The world is a huge and daunting place, and even if our kids act like they’re ready to take life by the horns, there are some important lessons that they need to learn before jumping into the great unknown. Before our kids can become gold medal Olympians, the first astronauts to travel at the speed of light, or the inventor of the bacon car, they’ll need to learn how to keep their bedrooms clean.
According to a recent survey, 82% of over 1,000 parents said they had chores as kids, but only 28% of them require their kids to help around the house. The same survey found 75% of respondents said that chores made kids “more responsible,” while 63% said chores teach kids “important life lessons.”
This has also been true for my three kids, Abigail (16), Elliott (14), and Luke (6). Through regularly assigned, age-appropriate chores and rewards, they are taught a variety of life lessons to prepare them for high school, college, and eventually starting a family of their own.
As parents, it’s hard to imagine the day when our kids will leave home, but that day will come (and usually it’s a lot faster than we want). So before that happens, it’s important to foster the skills that help develop our kids into functional adults, and chores are a great way to teach responsibility and work ethic.
Here are a few examples of how chores are preparing our kids — young and old — for adulthood.
Chores for younger kids
Gets them into the habit of doing daily tasks
Our kindergartener, Luke, can’t mow the lawn (even though he would love to) and isn’t ready to open a checking account. So we keep his chores and rewards very simple: make your bed, brush your teeth, get dressed, and put your dirty clothes in the laundry. These might not seem like difficult chores, but they allow Luke to get into the habit of doing daily tasks that he can easily do without being asked or helped.
Allows them to exercise their decision-making skills
Like most 6-year-olds, Luke isn’t motivated by money because he doesn’t really understand the value of it. He’s as likely to think a candy bar is worth $10,000 as he is a car is worth 25 cents. As the youngest, Luke wants some control and wants to have a voice within our family. So when he completes a certain number of chores, we reward him by allowing him to pick family activities like watching Air Buddies (again) as a family, or having “Taco Tuesday” dinners. With these rewards, Luke can feel like an active member of our family, allowing him to exercise his decision-making skills.
Shows them that patience and hard work pay off
He can also complete multiple chores to earn a larger reward, like a Star Wars Lego set or a new Nintendo DS game, all of which require more effort and time. Luke might brush his teeth every day for a week all in an attempt to get a reward he really wants. He understands that hard work and patience pays off, and he will in turn consistently ask for more tasks to do when he knows there is a reward waiting for him.
Chores for older kids
Teaches them the value of time and money
For my teenagers, Abigail and Elliott, getting dressed, brushing their teeth, or keeping their bedrooms clean is no longer a chore. Though it may not get done as often as we’d like, they’re at the age where they do these tasks with little or no reminders. Instead we will have them wash the van, help reorganize the garage, take the dogs for a walk, or mow the lawn. While these chores might keep them from doing things with their friends for an hour, they give them the money to do the activities they want.
As the oldest, Abigail is not instantly gratified like her younger brother. Instead, she earns points (by doing chores) to pay for her cell phone plan or gift cards to her favorite stores. It’s a slightly different approach than giving her a cash allowance, mostly because we never have cash on hand, but also to keep us both accountable for what has been completed and earned.
Elliott has a similar plan, but his rewards alter with time. Sometimes he earns screen time to play Minecraft, or gets a pass to see a movie with a friend. For a bigger reward, he can earn a new game that he wants for the Wii U.
Soon (fingers crossed), the two will have summer jobs where they can make their own money and spend it how they see fit. While they haven’t had to manage money, they’ve already learned how to work hard and save to get the things that they want. They understand that if they want to go to the movies, or buy a game, or even get a car, it will require time, effort, and savings to earn.
Shows them the power of rewards and motivation
Whatever my kids choose to do as they grow up — whether it’s an artist, a scientist, an actress, or an entrepreneur — the skills needed to do those jobs will require practice. And practice requires time and motivation. But motivation isn’t easy, even as an adult.
I find myself using mundane rewards to help get me through a day, whether it’s getting an afternoon coffee, a new gadget, or even taking a nap, these little rewards can help push us through difficult tasks to reach our goal.
No matter how you define rewards, they are a great way to motivate your kids to do their daily tasks and create life-long habits — they feel accomplished, acknowledged, appreciated, and an important part of the family, which gives value to their hard work.