In an ideal world, children would dutifully do their chores not only as effectively as Mom or Dad would do them, but also without delay.
Unfortunately, we don’t live in an ideal world. Human brains, especially child brains, are wired to find more efficient ways to do tasks in order to save time or effort. These brains create great innovations in our modern society. However, many times this causes them to go to great lengths to come up with what they think are efficiency-based solutions to life’s problems, which in reality are actually noneffective and often cause simple chores to end up taking way more time than they should in the long run.
Almost every child will experiment with doing lazy chores at some point. Laziness is something we all have to conquer, whether in our youth or in adulthood. Since our brains naturally want to find easier ways to do things, we will inevitably find ourselves battling laziness.
A frustrated mother asked this question about improving the work ethic at her home:
“My children do their chores in a really lazy way sometimes. I’ll tell them to clean a room and they will do some, but then start using the broom to sweep other toys to a different area of the room. They say they moved it, but the toy really isn’t put away. Then we have debates about it. In the end, sometimes the chores don’t really get finished and sometimes we have to spend all night talking about it. Is there a way to speed things up? I’m really tired of the melt downs about fixing chores.”
Downfalls of Debates
Here’s my response to this chore-worn-mother...
The first thing you must allow yourself to see is that these sweet little children you’re raising are trying to manipulate you. Sometimes we don’t want to see that. When children debate with you about a chore and end up not doing that chore, children quickly learn there’s value in challenging their mother’s authority and debating her about everything. Their ulterior motive is to test their odds that she may give up on the chore or forget that they were even supposed to do the chore after all the talking is over. The children don’t see that in reality it takes more time and effort to manipulate than to do the original chore. That’s because they hyper-focus on not wanting to do the chore.
Children debate because it feels powerful to go against authority. Everyone likes to test to see how much power they can have over other people and over their surroundings.
They should feel empowered in other ways that don’t frustrate the roles in your home. An important self-government skill called disagreeing appropriately can be used to discuss the situation within the pre-determined respectable boundaries. Then the child can feel understood, and parents can have the opportunity to change their mind on the task if they want to, but it doesn’t have to take too long or feel like a debate. Children and parents become more empowered to have positive, understanding and successful interactions with each other when they have good communication skills.
Here are 4 principles to help cure this common childhood problem:
The 4 Lazy Chore Cures
1. Don’t be emotional. Welcome the teaching moment, also known as the correction. One reason parents become emotional, which includes frustration and stress, is that they are also sometimes lazy about one of their most important chores: teaching the children. It takes time to teach the children and correct the problems again and again, but this teaching — not the punishment — is the special honor reserved for the parent. The children will melt down less when the teaching is less emotional. The easiest way to remove the emotion is to focus on what step of the skill they missed, instead of focusing on the movement of the toy or the time it takes to do the teaching.
2. Focus on steps to following instructions. The steps to following instructions are to look at the person; keep a calm voice, face and body; say “okay” or disagree appropriately; do the task immediately; and check back.
These steps make it easier for parents to help children identify what small improvement they need to make, without being emotional or overly focused on a chore to be done. The instructions we give our children aren’t really about the task. Rather, they’re more about the willingness of heart children have to help them live their helpful role in the family.
The step a parent would correct in the situation described above is “doing the task immediately.” That is what the child is missing if he’s sweeping the toys to a different part of the room instead of putting them away.
3. Keep tolerances low. If you’re talking about it all night and often dealing with melt downs, then your tolerances are too high. Lower them. You need to give clear instruction and pre-teach about how to follow the instruction. Then when they don’t do it properly, you need to correct them immediately. Don’t debate. Corrections keep your roles in the right place and allow them the opportunity to see they can do what they thought was going to be too hard or take too long.
4. Seek to understand. Relationships should feel open enough to talk about the chores you give and any reservations children may have. However, the way the discussion happens and the rules for when the appropriate disagreement is over should be clearly understood long before appropriate disagreements are requested by the children. If parents and children already know how to disagree with teach other calmly and lovingly, but also know when instructions have to be followed with a willing heart anyway, then the divisive emotion and debate get removed from these day-to day- interactions.
Next time, remember to implement these 4 principles so that the chore war doesn’t start again.
For more information on teaching children how to follow instructions and disagree appropriately, read this.