Your health
By Sally Robinson and Keith Bly

What are chores and why is it important for children to have to do chores? Chores are simple tasks that help build planning skills and teach basic life skills. These skills will help your child for the rest of his life with such tasks as cleaning, cooking, doing laundry and household maintenance.

The better parents are able to teach these skills while the child is young, the more capable the child will be to do more complicated tasks later in life.

It’s important for the parent to spend time teaching how to do a chore, such as making a bed. However, it’s also important the parent not spend too much time making the child do it perfectly. It’s more important that the child feel he’s part of the family and feels a sense of accomplishment.

When your child makes her bed, a parent might say something like “I like it when you work hard to make your bed; it makes our home nicer to live in.” These kinds of chores and parental support help build self-esteem and help the child learn that working on a task leads to tangible and worthwhile results.

A small study at the University of Minnesota evaluated 84 young adults to see if they could determine what could predict that they would be successful. The best predictor turned out to be if they had participated in household chores by age 4. If chores weren’t started until adolescence, the positive effects weren’t seen.

John Cover, co-author of “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Families: A Proactive Family Guide Book,” describes four ways parents can motivate their children to do chores:

• Parents must be role models by doing household work themselves.

• Parents must share a caring relationship with the child.

• The family culture must be one that is cooperative in which each person is expected to work together and to help each other.

• Parents view chores as a way of teaching their values and life skills.

As a child grows older, the tasks can become more complicated. All chores need to be taught and supervised by the parents.

Here are some suggestions for chores for young children: 

• A 2-year-old can help sort the laundry into colored and white clothes, pick up toys and help set the table with napkins and some silverware.

• Three to 5-year-olds can set and clear a table, water plants, feed pets, make beds, match socks from the laundry, fold laundry and put it away, help wash the car, and help with the garden.

• Six to 9-year-olds can take out the garbage and sort recyclables, load and unload the washer and dryer and help prepare meals.

• Seven to 10-year-olds can help with raking the lawn and cleaning a room that is not their own, such as the bathroom.

 Additional ideas may be found at the Web site 

Sally Robinson is a clinical professor of pediatrics at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston Children’s Hospital and Keith Bly is an assistant professor of pediatrics in the UTMB Children’s Emergency Room. This column is not intended to replace the advice of a physician.