In 1938, researchers from Harvard University set out on an enormous quest to answer a question: What makes us happier and more successful? Spanning nearly 80 years, this study in human development is one of the longest research projects ever conducted.
To get a broad perspective, the study’s 724 participants were selected from families with wealthy, well-educated backgrounds as well as from families that were poor and less educated. They were tracked at regular intervals over the years, with their lives recorded in exquisite detail.
An article in business magazine Inc. broke down what the decades-long study revealed: “…researchers identified two things that people need in order to be happy and successful: The first? Love. The second? Work ethic.”
The article went on to explain how having children perform chores was the best way to allow them to develop work ethic early and ensure professional success as adults.
The earlier parents start children on chores, the better, said Julie Lythcott-Haims, author and former dean of freshman at Stanford University, in a TED Talk. She stated that chores instill “a roll-up-your-sleeves-and-pitch-in mindset, a mindset that says, there’s some unpleasant work, someone’s got to do it, it might as well be me…that’s what gets you ahead in the workplace.”
According to the Harvard study, doing household chores or having a part-time job as a child, along with being part of a loving family, is a much better predictor of success than even social status.
For parents in God’s Church, the role of love—outgoing concern—in raising children is well understood. Yet the link between chores and future success could come as a surprise.
Personally, I can tell you that starting children on chores is not an easy task. I have also heard many excuses as to why young boys and girls are not doing any housework.
“I am just too busy to teach my child to work,” is one justification. Others find it hard to see their children struggle initially with a task and say, “My son is only 5 years old. I should make his bed for him.” Still others may think, “My teenage daughter is overwhelmed with homework. I cannot ask her to help clean the kitchen.”
These are just a sampling of the incorrect mindsets into which God’s people can fall.
The Harvard study tied love and work together. Those in the Church should agree—as similar principles can be found throughout the Bible. For parents, love for our children should drive us to teach them to work.
Tip the Scale
God expects parents to be closely involved from the start in teaching their children. Notice His instruction in Proverbs 22:6, “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”
This verse shows that teaching must start early and continue as your son or daughter grows.
The decision to have children includes a commitment to years of training and providing instruction. From the moment your little bundle of joy takes his first breath, he is completely dependent on your care and direction. The acts of feeding, bathing, changing diapers, and so on creates a special bond and dependence.
But, if we are not careful, a grave danger can be lurking in all of this!
Many parents—and this is especially a tendency with mothers—continue to do everything for their children as they grow older and become capable of doing more for themselves.
This tendency is addressed in a second message from Proverbs 22:6. The verse states that parents should train up a child “in the way he should go.” In other words, parents must help their children until they can stand on their own and navigate their own way through life. This can be a very difficult transition for a child (and a parent) and certainly does not happen overnight. It takes time and much effort to tip the scales away from doing everything for our children toward helping them become independent and capable adults.
Giving children household chores helps ease this transition and is, in fact, one of the best gifts we could ever give them.
Work is inextricable to life. So is money. Teaching children from an early age how to properly handle money is vital for their future well-being.
There is not a specific age to introduce the concept of money to a child. A helpful gauge is when he is able to add and subtract, and discern different types of coins and dollar bills.
Tying an allowance to chores is another motivating factor and benefit for children to work.
However, because our children grow up in a society increasingly focused on money and instant gratification, we must be careful not to reward them for every little task they complete, or to over-reward them.
Instead of giving them an allowance for personal chores, such as cleaning their room or making the bed, consider linking their allowance to family tasks, such as mowing the lawn or washing clothes. This will help them learn that recompense requires regular effort on behalf of others, and that there is not a monetary reward for serving themselves.
Additionally, having a savings account can teach children to save for things they desire, such as a new bicycle. Saving money will help them to understand that good things come to those who wait.
Be sure to emphasize the difference between needs and wants. That new doll house may be something your 8-year-old daughter desires to have, however, emphasize that she should consider getting things she needs before buying the item.
While children’s needs are generally taken care of by their parents, children should be taught to save for future needs—food, clothing and, at some point, higher education, a car, and housing—before wants—action figures, ice cream cones, and class rings.
Moreover, teach your children to tithe (and save second tithe), and to give offerings. God’s promises include our children, and keeping His financial laws will help them build a partnership with Him from a young age.
Another verse to consider in helping guide our children toward becoming hardworking adults is also found in the book of Proverbs: “In all labor there is profit” (14:23).
Notice the word “all.” Labor and chores can initially be viewed as merely burdens that need to get done. But God wants us to know and to teach our children that there is an important reason for work—it benefits us.
Truly, the profit or benefits of doing chores go well beyond the results of the work itself!
Young children are like sponges. They observe and take in information to learn how to behave and understand the world around them. The next time you wash your car, watch how your 3-year-old boy eagerly imitates your every action. For him it is not an unpleasant task—he just wants to be like his daddy!
Chores teach children roles within the home. They also show that effort is required to maintain things in their environment.
In effect, encouraging children to do chores makes them feel closer to the family. They should be told they are doing their part to help the household function, which strengthens the family bond.
Assigning chores and responsibilities can also help children build their confidence and sense of accomplishment.
Build Up Responsibilities
With young boys and girls, start with light chores. As they grow, you can give them greater responsibilities.
Chores for 3-year-olds, for example, can include putting their dirty clothes in the hamper, or putting their toys away. Give clear instructions, one at a time. Also, be sure to give loving encouragement along the way!
As children grow, you should have them continue with the tasks taught while they were younger, but add more errands.
