September 13th, 2020

School anxiety? Doing chores can help kids feel more confident

If your children have just gone back to school and are feeling a bit anxious about it all they may benefit from a  boost to their confidence from a surprising quarter –housework. You may have been thinking that now that they are back at school and have their studies to focus on you should let them off doing jobs around the house. Don’t.

Chores are more than specific pieces of work done out of duty - doing them benefits the whole family as well as the individual child both in the present and for the future. Children who contribute to household tasks develop the following desirable attitudes or qualities:

  • An awareness of the needs of others and a willingness to contribute to others’ wellbeing (this counteracts the sense of entitlement in children that many parents are worried about)
  • A sense of connectedness to the family. This is vital for the child’s wellbeing. A sense of belonging fulfils a basic human need and helps them weather difficulties in the outside world
  • A feeling of making a contribution to the family. We all need to be needed
  • A sense of pride and accomplishment derived from the completion of tasks. This feeling of competency boosts confidence. A 2001 study on bullying by Oxford University’s Centre for Research into Parenting and Children linked responsibility for household chores to confidence which makes a child less vulnerable to bullying.
  • Development of life skills

Studies have shown that involving kids in household chores from an early age gives benefits across their whole lives, such as completion of education, getting started on a career path, IQ, relationships with family and friends, and not using drugs. The researchers determined that the best predictor of young adults' success in their mid-20s was that they participated in household tasks when they were three or four.

  1. Why don’t kids do chores?

Even though parents say they believe in the value of chores many of us don’t ask kids to do them at all because

  • we think the child is too young (ask yourself whether you think young children shouldn’t have any responsibilities or you think your child is incapable. We tend to underestimate what a child could do when taught. In the past children took on many more of the household’s responsibilities than now) or
  • we believe school aged children have enough to do with school work, that this is their ‘job’ (this prioritises academics and sporting commitments over making contributions to the family. It begs the question of our goals in raising children –is it just to advance their academic careers or is it to raise children who can balance caring roles with work) or
  • they anticipate that kids will ignore or resist requests to do tasks and don’t want to be nagging all the time (it’s quicker and easier and a lot less aggravating to do it ourselves). Children will naturally resist doing something unpleasant or uninteresting unless they seem some benefit in it and because their brains are not fully mature children have difficulty envisaging future benefits from a present inconvenience. It takes maturity and a positive parental attitude to get satisfaction from a job well done and to take pride in the contribution made to the smooth running of the household.

Even quite young children can do jobs. 3-4 year olds can wipe down a table and wash brushes after a painting session, put away toys after play and put clothes in drawers, thus learning that there are consequences to their actions and they need to take care of their own messes and look after their own things. They can pull up a duvet and put a pillow on the bed, can put laundry in a hamper, sort clothes into darks and lights, feed (or help to feed) a pet, lay a table, take everyone’s plates over to the sink and even help vacuum and wipe down a sink after tooth-brushing. Doing these tasks will require teaching in small steps and supervising.

5-8 year olds can do all of the above a bit more independently and help unpack the dishwasher, assist in washing the car, put away groceries, fold washing, water plants and some dusting (watch the precious ornaments!) and gardening work such as raking and weeding (you may need to identify which ones are the weeds).

8-12 year olds can add to that list emptying the washing machine and hanging washing on the line, washing dishes and pots and pans, putting rubbish bins out on collection day, cleaning up after pets, helping with food shopping and preparation, wiping down kitchen benchtops and bathroom surfaces and bathing independently.

Teenagers can also gradually take responsibility for planning and preparing simple meals, cleaning the fridge, toilet and shower, caring for younger siblings and ironing.

  1. How do we get children to do chores?

The best way to get children involved in contributing to household tasks is to change parental attitudes to and language around them. Move away from a coercive approach to one based on connection and motivation. Maybe don’t call them ‘chores’, but ‘responsibilities’ or ‘contributions’. I found that when I changed my language around tasks my children were much more willing to engage with them.

  • Adopt a whole family approach to looking after the household. Everyone contributes according to their ability and allocations of tasks are made in family meetings in which the children have some input. Don’t just require children to do tasks associated with their own things such as tidying their rooms or making their beds but include jobs that benefit others too such as laundry or cooking or gardening.
  • Require everyone’s involvement. The adults need to be really clear about why they are insisting on this because they will need to persist. Accept that you will need to supervise for a long time before the tasks become habitual. This will take longer than if you did it yourself (and the task won’t be executed to your standards) but your goal is to teach your child skills and attitudes for life not to get the floor mopped.
  • Empathise that your child may not want to do what’s required and brainstorm ways to make it easier or more fun. What about setting aside some time for everyone to have a chore blitz and get all the tasks done together? Or putting on some music or listening to story recordings while you work? Or wearing funny hats while working?
  • Appreciate everyone’s contribution. Use descriptive praise to motivate kids to keep doing their tasks. Give the children a sense of how valuable their contribution is. 

When my son started secondary school he was feeling very nervous at moving to a much bigger environment. It seemed counterintuitive to give him more responsibilities at a time when he was already dealing with so much but it really helped him believe in his own capacities.

Posted in: Anxiety , Confidence

 

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