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Can Household Chores Build Self-Efficacy — and Boost Your Child’s Mental Health?

April 8, 2021 • Our Blog • General Health
Building self-efficacy can help prepare your child to tackle present and future challenges while also boosting their mental health. Learn how. It’s natural to want to make things easier for your child, especially during a pandemic. As a result, over the past year, many parents have fallen into the trap of not asking for as much from their children as they did before. While that may seem like it’s better for your child than overwhelming them with added obligations, the truth is that it can actually be a mistake. Without responsibilities like household chores, your child loses the opportunity to build the mental skills they need to tackle the challenges they encounter as part of their daily life. 

Understanding Self-Efficacy

Psychologists define self-efficacy as a person’s belief they are capable of successfully meeting the challenges or tasks that face them. It is essential to a child’s development and long-term success, but knowing how to go about building that self-efficacy can be difficult. After all, you don’t want to overwhelm your child or add to their stress, but you also don’t want their development to stagnate.  The important first-person accomplishments that help a child build self-efficacy are often called “mastery experiences.” These mastery experiences don’t have to be grand accomplishments by any means. In fact, something as simple as a child packing their own backpack, finishing a Lego set that was a little challenging, or doing a household chore like sweeping the floor can help build the belief.  All those little accomplishments then help build up a bank of skills and confidence within the child that they will be able to apply to the challenges they encounter in the future. Parents can encourage the creation of that bank by becoming detectives who notice their child’s successes and narrate them, saying things like “You did that all by yourself, or, “You barely needed any help from me this time around.” Then, when the child next encounters a challenge, their parents can remind them of their previous successes, saying, “You know, last time you felt like this too, and then you ended up being able to do it all by yourself.” 

The Relationship Between Mental Health and Self-Efficacy

Self-efficacy is an essential part of the formula of good mental health. It’s easy to see how, without the belief that you can get things done, a young person or even an adult would not only lose their confidence, but also their motivation to move forward. The plain fact is that humans thrive on a sense of capability and control. The result is that higher self-efficacy is associated with greater life satisfaction, self-confidence, and social connection. On the other hand, low self-efficacy, or learned helplessness, is associated with anxiety, depression, lack of hope, and lack of motivation.

Household Chores that Help Build Self-Efficacy

Letting your child do household chores — especially when you know they might mess up or do them less effectively than you could — can be hard. The good news is that the pandemic has lowered the stakes for some common family situations and has made the perfect completion of some tasks less of a high priority. Some household tasks that can help build your child’s self-efficacy include: 
  • Sweeping the floor. Even if you need to sweep again after, they can feel like they made a difference in cleaning up.
  • Washing or putting away the dishes or loading/unloading the dishwasher. Again, this can help a child feel that efficacy-building sense of accomplishment and helpfulness when they are encouraged to try this daily task for themselves.
  • Placing a takeout order. Instead of ordering online or calling a restaurant yourself, you can help your child develop phone skills by calling in takeout orders themselves.
You can even have your child help with more fun tasks like learning to dye your hair at home or working on a home improvement project. It doesn’t matter what the task is, just as long as your child feels they are completing a relatively challenging task on their own. 

Understanding When the Approach Works

It’s important to remember that this approach may not work for all children, and while self-efficacy can certainly have a positive impact on mental health, it can never replace treatment. At a time when so much is changing all the time, parents need to be on the lookout for any changes to their child’s behavior that could indicate that they are experiencing more serious depression or anxiety.  At Kids’ Health, a leading pediatric clinic serving the Beverly, Massachusetts area, we can help you determine when this approach can work — and when your child might be experiencing those more serious mental health concerns so you can take the right steps to help them feel better. ...