On chores, responsibilities and turning 7

A couple of weeks ago, I learned of a Colorado Academy Lower School student who was about to turn seven years old. I asked her if she was excited about her forthcoming birthday. I expected her to smile widely and tell me about her birthday plans. Instead, this wise six-year-old said, “Not really.”

Surprised by her response, I asked why. In one of the most amazing exchanges I’ve had with a young student, the girl, with great composure, sighed and said, “Well, getting older means I have more responsibility.” She went on to talk about her chores at home and how, as she gets older, she gets new chores.

I applaud this family’s approach. Too often we underestimate what children can do—even really young children—when we entrust them with responsibility. One can read stories of college students who arrive on campus with no idea about how to do their laundry or perform even the most basic functions of adult living. I think some families—knowing the pressure kids feel in schools—tend to lay off household chores. Yet, I believe there must be a balance.

School certainly is a child’s version of “work,” and they will have homework and other projects. But, things like setting and clearing the kitchen table, taking the garbage out, caring for pets, and other helpful tasks build character. None of these things take much time and can easily be accomplished before school in the morning or after dinner. Young people who do chores and pitch in around the house will have a better understanding that any well-functioning organization (like a household) requires initiative and teamwork. It also leads to a better sense of personal responsibility.

I want to share an article on a 75-year Harvard University study which demonstrates that giving kids chores at an early age helps them became more independent adults.

This article gives some advice to parents about what chores can be age-appropriate for children. Preparing students for the world beyond not only has to happen at school, but at home as well. Parents often find their lives can get a little easier with some help around the house.

As the former Stanford Admission Dean and author of How to Raise an Adult Julie Lythcott-Haims notes, “When young people have been expected to roll up their sleeves and pitch in, and to ask how they can contribute to the household, it leads to a mindset of pitching in other settings, such as the workplace,” Lythcott-Haims said. Not giving kids chores, she added, “deprives them of the satisfaction of applying their effort to a task and accomplishing it.” While, for the time being, that may be lost on our almost-seven-year-old student, I also want her to know, that the older we are and the more responsibility we have, the more we can appreciate every birthday, and each and every day.