ADHD News & Research

Chores for Kids May Improve Executive Functioning Skills: Study

Doing chores regularly may boost kids’ executive function skills — planning, inhibition, switching between tasks, and working memory — according to a new study not focused specifically on children with ADHD.

June 23, 2022

Chore charts, when tackled consistently, may improve childhood executive function skills. The regular completion of family and self-care chores for kids was associated with gains in inhibition, planning, and working memory, according to a new study by researchers at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia, and published in Australian Occupational Therapy. 1

The “successful attainment of these skills in early childhood is associated with later reading performance and mathematical ability and is a predictor of overall academic achievement in later childhood,” the researchers wrote.

The study examined the number of chores completed daily by 207 neurotypical and neurodivergent children between the ages of 5 and 13 in 2020, based on questionnaires filled out by their caregivers. The researchers found that kids’ engagement in routine chores predicted improved working memory and inhibition (the ability to think before acting).

The questionnaires measured completion rates for chores related to self-care, family care, and pet care. After controlling for age, gender, and disability, self-care and family care-related chores were found to significantly predict working memory and inhibition. No relationship was found between pet care chores and executive functioning skills, which was unexpected “based on research suggesting that animals act as a social support and can improve mood, which is associated with optimal cognitive functioning,” the researchers wrote.

“It is, however, possible that tasks such as pouring kibble or water into a bowl are not complex or challenging enough to aid in the development of executive functioning, compared with chores like cooking that require multiple steps.”

Cooking and gardening appear to be particularly beneficial to the development of executive function skills generally, according to available literature.2, 3, 4 In a study of older adults, computer-simulated cooking interventions improved executive functioning.2 No research is available involving children, “but child-focused cooking and gardening programs have found improvements in children’s self-confidence, self-efficacy, and team building, suggesting such programs have transferrable benefits that may expand to executive functioning,” the researchers wrote.

Additional results from the study showed females and older children engaged in more chores than males and younger children. Gender distribution was relatively equal (52.2% were male children). Most parents reported that their child was completing the same number of chores as before the pandemic. Approximately 11% of children had a disability: autism spectrum disorder, dyslexia, and ADHD were the most commonly reported.

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1Tepper, D. L., Howell, T. J., & Bennett, P. C. (2022). Executive functions and household chores: Does engagement in chores predict children’s cognition? Australian Occupational Therapy Journal, 1– 14. https://doi.org/10.1111/1440-1630.12822
2Wang, M. Y., Chang, C. Y., & Su, S. Y. (2011). Whats cooking?—Cognitive training of executive function in the elderly. Frontiers in Psychology, 2(228), 1–11. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2011.00228
3Davis, K. L., & Brann, L. S. (2017). Examining the benefits and barriers of instructional gardening programs to increase fruit and vegetable intake among preschool-age children. Journal of Environmental and Public Health, 2017(2506864), 1–7. https://doi.org/10.1155/2017/2506864
4Utter, J., Fay, A. P., & Denny, S. (2017). Child and youth cooking programs: More than good nutrition? Journal of Hunger & Environmental Nutrition, 12(4), 554–580. https://doi.org/10.1080/19320248.2015.11127

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