20-year study says doing chores from the age of three is the best predictor for life success – here's why

When I was growing up, doing chores were just part and parcel of life. My parents ran their own business so helping out was essential – there were no questions asked, it was just accepted that all hands had to be on deck.

Needless to say, I got used to getting my hands dirty and it did me no harm – in fact, I would go so far as to say it instilled in me a work ethic which has put me in good stead throughout my life.

And experts would agree. A 20-year study by the University of Minnesota found that doing chores from the age of three is the best predictor for having a good education, a solid career and healthy relationships with family and friends in adulthood.

As head of research for the Irish Cancer Society, Dr Robert O’Connor has undoubtedly found success. He had to do chores as a child and says it was a vital component in shaping his attitude towards work and life in general.

“I was the oldest of four kids and my dad frequently worked away, so there was always plenty for us to do,” says the Wexford man. “I looked after both of my sisters – took them for walks, fed them, changed nappies and was the only one who could get my youngest sister to sleep reliably. I also did the dishes, mowed the grass, put the washing out, peeled vegetables and made dinner.

“My mother got very ill when I was about 12, so I had an important role as the eldest and did a lot of the day-to-day stuff. Then she got leukaemia just before my Leaving Cert so I juggled home and study. She got through that and I left home to go to college at 17 where I was well prepared for life on my own.”

Dr O’Connor says as well as promoting independence, his experiences also taught him to appreciate the benefits of hard work.

“Doing chores did have an impact on me – there’s very little I can’t do around the house and I’m a pretty good cook as a result of helping look after my family,” he says. “I didn’t know any better and just fitted everything in as most children in any part of the world do. I also appreciate the value of work and what money means.”

Professional artist and homewares designer, Deborah Donnelly, also had a busy role as a child and believes that her experience helped her to become the success she is today.

“I am the eldest of three girls and for most of our childhood we were a single-parent household,” she says. “So we had to pretty much fill a huge role as children and by the age of eight, I was able to roast a chicken and put on laundry. My chores included making school lunches and cleaning up after dinner – in between hanging the clothes out to dry or running to the local shop for milk and cutting the grass on weekends.

“I resented it at the time as my friends never had the type of chores I did. The neighbours thought we were great, but I always thought my mom was just lazy – I laugh at this now as she was far from lazy being a single parent. We also had students so there was a lot of running around after them too, so keeping the house tidy was priority. But it definitely developed my work ethic from an early age.”

While research certainly indicates that having to help out around the house is beneficial for children, a survey of over 1,000 American adults by Braun Research revealed that while 82pc reported having regular chores growing up, only 28pc said that they require their own children to do them.

But Donnelly, who lives in Dun Laoghaire with her husband and three children (aged 16, 12 and 10), realised how her work ethic was formed at an early age and has cultivated a similar pattern in her own home in order to instil independence and eventually success in her family.

“My kids are able to cook and clean and I get joy seeing them prepare a meal – although it can be hard sometimes to stop myself from ‘mammying’ them,” she says. “My eldest now has a paid part-time job so I know he’s a good worker and the younger ones know they won’t get pocket money unless their chores are done – we all have roles and responsibilities.

“I think chores are a great thing as they are a part of life and help build confidence – they are training for the real world. But I have seen a huge difference over the years as when my mother took in students years ago, most had part-time jobs to pay for their digs. These days, their parents turn up on a Sunday night with shopping – I would cringe if I had to do that for my kids.”

Robert O’Connor agrees and says his 18-year-old son has learned how to be independent, because despite modern appliances, being able to fend for yourself is vital.

“My son did and does a few chores, even though we have a modern house, so there’s a lot less to do,” he says. “Like me, he’s independent and can fend for himself alone, so I think contributing to the household with chores is an important part of finding a role in the family.”

Joanna Fortune, psychotherapist and author of 15 Minute Parenting says jobs are vital for children of all ages to help them become independent and self-confident.

“Chores are good for children – they give them a sense of responsibility and independence and a feeling they are part of a family system bigger than themselves,” she says

“But we probably do more for our children now than in previous generations and we also try to ensure success for them rather than allow them take (safe) risks and learn from their mistakes.

“So the best way to approach this is start the chores as young as two years old when they can carry their own nappy to the bin or help pick toys up. If you want to tie pocket money to chores, assign additional tasks that you can pay them for doing, but there should always be some chores that children must do without being paid for because your message is that being part of a family means everyone has to help out.”

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