the Harvard classes of 1939-44 were compared with participants from another long-term study of inner city kids from Boston. Researchers were looking for variables early in life that predict health and well being later in life. Much later. Like in their 80s and 90s. The two strongest messages from these studies should be linked together, in my opinion. They have to do with chores and belonging.

 

Chores teach the value of work and unselfishness. Some of the unpleasant things we do matter a great deal. Kids learn to work independently and develop a sense of responsibility because they work on projects that might be tedious but are of value to the entire household.

That hint brings us to the second important component of chores. They teach kids what it means to belong. Chores help kids understand, “You live here; you help out.” It’s a variation of the principle, “You made the mess; you clean it up.”

 

There are at least two ways to assign chores to our children. We can do it the easy way or we can do it the hard way. The hard way involves nagging, elaborate charts that contain endless lists of things that will never be completely done and constant reminders and punishments. I never recommend the hard way. 

The easy way takes advantage of our children’s natural tendency to want to do it themselves. Instead of shooing them away when they approach and want to help, we find something of value that will let them feel a sense of belonging and participation. Something that contributes to our task. If we are cooking and they approach us begging to help, surely there is something in the cabinets that they can safely carry toward our workstation to feel that sense of helping. Don’t worry, their short attention span will usually take them away to another part of the house soon enough. No child I’ve ever seen has the attention span to stay with an adult through an entire cooking process for a meal.

 

Dads can allow the youngest of children to hold wrenches while he works on the car. The right tool is constantly beyond our reach and our little ones love to help. Combining helping and participating together gives our children the ability to connect helping with love and belonging. In order to hold the wrenches or get the pot we need from the cabinet, our children will need to be taught which is which in small, bite sized lessons while we tidy up our workstations. Helping put the dishes away is a wonderful place to start. We will likely need the lid again that we just unloaded from the dishwasher at a future meal.

 

It amazes me that only 28% of parents regularly assign chores to their children. We are missing out on a wonderful opportunity to contribute to the health and well being of our children. Teaching them to work on something independently of others and to carry out responsibilities as part of living in a loving household together can be a fun part of everyday life.

 
Dr. Matt Crain writes weekly for the Sunday newspaper from his Connecting Fathers and Families ministry.