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Don’t tell the kids but chores are good for them … all year long

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Cal State Fullerton psychologist says chores build community and collaborative skills

If children’s seasonal motivation to pitch in with chores has you wondering how to encourage that “holiday spirit” year-round, you’re in luck.

What you do now to reinforce and encourage such behavior will set the tone for the months ahead. Yes, even in a pandemic, says Lucia Alcalá, an assistant professor of psychology at Cal State Fullerton, and an empathetic mother of three.

Alcalá studied how Mayan children from Yucatan, Mexico, learn to help their families and community by watching and participating in household work as soon as they can walk. Chores become second nature and autonomous actions — something the children do without being instructed or watched over. In contrast, her research of European-American children in some California middle-class homes determined household chores are more often tied to rewards or consequence. Some moms confessed they didn’t believe young children were capable of helping without being asked.

“As children integrate, they have a sense of belonging to a group,” she says. “The holidays too are a time of year that you want to feel a part of the group. If we can encourage the sense of belonging to the community and the family, and their development of a sense of responsibility and collaboration that goes beyond getting chores done, we might succeed in encouraging such efforts and supporting their helpfulness throughout the year.”

Chores allow children to develop initiative, be collaborative and responsible, and they don’t have to be tied to allowances or monetary lessons, she says.

Alcalá grew up in a small town in southern Mexico, where it was normal for children to substantially help with household work. She saw a different picture when she immigrated to California at 14. She envisions her work to be part of a new line of research that centers on the marginalized voices and experiences of children of color. The Spencer Foundation recently awarded her a nearly $50,000 grant to expand research in this area.

Her ongoing research focuses on how the forced changes of the pandemic are affecting households in the same Mayan town in Mexico and white, middle-class homes in California.

About Cal State Fullerton: The largest university in the CSU and the only campus in Orange County, Cal State Fullerton offers 110 degree programs, and Division 1 athletics. Recognized as a national model for supporting student success, CSUF excels with innovative, high-impact educational practices, including faculty-student collaborative research, study abroad and competitive internships. Our vibrant and diverse campus is a primary driver of workforce and economic development in the region. CSUF is a top public university known for its success in supporting first-generation and underrepresented students, and preparing all students to become leaders in the global marketplace. Visit fullerton.edu.

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