Kids Won’t Do Chores

Q: My kids never help around the house unless I berate them into doing so. I know this is my fault as much as theirs, and it’s not a particularly effective parenting technique, but I want to turn it around. How can I get my kids to carry their weight without me having to hound them into doing their chores?

A: Parents have been complaining that their kids don’t pull their weight around the house for as long as there have been kids. I heard it from my parents who heard it from theirs, and so on all the way back to some Cro-Magnon relative of mine who complained that his children spent all their time drawing on the cave walls and refused to clean up their mastodon bones. And, as in previous generations, today’s parents find themselves saying things like, “Kids these days..” or “When I was a kid.”

Recent research, however, seems to indicate that kids these days actually are qualitatively different than their parents and do fewer chores than we did. But why? Is it that we’re pampering our children because we felt overworked ourselves and don’t want to subject them to the same horrors we experienced? Have children somehow developed an exaggerated sense of self worth and entitlement? Or is it that by the time the kids get home from swimming and soccer and karate and piano lessons, eat, and do their homework, there’s no time or energy left for chores?

Doesn’t really matter. What’s important is that we as parents require our kids to hold up their end of the household responsibilities. It’s good for the household and it’s essential for their own developing sense of responsibility and self-confidence.

Here are a few tips to get the process started.

  1. Start as soon as possible. As with any family habit, starting them young is the easiest way to establish and maintain the practice of helping around the house.
  2. Make your expectations reasonable-then insist that they be met. A short list of daily chores and a separate list of once-a-week jobs is reasonable. Make sure the tasks are age-appropriate and otherwise manageable, then make sure they get done before any privileges are enjoyed. Early and careful monitoring is crucial.
  3. Praise a job well done. Let them know when the expectations have been met-and when they haven’t.
  4. Make your own “chores” visible. Sure, the kids see us doing laundry, washing dishes, mowing the lawn, etc. But do they understand that those are your chores? It’s easy for our everyday household work to become invisible to our kids. So write your chores down and put them on the fridge right next to theirs. A cursory comparison will quickly silence most complaints and make it clear that everyone really is contributing.
  5. Put systems in place. Designate a specific chore time-the half hour before dinner. Post lists and regularly verify that results are up to snuff..
  6. Don’t tie allowances to chores. Everyone in the family has to pull his or her weight. Paying children for doing basic chores can make them feel entitled to compensation for anything they’re asked to do.
  7. Create rewards and consequences. That said, there are many perfectly appropriate reward systems-a pizza on Saturday night if the week’s chores were done well, a family movie night, or something similar. It’s even more important to have consequences if expectations are not met in a given week or chores will quickly fall into the category of “things I do if Mom and Dad nag me enough.” Creating natural consequences, such as a loss of privileges, prepares the child for the natural consequences and responsibilities of adult life.

So start as soon as possible, be consistent, and make it a priority. By learning to give back to the family, your kids will learn countless skills for the long run.

The Trouble with Other People’s Kids

Dear Mr. Dad: Is it ever appropriate to discipline other people’s children? My 7-year-old daughter often invites one of her classmates to our home. I don’t mind, but this girl is a terror and does things (like jumping on furniture) that my child is not allowed to. I spoke to her mom about it but she just laughed and said, “Allie is a very lively girl.” How can I handle this situation without depriving my daughter of her friend’s company?

A: There’s a difference between disciplining children while their parents are present, and a situation like yours, when a child is dropped off at your house and left in your care.

Generally speaking, if a parent is present, it is up to him or her to ensure that their children are not misbehaving—and to discipline them if and when necessary. There are, of course, some exceptions. Say another child is acting aggressively at a playground and pushing yours off the swings or slide. In an ideal world, the offending kid’s parent would immediately react and remove the child from the playground. But what if the parent is ignoring the child’s behavior? At that point,, you certainly have the right (and, in my view, the responsibility) to step in and do what you need to do (without hurting the other child, of course), to protect your daughter from harm.

The same would apply if a child was doing something to harm another kid—not yours—at the park or anywhere else. When someone is in danger of harming themselves or anyone else, as a responsible adult, you must step in. Think how bad you’d feel if something tragic were to happen that you know you could have prevented.

It’s a pity that Allie’s mom laughs off her daughter’s behavior, missing the opportunity to teach her child some basic lessons in courtesy and respect. I’m betting that little Allie has very lenient (if any) rules at home, and hasn’t learned how to behave in other people’s homes. At seven, though, she should certainly know what’s acceptable behavior and what isn’t.

It goes without saying that in your home, Allie should follow your rules. (It’d be the same with adult visitors: If you have a non-smoking household, you have every right to demand that your guests either respect your rules or leave.)

The next time Allie (or another child) comes for a play date, be very clear about what the rules are. Of course, you don’t want to be overly strict (after all, she’s there to have fun), but the children’s safety and your comfort should be your priority. It’s absolutely reasonable to expect that visitors—whether they’re kids, adults, or pets—not jump on your furniture, yell, make a mess (without cleaning up afterwards), or turn on the TV without asking first.

