How long should a chore take? 4 Hours?10 min read

“I read your post about the Dawdler getting in the way of family routines, but what do I do with a dawdler when it comes to accepting consequences. Here is the situation:

My 10 yo daughter Chose to dawdle for 4 hours and not do her chore (clean the entertainment room). The consequence was that she got leftovers for dinner instead of pizza. So as not to punish the whole family, the other kids decided to all work together and do her zone so we could all watch a movie together. The 10yo daughter decided to join, but in the process took 10 DVDs and shoved them into the bottom of a toy box and then lied about it. Our family has a rule that each item shoved where it does not belong earns an extra job. However, she had already racked up 6 other extra jobs, and after 10 extra jobs, it converts to a major maintenance. So the next day it is time to do her major maintenance, but she says she feels sick and goes in her room where she is caught reading a leisure book–twice. This is not accepting a consequence, so the major maintenance is now the big whammy, since she was dishonest and uncooperative. The next day we had planned out of town guests, so her big whammy is postponed until today. So, today she has dawdled, complained, argued, etc, etc. In 6 hours she has only completed sorting laundry, wiping a counter, sweeping the floor, and two sodas. She is now saying that she has a headache and needs to go lay down. She insists that she has been punished enough, and should be done with her consequence. How do you deal with a child like this?”

My first response is WOW! This sounds draining to the whole family. I don’t know if my children have ever made a list of consequences this long. Also, 10 year old girls do have a tendency to get pretty distracted.

I think your tolerances might be too high. Four hours is a really long time to have to complete a chore like cleaning a room.

Without really knowing your daughter, I am left to guess on a few things. These are some thoughts I have. Does she get overwhelmed easily? Could many short, specific chores be more effective than a large broad one? I know a 10 year old should be able to be given an area to clean independently, but not every 10 year old is the same.

I had a foster youth once who had a problem similar to what you describe. I realized she could not keep track of more than one or two instructions at a time. She also didn’t know how to look at a mess and ‘problem solve’ it. Since she had both of these problems, she would distract herself with other things. I also knew she had honesty problems, so she would never want to tell me she didn’t feel like she knew how to do a job.

I took this youth back to square one. I gave her a chore. Then I mentored her in how to do the chore properly. Then I watched her do the chore until she was able to do the chore as well as I could. After this process I told her that she had mastered the chore and could then move on to learning another chore. Sometimes it really takes teaching every chore to a child until they have mastered it.

Sometimes children become so overwhelmed by a chore, they tell themselves they can’t do it before they even start. This makes them not start. In order to help them learn to master their minds and movements, we have to show them they CAN do the chore by teaching it and practicing it with them. This takes more parent time, and I know we are all pressed for time, but it really works to teach children how to accomplish chores and how to stay on task. We have to show and tell them how to problem solve situations.

Think about it, you would never tell your son to go mow the lawn without showing him how to do it safely and accurately, and then observing him until he had the skill mastered. Only then would you let him to mow all on his own. Even though our children have seen us pick up a room lots of times, that doesn’t mean they know what has gone through our mind when we organize how we are going to pick up. You may have to think out loud a few times when teaching a new chore.

After your daughter has mastered some chores, then you should give her instructions to do these chores. The instructions should have a time limit attached to them. Make sure the time limit is reasonable. Don’t set her up for failure by making the time too short. That said, if the chore is not completed in the time given, then she didn’t follow the instruction and so she earns an extra chore. If she didn’t even start, then she might be out of instructional control. (If she chooses to fail, let her fail. We don’t like to see our children fail. But, sometimes failing at something small like completing a chore teaches a better lesson about sticking to a task than doing a task for a child. In fact most of the time this is true.)

If I suspect my child might be out of instructional control, then I tell them I suspect that and that I am going to give them instructions to see if they are. I then give a few easy instructions. If she follows those, then you can continue a corrective teaching for following instructions. If she doesn’t want to follow any instructions, then in my home she would go through the rule of three in a matter of a few minutes where she could potentially loose all of her privileges for 24 hours. Don’t be afraid to get to the ‘big whammy” quickly. If the children sense you not wanting to follow the family’s government system when things are earned, they will keep pushing their limits. In the story above, the child may have had too many chances.

