We had just finished a big family dinner at Marianne’s and the kitchen was piled high with dishes. Since she had three children who ranged in age from 11 to 17, I asked Marianne if she wanted me to call her kids help with the dishes. I was surprised when she said, “Oh, it’s easier to just do it myself.”
That was over twelve years ago. Today Marianne doesn’t speak to her son, her oldest daughter got pregnant as a teen and is struggling to just get by, and her other daughter is still living with her because she can’t make enough money to support herself.
Would something as simple as having her kids help with the dishes really have helped those her kids live a good life?
A remarkable 40-year study, by Harvard researcher, George Vaillant, says absolutely!
Started in an effort to understand juvenile delinquency, the study followed the lives of 456 teen-age boys from inner-city Boston, many from impoverished or broken homes. When they were compared at middle age, one fact stood out: regardless of intelligence, family income, ethnic background or amount of education, those who had worked as boys, even at simple household chores, enjoyed happier and more productive lives than those who did not.
“It’s not difficult to explain,” declares George E. Vaillant, the Dartmouth psychiatrist who made the discovery when he was at the Harvard Medical School. “Boys who worked in the home or community gained competence and came to feel they were worthwhile members of society. And because they felt good about themselves, others felt good about them.”
The researchers also found that IQ, amount of schooling, and family social and economic class made no real difference in how the boys turned out.”
Are chores, helping out around the house, and working important? You bet! That’s when kids learn life skills.
Three steps to getting kids to do chores:
- Understand the purpose. You will be more motivated when you realize it’s not just about getting the work done. You are teaching critical life skills – responsibility, competence, impulse control, taking initiative, problem solving and contribution.
- Make it an achievable challenge and teach the skills. Giving a child something that is too hard can be so discouraging that it becomes a daily battle and eventually not worth the effort. If you have your child help decide which chores they will take on, they are more likely to succeed.
- Gradually let your child take complete responsibility In the beginning, your child will probably need your support in learning how to do the job, and also remembering to do it. Creating a chart or checklist together can make all the difference. It is important not to use the a chart as a reward, but as a way to acknowledge getting it done. After a while, your child can make her own chart in her own way.
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