One of the best ways to help kids grow past their trauma is one that our society no longer values and many of us forget. Research overwhelmingly shows that our kids need to do chores, whether self care (such as doing laundry) or family care (setting the table for dinner). It helps them in areas that can help them build resilience and learn important life lessons.
I haven’t found any research directly addressing chores for children who have suffered trauma. Existing research, however, does look at how chores correlates to many of the traits that our children struggle with, such as low self-esteem, impulsiveness, and ability to focus. Children who have regular chores do much better in these areas, and there’s no reason to believe that the effect won’t be the same with our children.
Most of us have busy lives, and our kids often are just as busy as we are. Between school, homework, and extracurricular activities, it can be hard to find time to teach our kids how to do mundane household chores. The studies below, however, make a compelling case that we need to find the time in order to give our kids tremendous benefits.
A study of almost 10,000 children found that children who had regular chores had better grades in school, higher self-satisfaction, and more prosocial behavior. The study was interesting in that it asked parents of kindergarten students to report the frequency with which their children performed chores around the house. Then when the children were in third grade, the researchers asked the children to complete academic assessments and to respond to a questionnaire about their peer relationships and life satisfaction. Children who had regular chores had higher scores in all of those measures. In fact, the more chores the parents reported in kindergarten, the higher the children’s math scores in third grade.
It makes sense that age-appropriate chores can boost a child’s self-esteem. Completing chores gives them tangible accomplishments, and tangible accomplishments are essential to self-satisfaction and self-esteem. Chores will give our kids additional opportunities for small wins that can help them feel more successful overall.
Planning and Self-Regulation
A study from Australia found a strong connection between childhood chores and better execution function. “The researchers found that engagement in self-care chores, such as making themselves a meal, and family-care chores, for instance making someone else a meal, significantly predicted working memory and inhibition (the ability to think before acting).” The study also found better scores in traits such as planning, self-regulation, and focus. All of these are traits that our children who have suffered trauma struggle with. If chores can help with those underlying problems, then it would seem that chores can help our kids as well.
Better Relationships and Mental Health
An analysis of a University of Minnesota study of 84 young adults found that the best predictor of success, including positive relationships with family and friends, was that they participated in household tasks when they were younger. (The study also found a negative correlation when chores started as old as 15 or 16, but that result seems to be an outlier in this area of research).
Author and psychologist Richard Rende phrased it this way, “Studies that tracked kids for decades revealed that the ones who did chores had the most positive mental health profiles in adulthood, with more likelihood for professional success, better relationships and personal satisfaction.”
A famous Harvard study tracked both Harvard graduates and inner-city youth for more than 70 years. Not surprisingly, the study revealed that strong relationships are the key to strong mental health. The study also noted, however, that for poor children, “industriousness in childhood, as indicated by such things as whether the boys had part-time jobs, took on chores or joined school clubs or sports teams — predicted adult mental health better than any other factor, including family cohesion and warm maternal relationships.”
Taken together, these studies show that household chores have unique benefits for our children. Of course, correlation is not causation, and in most of these studies, there may be other factors at work, such as self-selection or other positive parenting techniques. Still, the cumulative impact of the research is that our kids will benefit from having regular chores at our houses. It’s a technique that we need to rediscover and use more often.
The next question is how we can actually get our kids to do chores, and that topic will be the subject of my next blog post. So check back on Thursday to learn ways to actually make learning from chores happen.