A while ago, I came across this article on how American children don’t do chores, for a number of mostly ridiculous reasons. One of them is that children are too busy for chores (but not too busy for gaming?) or that school is their real job, not chores. Parents fear damaging their relationship with their children by nagging them to do chores (I feel that American parents are more concerned with being their child’s friend and not the parent). There’s also the obsession with things they think will make their kids successful (extra-murals, extra tuition, academic excellence) so they let them opt out of the one thing that really will make them successful.
In a survey of 1,001 U.S. adults released last fall by Braun Research, 82% reported having regular chores growing up, but only 28% said that they require their own children to do them.
However: the benefits of doing chores are clear:
- Time management
- Reinforcing respect – for property, other people’s hard work, for money and time
- Work ethic
- Building grit
- Important life skills (laundry, cleaning, pet care, gardening, cooking, DIY)
- Sense of ownership (of their room, the family home)
- Motor skills (fine and gross)
- Delayed gratification and impulse control
- Teachable moments – cleaning is not ‘women’s work’ or just for girls: it is everyone’s responsibility
- Creating independent adults (self-reliance)
- Being aware of the needs of others
- Preventing a sense of entitlement
- Creating a feeling of being needed and part of the family unit, which creates a closer bond between children and parents, helping them weather tougher periods.
(All of these are further explored in the links at the end.)
One small longitudinal study, done over a period of 25 years, found that the best predictor for young adults’ success in their mid-20s was whether they participated in household tasks at age 3 or 4. Those early shared responsibilities extended to a sense of responsibility in other areas of their lives.“Happy Children Do Chores” – The New York Times
And I particularly like this summary of what chores ultimately teach:
The goal is to raise adults who can balance a caring role in their families and communities with whatever lifetime achievement goals they choose. Chores teach that balance. They’re not just chores — they’re life skills.“Happy Children Do Chores” – The New York Times
So what does this have to do with karate?
Parents enroll their children in karate to help them instill discipline, but is this being supported by what happens at home? Are they reinforcing the same message, or are they hoping that 2 hours a week in the dojo will magically turn their child into a disciplined warrior scholar? (Spoiler alert: it doesn’t. We’re instructors, not wizards.)
So as I do, I got to wondering how many of the dojo kids do chores: how many chores they do, and whether this is tied to or separate from their pocket money. I was also curious if there was a clear generational split between expectations of chores (everyone my age had to do chores, and definitely our parents) and whether Gen Z (and even now, Gen Alpha) do chores at all. Luckily, I have quite a few kids to use as a case study!
Because apparently I don’t have enough to do, I surveyed the dojo kids over the course of a week, getting 90 responses. It’s not a huge study, but I think it is enough to be statistically relevant. In terms of my data set, it does rely on self-reporting from children aged 4 – 18 (from movement ed kids to nearly-adults). It cuts across all demographics and religions as well, though I didn’t factor in race or parental income (come on, I’m not going to ask kids how much their parents earn). I sometimes got strange answers around pocket money, so there are some gaps. I know that, ideally, I should have surveyed the parents, but its hard enough getting them to return important forms, never mind fill out random surveys to confirm my curiosities and ideas.
This is absolutely just a rough survey – it definitely isn’t publishable, and it wouldn’t hold up to rigorous study. I’m the first person to say that. But I do think it is a good starting point for a wider discussion on chores, not just with South African kids, but maybe with kids around the world.
Karate tries to teach discipline, respect for self and others, humility and compassion – chores overlap beautifully with this. And so I decided to see if the kind of parents who sign up their kids for karate are also the kind that make them do chores. I think you will find the results fascinating.
As a side note: yes, Hunter does do chores, and has been since he showed an inclination to help (the dude has loved sweeping since he could walk). He helps carry laundry to the washing machine and puts it in, he carries wood to the fireplace or braai, he tries to help with dishes, he enjoys sweeping, he likes cutting veggies, watering the garden, and he helps feed the dogs and he feeds his fish. Getting him to pick up his toys, however, is an uphill battle. As much as it frustrates me when he does these jobs badly, I don’t want to discourage his enthusiasm.
Data also indicated that early chores were linked with higher IQs. This echoes the results of the longest-running longitudinal study in history, spanning 75 years, in which Harvard scientists found that success largely depends on individual work ethic, which is correlated with childhood participation in housework.Kids Who Do Chores Are More Successful Adults – Bill Murphy Junior
Chores in the Dojo
Cleaning the dojo is a common shared activity in Japan, from little ones right through to old black belts and instructors. Souji is to clean the dojo after practice, and cleaning is such a large part of Japanese culture that fans clean stadiums after games, and children clean their own classrooms after school.
If you are an instructor reading this, it is also possible to introduce the value of chores in your dojo. At the beginning of the year, we pull everything up and out of the dojo for a deep clean. The kids who show up to help are the kids that are going to do just fine.
Let the kids water the plants (we have peace lilies and a garden dojo), check that the bathrooms have soap and toilet paper, sweep the floor/mats, dust the shelves, clean equipment, tidy up, sort out merchandise and do stock take, wipe the mirror, take the class register; I’m sure as you look around your dojo, you can find thousands of things to do. And when parents ask why, direct them here and tell them you are raising responsible and resilient adults (and you are trying to emulate authentic dojo culture!)
Finally, The Results
Here’s what my rough study found:
(I’m sorry this data are not [I hate the plural rule around the word data] presented beautifully – I am not even a yellow belt at Excel.)
