Kids who do housework from a young age

Family experts say getting children to help out around the house at an early age can cultivate a sense of responsibility and instil confidence and self-discipline in them

Melwani Erwan was about six years old when she started cooking rice on a stove under her father's guidance. Her family could not afford a rice cooker then.

By the time she was about nine, she could cook dishes such as assam pedas - a sour and spicy fish stew - for family meals.

Her father, Mr Erwan Agos, who worked in a small restaurant in his 20s, imparted his cooking skills to Melwani, now 15. He was a single parent before he remarried in August last year.

She and her two siblings have also been doing housework from a young age.

"The children came to an understanding of my situation (as a single parent) and supported me. I asked them, if you can do cleaning at school, why not at home?" says Mr Erwan, 43, who works in the distribution section of a printing firm.

Melwani's school, Stamford Primary, had implemented cleaning activities for its pupils before the initiative went nationwide.

Even I don't enjoy household chores, but they have to be done. It's about having the children contribute to the household, rather than having someone pick up after them.

MS LIM SU LIN, a stay-at-home mum


All schools in Singapore have implemented cleaning activities, The Straits Times reported the Ministry of Education as saying last month. The aim is to help students cultivate lifelong good habits. When school reopens this week, all students from primary school to junior college will have to clean classrooms, canteens and corridors daily.

In Japan, students traditionally do soji, or cleaning, in school every day, including sweeping the floor, tidying classrooms and cleaning tables after meals.

Family experts say starting children on housework earlier rather than later is beneficial.

Ms Sarah Chua, Parenting Strategist at Focus on the Family Singapore, says: "In a society where convenience is highly valued and having a live-in domestic helper is commonplace, children are at risk of missing out on the positive values and habits that come from doing housework, (such as) self-discipline and confidence.

"It's never too early to start cultivating a sense of responsibility in children. The key is to set age- appropriate chores."

For example, she says, preschoolers can set the dinner table with supervision and help to carry light groceries. Children in lower primary school can be asked to wash dishes and make their beds.

Those in upper primary can learn to use the washing machine. Secondary school children can babysit and occasionally prepare family meals.

Mr Edwin Yim, director at AWWA Family Service Centre, says youth and teenagers may not take to doing household chores they are not used to.

In contrast, when children are younger, they may do chores simply because, as with other things such as taking piano lessons, their parents ask them to.

"The key is communicating the purpose behind it. There are many long-term achievements to be gained, such as the cultivation of civic responsibility," he says.

Polytechnic lecturer Simon Eng, 42, started his two children on chores around the age of four, so that doing housework "would be as natural as brushing teeth".

His children - Isabelle, eight, and Caleb, five - fold laundry, wash their own dishes, wipe the dining table and, at least once a week, they clean the floor with a dry mop.

Besides learning responsibility, doing chores helps the youngsters boost their motor skills, says Mr Eng, who is married to housewife Karen Lee, 39.

He hopes his children will develop empathy by doing chores for the family and extend their care of the home to the wider community.

The family are already volunteers with their church, distributing bread to low-income households every few months.

The favourite chore for Isabelle and Caleb is washing their own bowls.

"We also learn not to waste water," says Isabelle.

Having a domestic helper can hinder children picking up the habit of doing chores.

Ms Lim Su Lin, a stay-at-home mum and freelance copywriter, found that her instructions to her three daughters to put away their toys, for instance, were not enforced by her domestic helper.

She also discovered that her helper would follow her youngest daughter, Hannah, then five, around to feed her, something she did not approve of.

Ms Lim, 49, finally did without a helper and became a housewife about five years ago. She and her husband, financial services manager Lynden Pung, 55, believe one parent should stay home to spend more time with their daughters, aged 16, 15 and 13, to nurture them and ensure they share their values.

Although she sometimes nags her children to do chores such as tidying up, she empathises with them: "Even I don't enjoy household chores, but they have to be done. It's about having the children contribute to the household, rather than having someone pick up after them."

Indeed, when Melwani started doing housework such as cooking and washing the dishes, she felt it was "a bit unfair" as her peers did not do it.

"When I grew older, I realised that doing housework benefits me. I became more independent," she says.

Doing chores runs in the family

Ms Tan Ai Cheng, 41, reckons doing housework has helped her children hone their problem-solving skills.

When Ms Tan, a part-time relief teacher, is watching a television programme and her younger child, Bethley, wants a meal, she sometimes asks the eight-year-old to make something for herself.

As a result, Bethley has Googled and tried out recipes for cookies and even learnt to steam fish. She knows how to fry salmon and to make dishes such as udon soup and scrambled eggs.

Ms Tan, who stopped working full-time after Bethley was born, says she cannot recall introducing Bethley and her older brother, Lambert, nine, to housework.

Our children need to be role models for these younger kids. The foster children clear their own toys when they see our kids doing so.

MR CHOA CHANG LOONG, on son Lambert and daughter Bethley (pictured)

Her children have been helping her with chores, including packing away their toys and hanging out the laundry "since they were able to walk".

The main reason for this early start is that she and her pastor husband, Mr Choa Chang Loong, 40, have neither a domestic helper nor family members living with them to help around the home.

Doing chores also prevents a sense of entitlement seeping into the kids' minds, says Ms Tan.

Lambert and Bethley perform chores such as laying the table for meals, wiping it and washing the dishes after meals, putting away the laundry, watering the plants, sweeping the floor and washing their school shoes.

Mr Choa says: "My wife and I grew up doing household chores and we expected our children to do so too. When we had our own place, no one needed to teach me to wash dishes or cook."

Sometimes, their household expands and the volume of housework increases, as the couple have been fostering children since 2014, taking in babies and toddlers for weeks or months at a time.

"Our children need to be role models for these younger kids. The foster children clear their own toys when they see our kids doing so," says Mr Choa.

Lambert and Bethley have also been cleaning tables and emptying dustbins in schools.

Bethley says she prefers cleaning up in school rather than at home.

She says: "I prefer school chores because my friend helps me."

Venessa Lee

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 01, 2017, with the headline 'Never too young for housework'. Subscribe