Not long I was talking with a friend about raising kids, carpooling everywhere, working, fixing meals, and all the things that fill our hours between wake and sleep. As I explained the chores list on our refrigerator that our children are expected to do to help make the family run, she was aghast. “My job as a parent is to allow them to be children, so I do those things for them,” she said. I was aghast right back, having never considered that being a child meant being void of responsibilities. I really believe that chores are good for kids and should be part of childhood, not just to help parents and families, but to build skills that seem to be lagging in a society that increasingly values immediate gratification and unbalanced return on minimal investment.
When a child is taught how to do a chore, he learns a skill for being responsible. When a child is taught how to break chores into smaller pieces, she learns sequencing and analyzing. When a child is expected to care for his belongings, he learns the value of things. When a child is taught the end goal of a task, then experiences the success of completing it, the dopamine rush in the brain actually becomes addictive to the experience of setting and reaching goals. When a child is faced with a hard chore, she learns teamwork, problem-solving, and perseverance to complete them. When a child is expected to balance work and play, he learns time management.
I do believe in play-based learning throughout life, but not in the absence of responsibility. When we expect little to nothing, but for our kids to play at leisure or busy themselves with sports teams or a screened device, because it is undoubtedly an easier way to parent, we are unintentionally training their brains into patterns that not only handicap them in the school and workplace, but fail to serve them later in life.