Kids who do chores

What do all successful people have in common? (a) Love. (b) Work ethic. Here's one theory on how to improve the odds your kids will get them both.

Welcome to everyone who signed up for Understandably over the weekend!

I’ve got a few things going on today, so this morning's newsletter is kind of a “greatest hit” from 2017 that I’ve wanted to share.

Every once in a while, someone finds it, and it completely blows up on Facebook. As a result, millions of people have read it. Another 50,000+ downloaded a free ebook that I included in it called How to Raise Successful Kids.

It’s a short article, based on a few things I pulled together suggesting that kids whose parents make them do chores wind up more successful as adults.

No, it’s not exactly a double-blind scientific study, and it’s not meant to be. But people seem to find some common sense in it. I’ll be interested to hear what you think.

Here’s the article:

Want your kids to grow up to be successful? Make them do chores.

When they balk (and trust me: they will probably balk), you can tell them that scientific research supports you.

It sounds great, and it's true—but there is a catch. (We'll get to that in a minute.) For now, the background.

In the Harvard Grant Study, the longest running longitudinal study in history, (spanning 75 years and counting--from 1938 to the present), researchers identified two things that people need in order to be happy and successful:

The first? Love.

The second? Work ethic.

And what's the best way to develop work ethic in young people? Based on the experiences of the 724 high-achievers who were part of the study (including people like future-President Kennedy and Ben Bradlee, the Watergate-era editor of The Washington Post) there's a consensus.

A "pitch-in" mindset

"[The study] found that professional success in life, which is what we want for our kids ... comes from having done chores as a kid," says Julie Lythcott-Haims, in her 2011 TED talk.

(Lythcott-Haims is the author of How to Raise an Adult, and the former dean of freshman at Stanford University. You can read more about her advice in my free-ebook, How to Raise Successful Kids.)

"The earlier you started, the better," Lythcott-Haims continued. (You can see her whole TED talk here.) "[A] roll-up-your-sleeves- and-pitch-in mindset, a mindset that says, there's some unpleasant work, someone's got to do it, it might as well be me ... that's what gets you ahead in the workplace."

The catch

Okay, here's the drawback. It's that having your kids do chores doesn't necessarily wind up being less work for you as a parent.

My colleague Valerie Williams at Scary Mommy recently put it succinctly and memorably:

"That's cool, research lady. It really does make sense. But do you have any idea how much [stuff] we already have to beg our kids to do any given day?

I called today a victory because both of my kids brushed their teeth the first time I asked and haven't killed each other yet on this, the fifth day of their week off from school. If I asked them to do chores, they'd listen, but they'd whine. And they'd do a shoddy job.

Ain't no momma got time for that noise. ... Have you seen the results when a child sweeps the floor?"

Yes, it's tougher than it seems at first glance. But—and here's an analogy I'll probably never get to make again—it reminds me of my days writing about military counterinsurgency and the U.S. occupation of Iraq.

Sometimes, even if you could do a job perfectly, you have to let someone else do it just-barely-passably, if you want that other person learn from the experience.

It's the same principle whether we're talking about U.S. soldiers training the Iraqi Army, or parents letting their kids empty the dishwasher.

Because, as Lythcott-Haims told Tech Insider"By making them do chores -- taking out the garbage, doing their own laundry -- they realize I have to do the work of life in order to be part of life. It's not just about me and what I need in this moment."

7 other things worth a click

  1. Worldwide map of coronavirus outbreak by Johns Hopkins CSSE. Seems legit. (

  2. United Airlines is offering pilots a paid month off (at lower pay) as it deals with canceled flights and upended schedules as a result of coronavirus. (Paddle Your Own Kanoo)

  3. Coronavirus has likely been spreading for weeks in Washington State without anyone noticing. Rhode Island, New York and New Jersey now have confirmed cases. (The Washington Post)

  4. Um... the same workers who are least likely to have good health insurance are the ones who won't be able to take paid time off or work from home. (The New York Times)

  5. Super Tuesday is today. Pete Buttigieg dropped out. Biden is rising, but nobody knows if it's too little too late. Sanders has been campaigning in California since 2016. Stay tuned. (Reuters)

  6. The founder of Trader Joe's died over the weekend. (The New York Times)

  7. I thought the CEO of American Airlines made a really good point here. (Not everyone agrees.) (

Photo credit: Jenny Lee Silver on Flickr. As noted, this post is a variation of one that previously ran on Ideas and feedback actively solicited. If you haven’t subscribed, please do so! (You can also just send an email to

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