For instance, a 5-year-old can be taught to make his bed first thing in the morning, and thereafter fix himself a bowl of cereal. By age 7, he should be easily able to manage setting the dinner table and loading the dishwasher after dinner. He should also be old enough to sweep floors, and sort and pack away laundry. This will show him the importance of and how much effort is required to maintain a clean environment.
Chores can also teach your children diligence and a sense of delayed gratification, two qualities they will need to be successful later in life.
If you have a garden, for example, have them help with seeding the carrots for your vegetable patch. They can assist with watering flowers and pulling weeds. Not only will they be able to eventually enjoy the product of their work, they will also begin to appreciate nature—and develop a green thumb!
Do not be afraid to test the boundary of your children’s capabilities. They might surprise you! On the other hand, be careful not to take them beyond their demonstrated capabilities too quickly.
Proceed with caution, for instance, when introducing electrical equipment or the use of potentially dangerous machinery such as a lawnmower. Remember that younger children’s fine motor skills are still developing. Very young children should be supervised with certain tasks, such as a 4-year-old using a handheld electrical mixer to beat eggs to help mom bake cookies, or an 8-year-old using an electric drill to help dad with a project.
That said, when chores seem overwhelming to your children, encourage them to persevere. Over time, they will learn to be responsible and trustworthy—traits that are quickly disappearing in society!
If you have consistently taught children to complete basic chores and helped them when needed, by the time they are teenagers, they should be able to perform most household tasks on their own. At this point, you can stand back and see the confidence they gained in knowing they can perform basic tasks alone. They should be fully capable of washing and ironing their clothes, preparing meals, and cleaning the entire house—whether mopping the kitchen floor, scrubbing the bathroom sink, or organizing their bedrooms and closets. If they are trained, assigning tasks can be as simple as posting a chores schedule on the refrigerator.
If you did not teach your children such responsibilities at a young age, it is not too late. Make a commitment today to give them more responsibility. Similar to dealing with young children, you may have to start small and help them at first—but teenagers can more easily learn to pick up and start doing chores.
Older teenagers should also be encouraged to find a job such as waiting tables or bagging groceries at a local store. This will not only help them on their way to independence, but the money earned can supplement their allowances (if they receive one).
Do Not Give Up
Let’s be honest. It is not easy to do daily, mundane tasks. Work is hard, and teaching a child to do it is even more challenging. To diligently teach your children to do chores requires a sustained effort. Often, the yield for your efforts only appears as they become older. But your attitude toward your job of teaching them chores will help mold their attitudes toward doing them. They learn a lot through observation!
Do not be discouraged if you are new to God’s Way and your children are older. Start where you are, and effectively teach them during the remaining time they are in your care.
Essentially, a parent’s role is to help children be able to survive when they are on their own. If parents do not impart life lessons to their children, they are left to learn these lessons by themselves the hard way—or even not at all.
A Mind to Work
Work is an inescapable part of existence. Jesus Christ said that He and the Father both work (John 5:17).
As important as work is, remember to expect participation and not perfection when it comes to children doing chores. Children are still carnal, and will take chances and shortcuts wherever they can. We have all been guilty of similar behavior in our relationship with our Father in heaven. Be sure to balance encouragement with correction! Allow children to make mistakes and learn from them.
For example, you cannot expect your son to make his bed in the morning as if he were at a U.S. Marines boot camp. After your daughter finishes doing the dishes, there will likely be a speck or two of food, and the counters will have a few stains or crumbs that remain. The same goes for other chores; sections of grass will be left uncut after mowing the lawn—towels and toys will be hiding under the bed after the bedroom has been “organized”—dust still covers difficult-to-reach sections of cabinets and bookshelves. In these cases, be sure to let your children know what they missed, but help them by demonstrating how to complete the job.
For teenagers, however, do not pick up the slack. If they did an unsatisfactory job, make sure they know about it and go back to finish the task. Do not let them settle for mediocrity!
Coupled with the importance of chores, teach your children that life, on the other end of the spectrum, is not just about work. Work must be balanced with proper rest. Teach them the full perspective of the Sabbath command, which states that we work for six days and we rest on the seventh (Ex. 20:8-11). Rest is commanded right alongside work.
Above all, make chores fun! If we as parents can succeed in teaching our children the following lesson, then we have taken a big step forward to help them enjoy and look forward to working. Notice: “The desire accomplished is sweet to the soul” (Prov. 13:19). “Desire” in this verse means “a delight” or the “longing of one’s heart.”
The pleasure created by accomplishing chores will help children desire to do them again.
Recall the two traits deemed essential to happiness and success—love and work ethic. Developing one quality leads to the development of the other.
Within a family, parents who love their children will teach work ethic by showing them the benefits of doing work. The commitment and time involved in teaching kids this helps develop the bonds and ultimately increases the love between parents and children.
Just as important, this connection extends beyond the home and as children grow into adulthood.
When children are small, they feel as though the whole world revolves around them. They believe the sun sets because they must go to bed and not the other way around. This inwardly focused mindset, understandable for a small child, unfortunately can linger as they get older and can easily creep into our families and the Church.
Because doing chores teaches children the importance of working together as a team, it will help them grow up to appreciate nature and show gratitude for the things that are provided to them. They will more readily look beyond themselves, and are better prepared to exhibit love or outgoing concern for others.
Love and work ethic are crucial traits God desires to see in His children—because they are His character traits too. Along with saying both He and the Father work, Christ describes both Himself and the Father as “love” (I John 4:8). The result: God is the happiest being in the universe!
To learn more about teaching children the importance of work, as well as other areas in which we should properly raise our children, review Train Your Children God’s Way.
As parents, teaching our children to do chores will help to ensure they have a wonderful future. It prepares them for their ultimate purpose—membership in the God Family.
Invest in their success!