It sounds like your are consistently following your system. That is great! I have a few thoughts about the system though. About the DVDs. Stashing something in a place where it doesn’t belong is dishonest. Then to lie about it is also a lie. In my home a dishonest chore or a lie is 30 minutes of work time. Be sure to keep addressing dishonest communications. Dishonesty is so addicting; it is a bad habit to get into.

I think the idea about making a certain amount of chores equal something larger is a good idea. But, I would get to a major maintenance before 10 extra chores. You may want to choose 5 chores instead to lower your tolerances. If a person can’t follow 10 instructions in a row, even if they are perfectly calm, they are out of instructional control and I would start the rule of three.

About the “big whammy;” is a major maintenance your “whammy?” If so, nothing changed the day after she pretended she was sick. (dishonesty =30 minutes work) It sounds like she earned a major maintenance and then got out of it for a day and then earned the same thing and then got out of it for a day again. I understand the out of town guests thing. I like the whole family to enjoy visitors too. The problem is the pattern.

Your daughter got a chore. Got out of it by dawdling. Got bailed out. Lied. Got a chore (major maintenance). Got out of it by being sick. Lied. Got a chore (major maintenance). Got out of it because of visitors. Lied by working slowly, and complaining of a headache. Her pattern looks more simply like, got out of chore, lied, got out of chore, lied, got out of chore, lied, etc. Except for the visitors coming, the other ways she is getting out of chores is by being dishonest. I think you might have an honesty problem on your hands more than a dawdling problem. Maybe dishonesty should loose snack privilege or something more meaningful and easier to follow through with. Don’t forget you have a lot of privileges to work with.

Take it from a recovered liar; if she ever gets away with lying, she will keep trying to lie. I used to be so good at lying that I can honestly say my parents didn’t catch me 80% of the time. And he teachers at school never caught me. It was my friends who changed my bad behavior. They caught me, confronted me and made me feel stupid until I changed. I am not suggesting making your daughter seem stupid, but you need to help her find a reason to change, which she cares about.

Just pulling her aside and telling her that you know when she lies and that you will be watching her closely could give her a reason to stop. Liars don’t like to be found out. Tell her she earns an automatic 30 minutes whenever she doesn’t tell the truth.

Make sure when she tells the truth, even if it is about something she did wrong, she earns praise for telling the truth. Tell her if she is ever suspected of a lie, it will be treated as such, even if she tells you she didn’t lie. I know this seems unfair, but I have had many youth live with me with honesty issues and this is the best way to handle the times when you aren’t really sure if a lie happened or not.

Usually if your parent instinct is telling you that you are not sure, then a lie has probably happened. They need to know that until you are completely sure they always communicate honestly, you will have to just go with your gut feeling for determining privileges earned or lost. I have had foster youth who were so good at lying they fooled their own therapists for six months at a time.

Talk about each statement which comes out of her mouth for a while, and all her actions. Debrief everything for a few days. “That was a great honest statement.” Etc. Saying, “I got in my pajamas.” is a great honest statement. There is proof to back it up.

A few more tips. She might need a positive motivational system, like the “bean counter” game or a treat bag or something for each honest chore and statement for a while to help her stay positive. Don’t let this feel like a heavy thing. “Home is the safest place to make mistakes.” Remember she is taking the path of least resistance in all of the instances in the above story. A person who takes that path doesn’t love to work yet. She probably needs to do a lot of work with the family to feel like she has mastered working. Don’t tolerate so much excuse making. Those are lies too. Do honesty SODAS often. Set her reasonable time limits. Praise every thing that is praise worthy in her life.

By the way, the steps to communicating honestly are:

· Look at the person

· Keep a calm voice, face and body

· Think about what you are going to say

· Ask yourself, “Is my statement honest?”

· Give your statement

· Report to your parent that you communicated honestly

If you want to add this skill to your set of family skills, go ahead, or just teach your daughter the steps and practice them. If you teach these steps you can pre-teach by saying, “Is your statement honest?” or “Did you check your statement first?”

This was a huge answer to your question. I hope it helps. Depending on what your daughter is really doing, I thought there might be a few different approaches to present. Maybe you need some of all, maybe just one.

Keep Swimming!


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