Why Chores Should NOT be Punishment

It’s common these days to have parents dish out chores like taking the garbage out, cleaning the house, dusting, or cleaning the bathroom as a punishment for some wrong doing.  Besides the general problem with punishment in general (versus natural or logical consequences, a topic for another day), there are some specific problems that come with using chores as punishment that I want to address herein.

Problem #1: It Treats Chores as Something Inherently Unenjoyable

One of the first things our kids learn is that chores = not fun.  When they make this association, it can remain for a very long time and our kids can end up struggling (as we often do) to get these necessary things done instead of viewing them in a different light.  As Mary Poppins says, “A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down” and household chores are no different.  For example, I can throw on music while dusting/sweeping/mopping, turn tidying up into a game with my daughter, fold laundry while watching TV, and so on.  In the long run, if we want our kids to regularly contribute to the household without battles and to be able to take care of themselves, we need to make sure these things are seen for what they are: Necessary and fun if we make them so.

Problem #2: It Ignores or Even Removes the Sense of Satisfaction that Comes with the End Result

Even if we accept a bit of the blahs while we’re doing a chore (even though we can make it fun, if we choose to), we are supposed to get a feeling of satisfaction at the end when we look at the end result.  Staring at a clean kitchen or empty laundry hamper or knowing all the garbage/recycling/compost is out and so on is a good feeling.  It’s when helps us approach the next task when we may not quite want to.  However, if our kids are doing something for punishment, that feeling is overshadowed by feelings of anger, frustration, and resentment.  Our children then can’t learn the feeling of joy associated with completing a task that helps the house function, whether it be your house as parent or their own down the line and this perpetuates a cycle in which chores are forever seen as negative and this is passed on generation to generation.

Problem #3: It Devalues the Work that Parents Do To ALL Involved (Including the Parents)

By associating chores with punishment, we as parents are telling our children that what we do around the house is hard and not fun.  We don’t see it as worthwhile work to be enjoyed, but rather something to trod through.  This becomes particularly salient when we look at the valuation of a stay-at-home parent who shoulders the burden of these “chores”.  As a society we see them as doing “nothing” all day, we fail to see the inherent value in what they do for a household, and here’s the real kicker: The parents themselves often question their own value.

I have met far too many stay-at-home parents who also feel like what they do is “nothing”.  The joy at the clean and functioning house is overridden by feelings of inadequacy because what is done consists of things often used as punishment and this can seem like we are simply punishing ourselves.  A stay-at-home parent is rarely (if ever) invited to career days at schools and children don’t often even consider the amount of work and effort it takes to do what these parents do.  Because children see these things as punishments, not work that is worthy in and of itself, they grow up viewing that parent’s role with a level of disdain as well.  After all, if wrongdoing leads to the child having to do the tasks the parent always does, it can flow quite easily to the question of what the parent did “wrong” to end up having to do these things every single day.


Chores are not and should not be punishment.  They are important and necessary work for the functioning of all families and households and this is something we should be instilling in children from day one.  Just as we don’t make paying bills a punishment because we know it’s important to our kids’ future, so we should be doing the same with chores.  Making sure kids have regular chores that they aren’t paid for or doing as punishment is critical to getting them to see their important role in keeping the house going.  They don’t have to see the chores as awful, but rather something that can be made fun if they’re willing or at least something that gives them the sense of satisfaction at the end of a job well done.  Perhaps then we can all start to see the value in the work we all do.

Image via Flickr/DavidReber

By Tracy Cassels

April 06, 2015