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Science Has Figured Out the Best Age for Kids to Start Doing Chores

If you need a reason to establish a regimen of chores for your kids, beyond “These rugs won’t vacuum themselves,” science has your back. Research shows that cleaning the house, taking out trash, washing windows, or whatever else you might throw at the buggers instills a sense of mastery, self-reliance, responsibility, empathy, and respect for others — and the sooner you start, the better.

The study, which checked in with 84 kids during preschool and then at ages 10 and 15, and again in their mid-20s, found that the ones who began chores at ages 3 and 4 were more likely to have good relationships, achieve academic success, and be self-sufficient than those who started as teens or had none at all.

Even better for your lawn? According to Richard Rende, a developmental psychologist in Paradise Valley, Arizona, and co-author of the forthcoming book Raising Can-Do Kids, doing chores may actually be a better strategy for long-term positive social and academic outcomes than whatever extracurricular activities your kids are doing that make them too busy for chores. “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,” he says.

Actually getting them to do their chores is a much less scientific challenge, but here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it: Thanking your kids for “being a helper” creates positive identity. Saying “Let’s do our chores” underscores cooperation. Complaining about your chores guarantees they will, too.
  • Prioritize chore time: It should be seen as equal in importance to oboe practice or the amateur Audubon society picnic.
  • Turn chores into a game: “Did you know the world record for bringing the trash and recycling to the curb is 48.7 seconds? Think you can beat that?”
  • Focus on the family: Whatever you have them doing, it should benefit everyone in the family and not just them (or you).