Seeing chores as learning opportunities

Melissa Erikson

Chores are responsibilities, but they’re also opportunities for kids to learn how to care for themselves, others and the home they live in.

“Chores” may have a negative connotation, so it’s preferable for parents to reframe chores as performing routine tasks around the house or to help the family, which build skills and habits needed for later in life, said Gene Beresin, executive director of the Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds at Massachusetts General Hospital.

“When kids are given the time and space to take responsibility for themselves, it allows them to set their own chores — learning a musical instrument, playing on a sports team, becoming a school or community leader,” Beresin said. “Taking responsibility for oneself teaches kids that they need to acquire the knowledge, attitudes and skills for activities they feel passionate about. And the joy and positive feelings around mastery is really important for kids of all ages.”

Learn in stages

Children don’t suddenly know how to cook a family meal; parents have to teach how basic chores are done in stages.

“For example, young kids can start by carrying their dirty dinner plate to the dishwasher for an older sibling to put in. Then as a school-age child, they can help with cooking dinner — stirring a pot of pasta sauce or adding ingredients to a bowl. Then when they approach teenage years, they can start to take control in the kitchen and cook the meals (with an adult in the background for support), or when driving, help parents by picking their younger siblings from school or by shopping,” Beresin said.

Capable equals confident

A chore itself may not be fun, but children feel special when they assume responsibilities, Beresin said. All children desire to be competent, capable and effective at mastering skills that they previously could not accomplish.

“This adds considerably to their self-esteem and to their sense of efficacy in their world,” Beresin said.

Knowing that they are valued, admired, respected and praised for their newfound skills is a huge ego boost for kids.

“It’s essential that they are praised and thanked for executing these chores — they will feel appreciated and more willing to continue doing it and expand to other things,” Beresin said.

Little ones can help

“As soon as kids can walk and communicate, they are able to help with responsibilities around the home,” Beresin said. For example, young children can fill up a pet’s water bowl, water houseplants or put toys into a bin before dinner.

Leave time to relax

Kids are pulled in many directions. They need time for social-emotional learning and to manage responsibilities in other settings such as school, sports and community obligations.

“It is incredibly important that kids have plenty of time to relax and be kids,” Beresin said.

The bottom line

“There are plenty of important responsibilities at home, for oneself and in community settings. Some are great fun, some are not. When we help kids learn that an important part of life is assuming responsibilities, and they understand the value and necessity for this, they can feel that they are making a contribution to the betterment of all. And this feels really good,” Beresin said.