Summary of

Opinion | Happy Children Do Chores


0.6 min

Children who do chores are more likely to feel a larger sense of obligation and connectedness to their parents, builds awareness of the needs of others, and contributes to their emotional well-being. (Because children who believe they are necessary to the family are less likely to feel adrift).

American parents say they believe in getting their kids to do the chores, but in practice this isn’t what happens — children hear messages about achievement and school performance more strongly than chores.

(I’m … not sure I believe this; the research is small and sketchy and I’m not entirely convince there’s a good effect from just the studies alone. I’ll toss this into the ‘will see’ department, though in practice, I’m most likely going to enforce chores amongst my kids.)


That’s a problem. For starters, chores are good for kids. Being a part of the routine work of running a household helps children develop an awareness of the needs of others, while at the same time contributing to their emotional well-being. Children who consider themselves necessary to the family are less likely to feel adrift in a world where everyone wants to feel needed.

One small longitudinal study, done over a period of 25 years, found that the best predictor for young adults’ success in their mid-20s was whether they participated in household tasks at age 3 or 4. Those early shared responsibilities extended to a sense of responsibility in other areas of their lives.

Just a small study though. But author is quick to point out ‘all the research in this area confirms what we already know’.


Children who help more at home feel a larger sense of obligation and connectedness to their parents, and that connection helps them weather life’s stressful moments — in other words, it helps them be happier. Their help, even when it’s less than gracious, helps their parents be happier, too.

But for all that their help matters, to us and to them, few kids are doing much around the house at all. In a survey of 1,001 American adults, 75 percent said they believed regular chores made kids “more responsible” and 63 percent said chores teach kids “important life lessons.” Yet while 82 percent reported having had regular chores growing up, only 56 percent of those with children said they required them to do chores.

Americans are doing less chores.

Between 2001 and 2005 a team of researchers from U.C.L.A.’s Center on the Everyday Lives of Families recorded 1,540 hours of footage of 32 middle-class, dual-earner families with at least two children going about their business in Los Angeles. They found that the parents did most of the housework and intervened quickly when the kids had trouble completing a task. Children in 22 families made it a practice to ignore or resist their parents’ requests for help. In eight families, the parents didn’t actually ask children to do much of anything. That leaves two families in which kids meaningfully helped out. (One of the young researchers involved called working on the study “the very purest form of birth control ever devised.”)

But many kids seem to be getting a different message. Richard Weissbourd, a Harvard psychologist, and colleagues surveyed more than 10,000 students from 33 middle and high schools around the country and found that almost 80 percent said they valued their own happiness over caring for others. Most thought their parents would agree.

Also: “Our interviews and observations over the last several years also suggest that the power and frequency of parents’ messages about achievement and happiness often drown out their messages about concern for others,” Dr. Weissbourd said.

Although household chores seem like a small thing, the subtle but pervasive message of requiring them isn’t small at all. Requiring a high schooler to contribute to the family well-being and the smooth running of the household before turning his attention to his books conveys the value you place on that contribution.

unfortunately, getting children to do chores is an incredibly simple two-step process: insist, and persist, until the chore is done.

Accept no excuses. Don’t worry if you must repeat yourself again and again. If you’re spending more time getting the child to do this job than it would take to do it yourself, then you’re doing it right. Getting children to do chores without nagging — that’s an entirely separate endeavor. Right now the goal is the chore.

Can an allowance help? Maybe. But if you’re trying to teach kids to share the responsibility of a home, paying them for routine chores is not the right message. After all, no one pays you to unload your own dishwasher, and no one ever will.