Every parent knows that children benefit from doing chores to learn basic household skills as well as responsibility. Research also suggests children benefit from chores. For instance, research suggests that children who do chores have a greater sense of autonomy, improved prosocial skills, and greater life satisfaction.
A study published in the Australian Occupational Therapy Journal suggests in even more intriguing benefit for doing chores. This study, completed by a PhD candidate at La Trobe University, suggests chores may even benefit a child’s brain functioning. Wait…what? Chores might improve brain function, really? That’s right. In this study, the parents of 207 children between the ages of 5- and 13-years-old completed questionnaires assessing their children’s involvement in household chores and their children’s executive functioning—which includes their cognitive ability to plan, self-regulate, remember instructions, and similar mental tasks. Household chores included self-care chores (like making themselves a meal), family-care chores (like helping prepare the family meal or weeding a family garden), and pet-care chores. Here’s the kicker. A child’s engagement in self-care chores and family-care chores predicted their working memory and their ability to act before thinking. Specifically, children who engaged in age-appropriate chores also exhibited better working memory and a better ability to think before acting. Better working memory and a better ability to think before acting translates into better problem-solving, improved academic achievement, and even greater career success.
What does this mean for your family and your children? You guessed it. Engaging your children in age-appropriate and ability-appropriate chores can facilitate their cognitive development. It can improve their brain functioning. So let your children help you with household chores and involve them in independent household chores. Encourage them to join you in cooking meals, cleaning, or yard work. When appropriate to their age and ability, let them have the primary responsibility of sweeping, mowing, or dishwashing. Give them the responsibility of keeping their room clean. They may not know it, but you’ll be helping their brain grow and function even better.
Several studies published in 2021 (reviewed in Small measures can be a big help for children of mothers with depression — ScienceDaily.) suggest the importance of a mother’s support in raising children. Specifically, these studies looked at 120 families with 9- to 10-month-old infants in Sweden and Bhutan and 100 refugee families in Turkey with children between 6- and 18-years-old. The common finding for the families in all three countries was that children’s attentiveness, social understanding, and ability to make decisions fell behind when their mothered suffered from mental health struggles like depression. That’s the bad news.
But there is good news. When a mother receives support from her partner or if she had a large family or a large social network that “rallied round and supported” her, the child’s development returned to the developmental norm. In other words, a mother’s strong, supportive “village” helps her become the best mother she can be and keeps her child on track developmentally.
Where does this strong, supportive “village” come from?
A supportive spouse who invests in the life of the mother and his family is part of a strong supportive village.
A healthy extended family is another crucial aspect of the supporting village. Extended family willing to support, assist, and help while maintaining healthy boundaries is priceless for any parent raising a child
Social groups like those found in religious life or an active community life rounds out a supportive village for mothers. These groups allow for regular times of meeting with other supportive people in a common phase of life or who share common interests. They allow for the development of relationships that support us in our life transitions, struggles, and celebrations. (For more ideas on building a village for your family see It Takes a Village…Yeah, But How?)
If we want strong, healthy families to support our children’s attentiveness, social understanding, and ability to make wise decisions, we need to build a village for every mother, parent, and family. If you’re a family, you can begin by reaching out to build that village today. If you are part of an extended family, strengthen your relationship with your family. If you are a church or other religious organization, intentionally work to create a supportive community for families within your community. Our families, our children…our future…depends on it.
Last weekend we changed our clocks, “springing forward” into daylight savings time. In the process, we lost an hour sleep. That, on top of the fact that most of us do not sleep the recommended 7-9 hours a day, makes today the perfect day for a nap…and National Napping Day. Actually, every day is a good day for a nap. According to the Sleep Foundation naps not only reduce sleepiness, they also improve learning, aid in memory retention, and help us regulate emotions. Napping also strengthens our immune, reduce cardiovascular disease risk, boost work performance, reduces stress, and decrease risk of cognitive dysfunction. (see Benefits of Napping | Sleep.org ). In addition, napping as a family can help your family “get in sync” and in rhythm with one another. And, according to the “Nap Bishop,” if you’re looking for a way to resist the overworking mentality of our society that leads to burnout and contributes to oppression, napping is the resistance in which you need to engage. So, call the family together, grab your pillows, and resolve to take care of yourself. Take a nap.
I must be getting older because I’m drawn to a study when it says it there’s “growing evidence” that people can do things to “slow down cognitive aging.” That’s why I looked at this study. The authors looked at the data of 2,171 participants with an average age of 63 years and made an interesting observation about keeping the brain young and promoting brain health. Specifically, they were exploring the impact of having “supportive social interactions that included listening, good advice, love and affection, sufficient contact with people they’re close with, and emotional support” on brain health. They discovered that the greater the availability of one of these “supportive social supports” was associated with cognitive resilience. Cognitive resilience is a measure of the brain’s ability to function better than one would expect for a person’s chronological age. So, which social support helped keep the brain healthy and young? Having someone you can count on to listen when you need to talk. In other words, have a listen ear available is the one social support that helps keep the brain young and healthy. In fact, as early as a person’s 40’s and 50’s the lack of an available listener contributed to a cognitive age 4-years older than those with “high listener availability,” (AKA, an available listening ear).
Why do I bring this up in a blog about family functioning? Cuz family is where the rubber meets the road when it comes to listening. If you want your spouse and your parents to have better brain health-a younger, healthier brain in spite of aging-remain available to listen to them. The simple act of being available to listen can help your spouse and your parent have a healthier brain. Isn’t that a great way to honor your parent and spouse, a wonderful gift to share with them? Listening not only promotes their brain health, but it reveals your love and affection for them as well. As an added benefit, your children will model your behavior. As you listen to your spouse and your parents, they will learn to listen to their future spouse and their parent (YOU!). And, but listening to you, they will promote your brain health. Sounds like a “win-win” to me. The whole family benefits.