Building a Work Ethic: The Role of Chores

img_2695How to Raise an Adult by Julie Lythcott-Haims

I am reading How To Raise an Adult by Julie Lythcott-Haims. The book makes a great point that I have often thought about working as a nanny for affluent children. Compared to their less-advantaged peers, children in middle-and upper-middle-class families often have the tasks of daily life done for them by their parents, other caregivers like nannies, or hired help such as housekeepers.

When we do everything for kids, we do so with the best of intentions. But when it comes to getting ahead in life, skills like getting to places on time, being in charge of your own backpack or briefcase, and knowing how to cook turn out to be as important as schoolwork, piano lessons, and competitive sports.

Life skills such as basic grooming, taking care of belongings, making meals, and keeping the home clean — are things each of us must do to look after the self, which is, for any of us, our first obligation.

Extracurricular activities, tests, and homework are important, but equally important is that we teach children the skills and values that come from doing chores.

Through chores, a child will learn:

  • responsibility for contributing to the work of the household or the team;
  • autonomy in handling tasks;
  • accountability to meet a deadline and a particular level of quality;
  • determination to get a job done well;
  • perseverance when challenges are met; and
  • the value of taking the initiative instead of waiting to be asked.

How to Get Kids to Do Chores:

1. Model It:

Don’t tell a kid to go do work while you lounge on the couch. The best way to teach work ethic is by example. Pitching in is what every family member is expected to do, regardless of age, gender, or title. Let them see you working. Ask them to pitch in. When you’re setting out to do something in the kitchen, yard, or garage, call to a kid, “I need your help with this.”

2. Expect Their Help:

You’re not a concierge. They may not like being asked or told to do things, and they’d certainly rather be on their phones or some other device, or with friends, or really doing almost anything else, but they will come to feel a sense of accomplishment for having done whatever you’ve asked.

3. Don’t Apologize or Over Explain:

Overexplaining makes you look like you feel the need to justify your request. And if you apologize in the asking, along the way, or after the fact, you’ll undercut your own authority. Kids might grumble in the short term, but in the long term they’ll thank you.

4. Give Clear Instructions:

Figure out what you want done and say so. When a task is new to a child, explain the steps. Then back off. Don’t hover as they do it. Don’t micromanage. You’re not trying to get them to do it exactly the way you would. You’re just getting them to do it.

5. Give Appropriate Thanks and Feedback:

Don’t overpraise. When our kid does the simplest thing—takes out the trash, brings their dishes in from the table, feeds the dog—we tend to overpraise it with a “Great job, buddy!” or a “Perfect!” However, a simple, kind, confident “Thank you” or “Nice job” is sufficient.


AGES 2 TO 3:


This is the age when the child will start to learn basic life skills. By the age of three a child should be able to:

  • help put his toys away
  • dress himself (with some help from you)
  • put his clothes in the hamper when he undresses
  • clear his plate after meals
  • assist in setting the table
  • brush his teeth and wash his face with assistance

AGES 4 TO 5:


When a child reaches this age, safety skills are high on the list. She should:

  • know her full name, address, and phone number
  • know how to make an emergency call

She should also be able to:

  • perform simple cleaning chores such as dusting in easy-to-reach places and clearing the table after meals
  • feed pets
  • identify monetary denominations, and understand the very basic concept of how money is used
  • brush her teeth, comb her hair, and wash her face without assistance
  • help with basic laundry chores, such as putting her clothes away and bringing her dirty clothes to the laundry area
  • choose her own clothes to wear

AGES 6 TO 7:


A child at this age can start to help with cooking meals, and can learn to:

  • mix, stir, and cut with a dull knife
  • make a basic meal, such as a sandwich
  • help put the groceries away
  • wash the dishes
  • use basic household cleaners safely
  • straighten up the bathroom after using it
  • make his bed without assistance
  • bathe unsupervised

AGES 8 TO 9:


By this time, a child should take pride in her personal belongings and take care of them properly. This includes being able to:

  • fold her clothes
  • learn simple sewing
  • care for outdoor toys such as her bike or roller skates
  • take care of personal hygiene without being told to do so
  • use a broom and dustpan properly
  • read a recipe and prepare a simple meal
  • help create a grocery list
  • count and make change
  • take written phone message
  • help with simple lawn duties such as watering and weeding flower beds
  • take out the trash

AGES 10 TO 13:


Ten is about the age when your child can begin to perform many skills independently. He should know how to:

  • stay home alone
  • go to the store and make purchases by himself
  • change his own bedsheets
  • use the washing machine and dryer
  • plan and prepare a meal with several ingredients
  • use the oven to broil or bake foods
  • read labels
  • iron his clothes
  • learn to use basic hand tools
  • mow the lawn
  • Look after younger siblings or neighbors

AGES 14 TO 18:


By the age of 14, a child should have a very good mastering of all of the previous skills. On top of that, she should also be able to:

  • perform more sophisticated cleaning and maintenance chores, such as changing the vacuum cleaner bag, cleaning the stove, and unclogging drains
  • fill a car with gas, add air to and change a tire
  • read and understand medicine labels and dosages
  • interview for and get a job
  • prepare and cook meals



The teen will need to know how to support himself when he goes away to college or moves out. There are still a few skills he should know before venturing out on his own, including:

  • make regular doctor and dentist appointments and other important health-related appointments
  • have a basic understanding of finances, and be able to manage his bank account, balance a checkbook, pay a bill, and use a credit card
  • understand basic contracts, like an apartment or car lease
  • schedule oil changes and basic car maintenance

You can purchase your own copy of the book by clicking the links above or below:


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: