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How cleaning your bathroom as a child can lead to success in adulthood

By Lois M. Collins@loisco
Published: Sept. 1, 2016 10:35 a.m.
Ravell Call, Deseret News
Makenzie Larsen puts away dishes while doing chores at her home in Midvale on Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2016.

Saturday morning at the Larsen home finds everyone working. Ayden, 9, has a bathroom to clean
counter, sink, mirror, toilet. Austin, 7, does the smaller bathroom. Makenzie, 5, wipes all the appliance
fronts. Each will empty three wastebaskets. Later, the two older boys will mow half the lawn apiece
while their dad, Brandon, edges and weeds.

Andrew, 3, is supposed to help with little tasks like folding washrags, but hes as apt to flash an
innocent smile and wander off. Sometimes he escapes chores, briefly, if his mom Haley is busy with
year-old baby Justin.

Keeping the South Jordan, Utah, home in order is a team effort, but Brandon and Haley Larsen aren't
just hoping for tidiness. They could clean it more quickly and thoroughly themselves. They believe
having kids do chores builds responsible, caring citizens, one small task and one small person at a
time.

Research says it will work. Marty Rossman, emeritus professor at the University of Minnesota and a
chore expert, has said the surest way to predict success as a young adult is whether one helped
around the house as a toddler. Those who worked fare better academically and are more self-
sufficient, compared to those who didnt have chores.

According to her research, "involving children in household tasks at an early age can have a positive
impact later in life," from competence to independence and enduring self-worth. Doing chores builds
empathy and values. The skills themselves enable a child to later manage whatever household tasks
come up.

Want kids to excel at math and handle the toughest assignments in their jobs when they grow up?
Want to help kids flourish in college? How about providing a self-esteem boost and a sense of calm
and order? Experts say doing chores helps kids with all those things.

Despite all the evidence of the longterm positive impacts of chores, a poll last year by Braun
Research found 82 percent of adults said theyd done chores as children, but only 28 percent said
their kids are expected to do them.

Value beyond clean

Meredith Sinclair, educator, parenting expert, consultant to The Genius of Play, an online resource for
parents, and author of Well Played, lists confidence as an early benefit of doing chores, leading to
exploration and persistence. Helpers can master frustration when faced with choosing between giving
up or trying again.

A 2006 Harvard study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry that followed nearly 500 inner-
city males from age 14 to 47 found learning how to work as children was better than nearly any factor
including social class and family problems at predicting if they'd be successful adults, with good
mental health and a capacity for personal relationships.

Sinclair and other child development experts note one of a parent's most important tasks is preparing
a child to become someone who can stand on his own, from managing money and making wise
choices to cleaning the fridge. Sinclair has given young people in her life including students and
her two sons, now teens doable expectations to meet at different ages. But she warns adults not
to be frustrated when things arent done exactly right at first.

Its not about that right away; its about showing them how to do it and letting them manage, even if
its not perfect at the end of it, said Sinclair. As they get older, you can up the ante on standards.

Nouns and verbs

Researchers have found the words adults use matter to children even 4-year-olds, said Allison
Master, a research scientist at the University of Washington. Researchers got different results when
they talked to kids about helping a verb and about being a helper a noun.

She said asking children "Would you like to be a helper?" was more effective than asking them to
help. "When we made it about something that you are, rather than something that you do, the kids
were more motivated," she said.

They gave a group of 4-year-olds and another group of 5- and 6-year-olds several opportunities to
help, first in a lab and then in spare rooms at the children's schools. The "helpers" did. "We had a
specific script that we followed for each child with opportunities to help: picking up blocks that were
already on the floor, trying to open a bin when our hands were full, putting away some toys when it
was time for a new activity and 'accidentally' knocking crayons on the floor."

She warned that a child who doesnt want to be a helper wont help. But when it works, its very
effective, Master said.

We all want to feel good about ourselves, to feel like we are good people. Even very young children
want that. When youre a helper, your parents are going to be happier with you, youll be proud of
yourself it carries good things with it, she said.

But she cautions against labeling the caliber of help. We dont want to encourage parents to praise
children for being good helpers. If children feel theyre not a good helper, they feel bad about
themselves. Just let them decide they want to be a helper and try to live up to that goal, she said.
Dr. Joseph Shrand, author and chief of adolescent psychiatry at High Point Treatment Centers in
Brockton, Massachusetts, would change the language in other ways. Do not refer to these as
chores, which sounds like something onerous to perform. Instead, call them responsibilities or
contributions, as that is what we want our kids to be: responsible and contributing members of our
family and society.

Start with fun

Many homes are chaotic, crowded, noisy and have no set routines, said Varda Meyers Epstein, mom
of 12, grandmother of 11 and a parenting expert for Kars4Kids.org. She said researchers have linked
household chaos to poor academic outcomes, poor behavior and poor health in children. Getting the
kids to help out is important. Children should feel as if they have something important to contribute to
their home environment," she said. "This is good for them."

Preschoolers naturally want to help, to feel independent and important. Even that young, they can
help with chores, Sinclair said. They begin wanting to do things themselves, to be part of what makes
the family work. They don't want everything done for them.

She said young kids love to role play, to have a little broom that looks like moms and dads, a little
vacuum, even if it doesnt work. Kids figure out the world through imitation.

She teaches real-life skills by incorporating unstructured play. Her boys made hoops tossing rolled-
up socks into the washer. At the grocery store, items on the shopping list were prized goods in a
treasure hunt. When they were really little, her grocery list had pictures instead of words so they could
help shop. At home, they picked a song and raced to clean the playroom before the music stopped.
They were a team, not competitors. Sinclair said making chores something with winners and losers
isnt helpful.

The genius of using play to facilitate chores, she added, is how rich it is in language development, in
skill building. Fine motor and gross motor skills are both developed by tasks.
Getting started

Haley Larsen, 29, home-schools her kids, while Brandon, 32, works full time in the foreign currency
market. They started teaching Ayden to help very young. Doing laundry, Haley showed him how to
fold clean rags. Chores are a companionable part of their family lives, she said.

Its family culture, and I think its a lot easier for kids to do chores when they know its a family effort
and its part of what you do to keep the home, said Haley Larsen, who added when home is in order,
relationships are more harmonious.

The little Larsens learned to load parts of the dishwasher they could reach and to take out the
garbage. Theyve been doing it for so long, theres no battle over chores. Theyre not perfect
children, but I think it runs pretty smoothly. Theyre all doing their part and they can see mom and dad
doing their part, as well.

Ayden at 9 can bake bread, clean the bathroom, vacuum, sweep, fold and put away his laundry, load
the dishwasher and mow the lawn, among others. His mom says school is easier, because hes
learned to work hard.

2 comments on this story


Do the kids love every task? Not even close. None likes sweeping or wiping off the table. Loading
gooey dishes in the dishwasher is gross. They all love to vacuum or clean the floor.

Their specific chores are based on age: Everyone makes the bed, cleans the room, gets dressed.
They graduate into increasingly tricky jobs as they grow. Haley sorts finished laundry into personal
bins and the kids fold and put them away, except the 3-year-old, who helps his mom.

Sometimes, they race the clock together. Haley is sometimes amazed at how much can be done in
10 minutes if everyone digs in.