November 9, 2015

By Susan Johnstone of Willow Oak Montessori.

One of the most asked questions teachers get in conferences is “What can I be doing at home to help my child be successful at school?” This is a great question because it not only shows advocacy for the child’s success but an understanding that a school/home partnership is the key to success in both places.

“Parents today want their kids spending time on things that can bring them success, but ironically, we’ve stopped doing one thing that’s actually been a proven predictor of success—and that’s household chores,” says Richard Rende, a developmental psychologist in Paradise Valley, Ariz., and co-author of the forthcoming book “Raising Can-Do Kids.” Decades of studies show the benefits of chores—academically, emotionally and even professionally.

Here are some of the best ways to get your children properly motivated to do chores:

Watch your language. In a study of 149 3-to-6-year-olds in the journal Child Development last year, researchers found that thanking young children for “being a helper,” as opposed to “helping,” significantly increased their desire to pitch in. They were motivated by the idea of creating a positive identity—being known as someone who helps.

Schedule chore time. Write chores into the calendar, right next to the piano lesson and soccer practice, to maintain consistency.

Game it. Like a videogame, start small and have young children earn new “levels” of responsibilities, like going from sorting clothes to earning the right to use the washing machine.

Keep allowances and chores separate. Research suggests that external rewards can actually lower intrinsic motivation and performance. With chores, psychologists say that money can lessen a child’s motivation to help, turning an altruistic act into a business transaction.

Types of tasks matter. To build prosocial behavior like empathy, chores should be routine and focused on taking care of the family (like dusting the living room or doing everyone’s laundry), not self-care (tidying one’s bedroom or doing personal laundry). Psychologists add that involving children in choosing the tasks makes them more likely to buy in.

Talk about chores differently. For better cooperation, instead of saying, “Do your chores,” Dr. Rende suggests saying, “Let’s do our chores.” This underscores that chores are not just a duty but a way of taking care of each other.

Give chores a PR boost. Don’t tie chores to punishments. Keep any talk about chores, including your own, positive or at least neutral. If you complain about doing the dishes, so will your children.

This excerpt is from an online article you can find at