200 years ago kids mostly grew up in rural families. Everyone had chores to do, including kids. The reward wasn’t money, or a privilege, or a new toy. The reward was that everyone got to eat. If family members didn’t do their part to keep the family functioning, the house fell apart, there were no clothes, there wasn’t enough food, etc.
With the change to an industrialized society, children in affluent urban settings are frequently not given any meaningful chores that contribute to the wellbeing of the family. It isn’t that nothing needs to happen in order to keep the family functioning, but rather that adults assume all those responsibilities, while children are enrolled in more and more extracurricular activities and are told their job is to do well in school, and maybe, to function well in their extra, fun, activities.
Fast forward to about age 10. Suddenly, parents are frustrated with their childs’ “laziness”. They leave dirty clothes all over the floor, and don’t even put them in the hamper. They leave the kitchen a mess if they ever prepare food. They come in and leave a trail of belongings whereever they go, never picking up anything. They spend all their free time watching TV or playing video games, and when a parent asks for help, they roll their eyes, dawdle around, and generally don’t participate.
Who trained them to behave that way? THE PARENTS DID! Parents give the message all along that the kids don’t need to do anything to keep the family functioning. Meals appear magically. Clothes show up, clean and folded. The house gets cleaned. Food is bought and put away. They are driven everywhere, given everything. And then, somehow, parents expect that this child will mature into a responsible person who just understands that help is needed.
It really doesn’t work that way.
Teaching children to become responsible, functioning, independent adults is one of the most critical jobs parents take on when they have children. If children are given age appropriate chores early in life – making their bed, putting dirty clothes in the hamper, setting the table, washing dishes, mowing the lawn, etc, they understand these are necessary and important jobs that contribute to the functioning of the family, not “helping” parents, but doing what needs to be done.
The bonus for this? There are many, but 2 immediately come to mind; you don’t have to do everything and your child develops real self esteem.