Chores with all members of family

Household Chores: Building Executive Function & Regulation Capacities

Throughout my almost 30 years working with families, I have experienced firsthand the value of expecting, teaching and supporting contributions to the upkeep of the home environment by everyone in the household. There is much published research about the benefits that participating in chores creates for the mental and emotional health of developing children and their families. The work is as much in learning how to clean a bathroom as it is building executive function and regulation capacities for everyone involved. 

Executive Function and Regulation Capacities 

What’s in a clean bathroom? The opportunity to build skills like planning, organizing, time-management, delay of gratification, compare and contrast to name a few with practice. Parents must consider, plan and organize their expectations in an age appropriate and reasonable manner first. This means having a foundation of chores that help maintain the home and are infused in the daily routine. Just as you would establish a routine to peacefully get out of out the door on time in the morning, transition back into the home in the afternoon and settle into bed, chores become a predictable part of the day.  Children learn incrementally so that they can master the skill and build from that baseline with additional chores and thus new competence and confidence as they age. This is part of our job as parents to help them acquire the skills necessary to be independent and competent adults.

I remember when I first took this on and I really never thought my four year old would clean the bathroom. We acknowledged that we want and need to have a clean bathroom for everyone’s use, so as the parent, the expectation was communicated clearly. Then we broke it into smaller chunks and tasks that would be manageable for someone my child’s age. We set him up for success with training and tools and recognized milestones along the way. For example, first, pull a stool over and use a handy wipe to wipe the sink area within reach. It was the perfect process for training and establishing habits. I was encouraged to see how competent he was in executing these smaller tasks. Once those were mastered, we added more to the task to build on the skill and habit established. We moved to wiping down the toilet, then learning to use the toilet brush and then “sinks and toilets this week please”. Then on to laudry, first learning to sort.

The Natural Outcome of Self-Regulation 

What also becomes apparent from this experience, was that the chores were regulating for my children. It gave them a kind of grounding in their morning, if they did them before going to school, or a reset after school from the physical movement when completing the tasks. Wiping, scrubbing, sweeping, mopping, folding, lifting, shoveling, pulling, and pushing all offered self regulation at the same time. We develop preferences about these activities because they impact us on a sensory level. So I still don’t like cleaning the bathroom, but rubber gloves give me the support to get the job done and feel good about it. The point is not that we love chores, but that we all contribute and experience the benefits from a healthy living environment .

Learning from the Experience about what Equity 

These jobs need to get done and everyone in the household can contribute in some way. In order for kids to understand about equity in their lives, they can experience it first hand with a household that is maintained by all members. These activities have changed; how I viewed my home, how it ran, how I viewed my child’s abilities and how many kids and parents feel more competent and successful. So much gained from learning and participating in caring for your home.

If you would like to learn more about the Family Consult and how chores help to build executive function skills or how to encourage your child to participate, please contact us.