Want to raise your kids so that they grow up to become successful adults? Remember these four words: Make them do chores.
Granted, they might not love the idea, but scientific study after study backs it up. And now there's a new research project to add to the mix.
Writing recently in the peer-reviewed Australian Occupational Therapy Journal, researchers from La Trobe University set out to determine whether children who do household chores develop better working memory, inhibition and other functions that predict success as they grow more mature.
They broke the chores into three categories:
- Self-care (example: making their own meals),
- Other-care (example: making meals for other people), and
- Pet-care (as it sounds, taking care of family pets).
Then, they interviewed more than 200 parents of children aged 5 to 13, asking what chores they require their children to do, along with questions designed to evaluate the children's executive functioning.
The results? Well, we went two-for-three.
Indeed, children who were required to do "self-care" and "other-care" chores were in fact more likely to exhibit better academic performances and problem solving skills.
However, there was no significant correlation found for "pet-care" chores.
We'll get back to that last, somewhat surprising finding about "pet care" chores shortly. But, let's put this study in context.
As the Australian researchers explained, there's a long line of studies suggesting positive benefits for kids who do chores, beyond the practical ones (like, living in a clean house, for example, and having the dishes washed and the laundry done).
Previous studies have found that requiring chores is associated with increased feelings of autonomy and greater life satisfaction. Also, in the Harvard Grant Study, the longest running longitudinal study in history, researchers identified two key things that enable adults to be happy and successful:
- First, love.
- Second, work ethic.
How does one develop work ethic as a child? The consensus was that "having done chores as a kid" was a significant predictor.
"The earlier you started, the better," explained Julie Lythcott-Haims, the former dean of freshmen at Stanford University, in a TED Talk about the study. "[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."
OK, back to the Australian contribution, and the "unexpected" exception, in the researchers' phrasing, that "pet-care chores" were not associated with greater executive function while other types of chores were.
There are at least two possible explanations.
First, there's the idea that pet chores – things like taking a pet for a walk or filling its food or water bowl – simply "are not complex or challenging enough to aid in the development of executive functioning, compared with chores like cooking."
Second, I'll add a theory of my own: For pet-loving kids, taking care of a pet just doesn't feel like the same kind of a chore. Sure, it's a responsibility and requires a schedule, but it can be a lot more rewarding to play with a dog than to do the dishes or clean their room.
But, I'll leave it to you whether to exclude pet chores from the list. The dog needs a walk whether it's associated with improved executive functioning or not.