If Allie keeps breaking the rules, you have every right to discipline her by telling her that this kind of behavior is not acceptable in your home, and she has to stop. Be calm but firm. But never shout at someone else’s child. You might also want to include your daughter in the warning if she’s involved in the activity too.

If you ‘re consistent in reminding Allie what the rules are, chances are she’ll start to follow them, even if they’re different from what she’s allowed to do in her own home. Of course, if she continues to misbehave—especially if she’s endangering or harming your child, or damaging your belonging—it might just be time for your daughter to find some other, better-behaved playmates.

Taming the Savage Preschooler

Dear Mr. Dad: My daughter and son-in-law are raising their 4-year-old child with no discipline or boundaries. The boy is a little brat, screaming and throwing temper tantrums whenever he doesn’t get what he wants. I’ve tried speaking to my daughter about this but she just laughs it off. What should I do?

A: Oh, boy, that’s a tough one. I totally agree that raising a child without any boundaries, or, for that matter, discipline, is just plain bad parenting. Your daughter and son-in-law aren’t doing your grandson any favors by giving in to all his whims. Sooner or later, their lenient, anything-goes approach will backfire. (He’s already an unmanageable little tyrant. Imagine how much worse it’ll be as he gets older).

[Read more...]

Setting Limits

Dear Mr. Dad: My wife and I have been talking a lot about the importance of setting limits for our two children, ages 5 and 7. We know we must do this but we aren’t sure how to go about it, especially since the kids continually challenge us on every new rule. But it’s so exhausting. Any suggestions?

A: You’re absolutely right to be talking about setting limits. Boundaries are essential for raising well-behaved kids, especially in this age of “anything goes.” I wish you would have started your discussions a few years ago (and you probably do too), but it’s never too late.
Why is it so important for parents to set boundaries–and for the children to respect them? Well, start by thinking of your family in a larger context. Every civilized society has rules and regulations. Some may be reasonable and others less so, but just imagine what the world would be like if everyone made and followed their own rules, while ignoring and breaking everyone else’s. (To a child, that might sound like paradise, but as adults, we can hopefully see the larger picture.)

Unfortunately, children aren’t born with a pre-loaded set of rules. So if we don’t teach them the difference between good and bad behavior, healthy and dangerous habits, kind and hurtful actions, how will they ever know what’s positive and acceptable and what isn’t?

Okay, now that we’ve got the philosophy of limit-setting down, let’s talk about how to start establishing rules and how to make sure they’re the right ones for your family. Here are some guidelines I think you’ll find helpful:

  • Boundaries should be reasonable and clear to a child. It’s sometimes a delicate balancing act, but you’ve got to find the middle ground between being too lenient and too strict.
  • Limits should be age-appropriate. What works now for your 5 and 7-year-old, won’t work for a teen. And in fact, what works for your 5 year old probably won’t work for the 7 year old.
  • Be flexible. As your children get older, you’ll need to modify your house rules accordingly.
  • Make sure the kids understand why each rule is necessary. You may say, for example, that they’re not allowed to go to a friend’s house alone because they’re too young to cross the street by themselves. Explaining the reason behind each boundary will show them that you don’t make the rules arbitrarily just to curtail their freedom, but, rather, to protect them in a potentially unsafe environment. That said, make sure your children understand that while you’re happy to discuss certain rules, there are some—health and safety issues, for example—that are non-negotiable.
  • Establish clear consequences for breaking rules. Kids have to be held accountable for their actions so they grow into responsible and trustworthy adults. When—not if—they test the boundaries or break the rules, be prepared to enforce the consequences right away. If you don’t, the kids will learn that breaking rules is okay or that there’s always one more “last warning.” That’s not a lesson that will serve them well in adulthood, when the consequences for bending or breaking the rules will be harsher.

All in all, setting boundaries isn’t going to be easy—we want our children to love us and don’t want them to be mad at us, which is exactly what will happen when they inevitably bang up against the rules. But it’s our job to stand firm. The result will be more respectful, better-mannered kids who will grow into responsible, likeable adults.

-

Grandma Spoils the Grandkids

Dear Mr. Dad: Grandma spoils our preschool twins to death! Whenever they’re with her, they seem to get free run of the house—with no rules. When we pick them up, they need an attitude adjustment to bring their whining and rudeness under control. How can we get my wife’s mother to supervise them more appropriately?

A: The old saying about grandparents is true—they get to spoil the grandkids, stuff them full of treats, and then send them home to Mom and Dad. Fortunately, the “damage” usually isn’t too heavy and it’s relatively easily corrected. But sometimes the effects last a little longer, especially with kids who are at the age when they disagree with parents over just about anything (which could be toddlers and preschoolers or teenagers—amazing similarities between the two groups).
[Read more...]