4. Because kids don’t have time.
Our culture’s way of training young people to participate in society is school. They spend hours in class, and then more hours doing homework. If they participate in sports, music, or other activities, they’re required to spend a tremendous amount of time practicing. By the time they’re in middle school, they often have no time to play. By the time they’re in high school, they often have no time to sleep!
During the school year, give your child responsibilities that can be handled in an hour on the weekend. Then, as summer begins, have a discussion about responsibility and work out a schedule that asks more of your child. Take the opportunity while school’s not in session to teach life skills and have your child make a real contribution to the household.
5. Because kids don’t complete tasks thoroughly.
You can’t really expect your child to do a job as well as you would. You probably weren’t so thorough at his age, either.
Teach. When you teach your child the task, be sure to break it down into smaller steps and help your child master each one. Take photos of them doing it, even once your child can read, and make a small poster with each step.
Cede control: Once your child takes responsibility for a task, try to minimize your control over that task. If he knows you’re going to do it over, why should he bother trying?
Focus on the positive, so your child WANTS to do an even better job. Think about how you respond if someone criticizes the way you do a task at work, compared to when they find the positive in what you’ve done. So if your son’s dresser drawers are a shambles, at least appreciate that he’s putting away his own clothes. If your daughter takes forever to finish the dishes because she chats on the phone the whole time, consider that it’s really up to her how she makes the job palatable. And if there are streaks in the bathroom mirror, use them as a reminder that you didn’t have to clean the bathroom this week!
6. Because kids “forget” their responsibilities or complain bitterly, and we give up.
Kids have a lot on their minds, from the upcoming soccer game to whether their sister got a bigger piece of pie. You can expect to have to remind kids of their responsibilities. And you can expect them to complain a bit.
Don’t give up, and don’t get exasperated. Chores will never be first on your child’s list, and that’s okay. Keep your sense of humor. Then, when your child complains about helping around the house, or needs reminding, empathize and restate your expectation:
“I know, wouldn’t it be great if the dishes washed themselves?… Come on, let’s go…”
Post a written routine that includes the responsibilities that everyone has signed up for, and then be consistent and cheerful about your expectations. That’s the only way to create a habit, and what you want is a habit so your child does it automatically. After all, they don’t have a lot of incentive to put their plates in the dishwasher, so the only reason to do it in the beginning is that you’ll be in their face (in a nice way) reminding them until they do it. After awhile, it will simply be a habit — this is what we do after a meal — and most of the time you won’t have to remind them.
Remember that reminding doesn’t mean nagging. Which category your reminders fall into might depend on your tone of voice. Experiment with being silly and even ridiculous when you have to remind your child about a task, until everyone is laughing. The anxiety will disappear, and any power struggle will disappear. In fact, your disappointment about having to remind your kids will disappear. And once there’s lightness and fun about it, you might even find that your child no longer needs prompting.
Like the rest of us, when children know that doing something will consistently get them a smile, hug, or warm thank you, they’re more likely to do it.
By contrast, if we think they should do it without reminders, we get irritable and the whole interaction is fraught with tension. Not surprisingly, they’re more likely to shy away from even thinking about that chore, which is loaded with a layer of unpleasant associations.
Yes, it will take more effort to get your child to put his own clothes in the hamper than to do it yourself. But the repeated effort is worth it, because over time those tasks will become a habit, like brushing his teeth. Kids really do rise to meet our expectations, as long as we stay connected so they want to please us. And one day he WILL serve you a meal he’s made, and you’ll realize you’ve raised a young person who can take care of himself and others, who makes a real contribution. Congratulations!
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