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Although most of us do not delight in doing household chores, we recognise how important they are for running the home.

By Amanda J. Pooley & Emily M. Thorne


Although most of us do not delight in doing household chores, we recognise how important they are for running the home. With modern conveniences like dishwashers, drive-through car washes, and food delivery services, is it still important that children complete time-consuming tasks such as vacuuming, folding washing, and weeding the garden? The research indicates a profound yes, demonstrating that chores are an essential learning experience; teaching children gratitude, independence, and assisting to develop self-competence. Due to the well-documented reluctance and difficulty getting children and adolescents involved in doing chores, several strategies are proposed which emphasise the need for discussion about the division of chores, relational rewards over material ones, and skilful use of praise.



The world is changing more quickly than at any time in history, with ever-evolving technologies designed to make our lives easier. Given this changing landscape, are chores still a relevant and important component of the lives of children? Chores are family tasks that require individual members to complete tasks, despite personal reluctance, which help the household to run efficiently. Much of the literature highlights chores as having a positive impact on developmental outcomes, including a foundation of healthy family routines which foster family cohesion, and has benefits for school performance. More recent studies have highlighted that participation in chores is decreasing across generations. As the evidence clearly articulates the significant value of chores as part of family activity, how can we embody this into family life without the inevitable battle?

Much of the literature highlights chores as having a positive impact on developmental outcomes, including a foundation of healthy family routines which foster family cohesion, and has benefits for school performance.


With modern conveniences, many historic household chores have been lessened, such as handwashing dishes and washing the car, as well as inner-city living reducing the household’s regular duties like gardening and general maintenance. Despite smart technology assisting busy families, some tasks will never disappear. Dishwashers still need to be loaded and unloaded, clean laundry to be put away, and the table still needs to be set and cleared.

Furthermore, children are busier than ever with extracurricular activities and schedules, which could be an obstacle to their ability to contribute to the family unit. Much of the commentary about current youthful generations hypothesises about their increasing degree of entitlement (1). One suggestion from the literature to curb entitlement is gratitude (2), the benefits of which help children to develop into independent, socially competent, and purposeful individuals. Research has highlighted how chores play a vital role in developing gratitude within the family, underpinning the all-important parent-child bond. A longitudinal study (3) suggested that through engaging in regular chores, children will learn important lessons about social justice and reciprocal relationships. However, the real challenge parents face is overcoming the association children have with chores being laborious and unpleasant.

One important aspect of chores is their ability to teach children about work, hard work, and how to be independent (4). In a study which investigated the experience of 90 90 “emerging adult children” (aged between 18 and 30) and their families, many respondents said whilst they were not paid an allowance for doing chores, it taught them to be motivated to do the work itself, rather than by money, and to contribute to their family. According to this research, if parents choose to provide a ‘wage’ or pocket money for completing chores, it seems important to have robust discussions about budgeting, financial goals, and offer the necessary support for sound financial decisions. An overwhelming majority of the current research (5, 6) indicates that paid incentives may diminish other positive impacts from chores, such as lessons about social justice and reciprocal relationships, and undermine a child’s natural propensity to help those they care about.


From the literature, two important factors have emerged that impact how beneficial chores are for children; regular participation which becomes inbuilt within a routine, and how the task builds supportive, positive interactions within the family (5). A child experiences the largest effect when they can see the positive impact of their chore upon their family and their environment. Chores can have a profound impact on how children view themselves. A recent study (7) asked children about their perception of their abilities. It found that children who regularly participated in chores had higher levels of self-competence, meaning they felt they could perform well at tasks presented to them and reported higher satisfaction with their life. Children who do regular chores have greater interpersonal skills, the ability to take on responsibility(8), and increased empathy(5).

Chores promote self-efficacy within children. When a child believes they can competently complete tasks, they are more likely to engage in further opportunities to show and build their skills. For example, a child who feels they can successfully unpack the dishwasher will be more likely to do the task in the future and may attempt other tasks, such as stacking the dishwasher, because they are already familiar with the task and equipment. If we consider the alternative; what message are we giving children if we give no expectations of chores or means of contributing to the family unit?