Of the 27 surveyed girls, every single one of them does chores (some doing 10 – 15 chores!) but 10 of them do not receive any pocket money at all. So that makes 62% of the girls getting money.
Of the 63 remaining boys, 30 did not receive pocket money at all (47%). However, of the boys, 7 don’t do any chores at all. And of those 7, only 1 receives pocket money regardless. So if we amend for that: 56 do chores, and of those, 33 get some kind of pocket money, allowance or tuck (58%). I would be very curious to know what each child actually gets, but I reckoned that was none of my business.
The boys tended to do fewer or no chores than the girls – as previously stated, all the girls do chores. On average, they do about 5 chores. The boys averaged 4 chores (the average was brought up by the couple who do 10 or more chores).
By the numbers:
Students who do no chores: 7
Students who do 1 – 4 chores: 39
Students who do 5 chores: 15
Students who do 6 – 9 chores: 21
Students who do 10 chores: 6
Students who do 11+ chores: 2
Overall, 59% get pocket money, and usually separate from chores (ie not getting paid to do chores), but some of them had their pocket money tied to chores. Some get a separate allowance or money in their piggy banks that must be saved. There is a much, much larger discussion on pocket money that is beyond the scope of this essay, but I would at least say that since parents aren’t paid to do chores, kids should learn that chores are something that must be done for its own sake. Admittedly, due to labour being cheap in South Africa, my American and European readers might be shocked to find out that having a domestic worker is relatively common, and not only for the super wealthy. It is a relatively middle class thing to have someone come clean a couple of times a week, or more. This also explains why in some families, no one does any chores at all.
Older kids definitely do more chores than their younger siblings (as a first born myself, I can attest to how the younger ones get away with less work!) In the sibling sets I was able to survey, the first born children all did more chores than their younger siblings (and in one case, doing tons of chores and getting no pocket money, while their siblings did fewer chores AND got pocket money!)
Overall, I was delighted to see that the overwhelming majority (93%) do at least one chore, and even some of the little ones. There was also definite overlap between their work ethic at home, and their work ethic at the dojo. I wasn’t at all surprised to find out that the kids who work hardest in the dojo and display consistent excellence are all doing plenty of chores at home.
How to get your kids to do chores (or do them better)
It is so hard to get older kids to do chores when they’ve never done them before. I know. Teens need to roll their eyes at you at least once a week or they might die. (Well, not dojo teens, because they know better.) But! It’s not too late to get them to start, or too early to introduce! I was actually inspired to finally collate all this info and write this blog post because I saw a dojo mom worrying that 3 chores was too many for her child. I want her to know that she’s doing the right thing.
I know you don’t want your kid to one day be the roommate, and later, spouse from hell. You want them to be self-reliant, and not call you from university asking how to switch on a washing machine, or boil an egg. You don’t want them to be a filth demon with clothes developing geological strata on the floor. You don’t want your son to be a man-child ruining their marriage one day. You don’t want your daughter to be a princess too precious to wash dishes, instead leaving them to develop sentient life in the sink. And most of all, you don’t want a spoilt brat that is uncoachable, unteachable, and later, unemployable.
Here’s how to get your kids invested in chores (and their future):
- Insist and persist until the chore is done. If it means the wifi dies and tvs are switched off, then that’s what it takes. I know this is the crappy part about parenting. I hate it too. But in the long run, it means you don’t have to keep parenting your 30 year old son.
- Follow the Goldilocks rule – not too hard, and not too easy. I’ve added a couple of posters about age-appropriate chores at the bottom of this post.
- Offer them some control – let them decide how they do the chore, which chores they want to volunteer for, and try to split the load equitably between siblings according to ability and time. If it means they do it with headphones and music, why not? A spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down, etc.
- Model the behaviour you want. Which is hard with some chores (I still HATE vacuuming) but it is important for them to see you taking responsibility and doing the job well. Why should they do chores when you don’t?
- Reframe chores as taking care of ourselves and each other. It’s not a punishment to brush the dog – the dog loves it and needs it! Helping with cooking prep is to show great love for our family’s health and wellbeing.
- Don’t swoop in and take over the chore if its not being done perfectly. This teaches them learned helplessness and it discourages them from trying in the future. Does this sometimes mean more work for you? Yes, but only for the short term. This is an investment!
- Chore charts break down big projects, and ticking them off is incredibly satisfying. Rewards are not the worst thing in the world either, if it gets them to at least start doing chores. Rotate the chores as well, so everyone gets at least one chore they don’t mind.
- At the right age, make them pack their own karate gear. If they forget it, that’s on them. They’ll learn quickly to take responsibility. (We’ll never kick them out of class if they forget, but training in school shorts is the pits.)
- Make it about mastery – applaud how they made the kitchen table shine bright like a diamond. Tell the world that no one does a better job of unpacking the dishwasher. Admire how they got a chore down from an hour to 20 minutes. Tell them they have a black belt in sweeping.
- Do it together – put on music, work alongside each other (where possible, I know things are really tough for everyone), but one of my very fondest memories is listening to my dad’s rock CDs with him while we washed the car and detailed it immaculately. To this day, I still find Zen in cleaning my car, right down to polishing the tires.
- When they are young, the size of the task does not matter, but the responsibility does.
Parents, you’ve got this. I know you’re trying your best. I haven’t got it down to an art, but I am working towards it.