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February 13, 2014

Dirty work

Should busy, stressed-out kids have to do chores?

It’s the dirty work of home life: dusting the shelves, mopping the floors and doing the laundry, load after load. Yet asking kids to help has gotten harder for some parents, caught up in the blur of today’s competitive, time-pressed, child-focused world.

“Parents feel very conflicted about getting their kids involved in housework,” says child psychologist Eileen Kennedy-Moore, who sees a wide range of what kids are asked to do and how strongly the completion of chores is enforced.

Parents feel resentful if their kids don’t help, she says, yet many worry about adding housework to their children’s burden, already so heavy with school, sports and other activities that many don’t get enough sleep.

“It’s another thing on the to-do list, and it seems less important than making sure they did their homework or get to soccer practice,” said Kennedy-Moore, a co-author of “Smart Parenting for Smart Kids” (Jossey-Bass, 2011).

Miriam Arond, director of the Good Housekeeping Research Institute, notes a change over the last two decades, with parents now feeling “tremendous pressure” to enrich their children, hiring tutors before they fall behind, just for a leg up. And with many parents working, and kids busy after school, family time is more precious.

Yet kids should still be expected to pitch in, experts say. Through chores, children gain a feeling of competence as they learn skills that will carry into adulthood, and they benefit by making a contribution to their family.

“It’s very important to counter a sense of entitlement,” says Arond.

“It’s important emotionally because it gives children the sense that they can do something, that they’re part of the family, that we’re all in this together,” she says. “Emotionally, parents don’t realize that it is very strengthening for a child. It helps them feel secure, they have a role, they feel rooted. Sometimes parents feel apologetic about giving children chores.”

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