The benefits of chores are not limited to only young children. During adolescence, they become increasingly capable of making decisions that emphasise autonomy and identity. During this critical period of development, enhanced social cognition means young people are more able to, with appropriate support, consider the impact of their decisions and openness to support others (9). Young people who show kindness and contribute are generally more socially connected (10), and helping others provides skills integral for adulthood (11). In adolescence, chores should be related to the development of healthy emotional autonomy which involves decision making and negotiation. These opportunities for the family to recognise and value the contributions of the young person has a powerful impact.

The benefits of chores are not limited to only young children. During adolescence, they become increasingly capable of making decisions that emphasise autonomy and identity.


The following strategies are guided by the premise of children being more likely to participate in helping the family if they feel it is a reciprocal part of family life, rather than an obligation (12).

  • Re-framing chores from a “have-to” task (which with its negative connotations feels low reward and low motivation) to “want-to” behaviours. Rather than conversations about chores focusing on tasks and deadlines, use family conversations to accentuate the team nature of the family and share the. To emphasise a child’s role as a “helper”, ask them to assist you with a task that is central to the functioning of the family. For example, they could help you bring in the washing, or could unpack the dishwasher while you put the dishes away. Using praise skilfully, “you are such a good helper” rather than, “you did a good job with the folding”, will help build intrinsic motivation and encourage the child to see their useful and ongoing role within the family, rather than the distinct behaviour which was noticed (5).
  • With sibling groups, careful consideration must be given to ensure equal division, or the perception thereof, of tasks. One way to help with this is to talk with your children about their views about what is fair. Some sibling groups may feel fair division means everyone has the same number of chores, whereas others may feel age should help determine task division (however, high school students may feel they should get less due to more homework and personal responsibilities). As a team, the family should discuss and agree on a method to divide tasks which may include ‘turn taking’ and swapping of chores, using the division as an opportunity to learn more about fairness, perspective-taking, and reaching team consensus (13). These are all valuable future skills.

Younger children

  • Start early because research has shown children as young as 18 months are willing and able to pitch in with household responsibilities (14). By encouraging age-appropriate chores, such as helping to put their toys away and putting dirty clothes into the laundry basket, you are encouraging their intrinsic motivation to grow.
  • Have realistic expectations which match your child’s developmental abilities and experiences so far(8). For at least the first few times, do the task with your child and model the important steps. Praise their effort in trying something new, and over time, encourage them to do larger chunks of the task independently.
  • An over-reliance on rewards is not likely to foster a culture of helpfulness within the home as material rewards decrease intrinsic helpfulness (15). Using well-timed praise, such as when your child does their chore without prompting or tries their hardest despite a difficult task, will help build natural rewards. Remember, it is about how hard they are trying, and how they are contributing to the family functioning, rather than how perfectly they folded the fitted sheet. Other worthwhile rewards have your relationship as the focus, such as spending time together doing one of their favourite activities.

Older children

  • Capitalise on your adolescent’s need for autonomy by giving them some choices. Instead of stipulating when, where, and how, set clear expectations (16). For example, it may be non-negotiable they make dinner once a week and clean up afterward. Rather than choosing what they will make, allow space for creativity and independence. Celebrate successes, but support when required.
  • Rather than emphasising obligation, try to highlight mutual benefit for the family (17). For example, if your teenager is frustrated about needing to finish chores before going out with their friends, validate this emotion first. Try saying things like, “I know you want to go out with your friends, but it is also important for our family that the bins are taken outside before you leave”. Incorporate some warmth and humour where possible.
  • Help your adolescent to see the impact of their chores and how important it will be to learn. Work with them to learn household tasks that they will need to use during early adulthood. Teach them how to cook their favourite meal, how to write the shopping list, or what is required for car maintenance. Although they might be chores, you are also acknowledging your adolescent’s transition to independence (18).



Given the obvious and multiple benefits of children and adolescents engaging in chores, parents should consider the best way to arrange chores for their children and how they can support their children to feel successful when completing them. Not only would children have the opportunity to learn new skills, but they would also have the opportunity to demonstrate their important role within the family unit. Supporting children to understand why chores are needed, rather than enforcing jobs, may prevent arguments about them. By celebrating children’s attempts, successful or not, through praise and spending quality time together, they learn their contribution is valued and respected. The use of material rewards, like money, may be effective in the short term but does not help children to benefit from the emotional rewards of helping those around them. In a world full of convenience and short-cuts, chores represent a simple but effective way to help children build mastery, understand the functioning of the world, and reinforce life skills that will be important for them far beyond their time living at home.


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