A few years ago, I received a letter from a woman regarding her nine-year-old son, Colin. Her problem was one that many other parents face. Colin regularly spent the entire day procrastinating his chores. On top of it all, he had a bad attitude. He was sent to bed early, which meant he didn’t do his chores and thought he got away with it. The house was messy because Colin didn’t wash the dishes, and the mom was at her wit’s end — how can the family work around a stubborn child who is constantly seeing how far he can push to get out of his responsibilities?
This mom’s dilemma is incredibly common. On one hand, the family shouldn’t have to go without dishes because Colin didn’t do his job, but Colin also shouldn’t have clean dishes when he wants to make breakfast. Maybe if you let it go a few times he would see the natural consequence of not doing dishes.
Try not to let his bad behaviors punish you, or he could feel like he has power over you. If I were you, I wouldn’t do the dishes. If for some reason I had to, I would write down another chore for him to do as a substitute. I would explain to him that there were other things I couldn’t do because I had to do his chore.
This is how chores work in my family: the children all have regular daily chores that are supposed to be finished by 9 a.m.If chores aren't done by then, the kids have to write all the things they didn’t get done on a post-it note posted on a kitchen cupboard. At 3 p.m., which is family play time, they do the chores. They can't play with friends, have free time or go to soccer practice or dance class until chores are completed. This is really motivating for my children. If the children don't finish their jobs one day, the next day they have to do yesterday's chores, today's chores and an extra chore for not following instructions.
It’s possible your son doesn't care about anything enough to work for it. If the other children get their things done on time, give them lots of praise. At 3 p.m., offer time for the computer or friends to the children who got things done. Don't do it in a passive aggressive way to attack your son, but simply rejoice for your other children who made good choices. Their praise will motivate him to do his chores.
Show him how fast jobs can be done. If he’s like many other nine-year-olds, he probably doesn’t like to put effort into things, and jobs look like they’ll take too long. Seeing chores as overwhelming creates anxiety, which can cause people to not think clearly. He doesn’t see that putting things off actually takes longer than just doing the chore.
Do chores with him for a while to decrease anxiety and make it a fun experience. Working with mom should be fun! Surprise him and say, “Can I do your chores with you today?” Make it fun and get it done. See how fast you can do it. Build confidence in him by showing him he can do jobs quickly.
I’m sure he’s completing some tasks. Be sure to praise all tasks completed, even if the only thing you can find is, “You're so great at remembering to brush your teeth every night. That’s so responsible of you!” You might be getting in a negative rut with him. Praise motivates positive choices, so try to praise more often. Make a really big deal and explain why he’s so great. He might need to have a positive day where everything goes right. You could also have some envelopes with rewards written on slips of paper, like time to read or to play with friends. When he completes two chores on time in a day, he gets to pick an envelope as a reward.
Set reasonable time limits to finish the chores and teach him to monitor time while doing tasks. If the time is up and he’s almost done with a chore, teach him to come to you and disagree appropriately about the time allotted for the chore. The time doesn’t always matter; the important thing is that he’s governing himself by watching the time and talking to you about what he needs.
If these ideas don’t work, you might want to have a consultation session and explain how he is being dishonest when he doesn't do a chore. Addressing the anxiety or letting him know you understand how he feels about chores is the best approach. After that, I would talk to my children about how to do an honest chore and follow instructions. End the discussion with a heartfelt prayer on his behalf for help from the Lord in conquering the desire to communicate dishonestly.
Lastly, he isn’t following instructions. For some reason he doesn’t think that he has to follow through with things. Maybe he has been bailed out before and expects it. He might be trying to break you down because he’s seen it work before. It will take consistency on your part to break the cycle. If he doesn't follow instructions immediately, he’s probably out of instructional control and you need to do an intensive teaching interaction (Rule of Three) with him.
Hang in there! The relationship is more important than if the dishes are done. Focus on your children more than the chores.