There is a video making the rounds on social media on the topic of children doing chores from an early age. Some appeared to be as young as three or four and as old as pre-teen, and were setting the table, taking clothes out of the dryer and washing dishes in soapy water. It became controversial when some responded that it was unfair for children to be ‘slaves’ to their parents who didn’t want to do the work themselves. Most the feedback was overwhelmingly positive.
In an article that appeared in the online version of Parents’ Magazine, journalist Beth Howard touts the benefits of providing youngsters the opportunity to learn basic ‘clean up after yourself’ skills. Much of what she shares falls into a family bonding experience and one that teaches children that everyone’s effort matters.
Per Marty Rossman, MD, author of The Worry Solution, “The best predictor of young adults’ success in their mid-20’s was that they participated in household tasks when they were three or four.”
Coming Clean About Cleaning Up
When Amanda was growing up, her parents modeled shared responsibility at home. Her father worked full time outside the home and her mother had part time jobs that enabled her to be there when her daughters came home from school. She then took a full -time job when they were old enough to be more independent ‘latchkey kids’. She and her sister were expected to make their beds, clean their rooms, set and clear the table, dust the furniture, clean up their toys, and put their laundry in the hamper which they carried to the laundry room, singing a silly song that their father taught them. Initially, her parents showed them how to do them, and then as their abilities improved, they stepped back without supervision.
These chores were gradually added as they matured. Some of her treasured memories involved matching up socks that her mother had dumped onto the dining room table and mixing cookie batter at the kitchen table and putting the dough into the cookie press… and of course, licking the spoon afterward. She enjoyed polishing the furniture and watching the dust disappear, leaving a surface that she could smile into. With her father, she would clean the garage, assist in the garden and vacuum (which he called “mowing the carpet”). It had a Mary Poppins feel to it, as an “element of fun” was added to these otherwise tedious tasks. What she also appreciates now, is that her father didn’t “help around the house,” as was considered the norm for men of his generation, but rather, he took equal accountability for the upkeep of their home.
When Jane became a single parent to her 11-year son after she was widowed at 40, she attempted to instill in him, the same organizational and cleanliness standards that she had, to keep her life in order during the whirlwind of change and trauma. This, she discovered was a herculean task. Throughout his adolescence, he would complain, “I don’t know why I even clean my room. It just gets messy again.” She reminded him that it didn’t get that way on its own.
She added her perception that the way someone treats their environment reflects how they feel about themselves and that a more organized space could allow him to think more clearly. She admits that she is not white glove clean, but when she adhered to the house rules she printed out and posted on a kitchen cabinet, her life became more manageable.