HOW TO ENCOURAGE RESPONSIBILITY WITHOUT MAKING EVERYONE MISERABLE
It’s a classic household dilemma: the children complain, “Our parents never quit nagging us to ‘Get started on’ or ‘Get back to’ chores.” And the parents’ viewpoint is, “If we didn’t ‘nag’ them, nothing would get done at all.”
If that sounds like your household, know that there are ways to ensure things get done without driving everyone’s stress levels through the roof.
Seriously Consider Not Reminding Them
Shocking as it sounds, often it is best to give the kids one-time instructions and let whatever happens next happen on its own—even if that “whatever” is that a chore doesn’t get done. If someone is constantly reminded to do something, what they’ll internalize is that (1) since the “boss” expects them to find the task not worth remembering, it probably isn’t; and (2) they don’t have to bother remembering anyway, because someone else has already assumed that responsibility. But if they’re left on their own and leave something undone, they have themselves to blame for the consequences—and nobody else to blame for anything. Which experience would make you more likely to do the right thing on your own next time?
Before you start “get to it” reminders, consider: What’s the worst that could happen if you do nothing further? If it’s that—in the case of a bedroom not picked up, for example—someone can’t find her blouse and misses one party, that’s no major tragedy, and it can teach a lasting lesson. If you doubt the child would care about the mess he leaves in the living room, make your point subtly—say, pick up his things and put them away where he can’t find them. In either case, avoid distracting from the key message by expressing impatience or sarcasm!
Let Them Choose Their Own Approaches
Another frequent reason kids are slow to get to work is a “Do it, but do it my way” attitude from parents. Kids may plan to do their chores right after lunch, but get soured on it by premature nagging that insists ten a.m. is the time. Or they may dread the “micromanaging” that won’t let them work in peace lest they leave a wrinkle in the bed or use the wrong spoon.
Once your child starts an assignment, consider your part done and don’t “help” unless asked. Ideally, work on something else to keep your mind occupied. And if the child’s final result isn’t “perfect”—so what? Imperfect doesn’t mean nonfunctional, and they’ll get better with (independent) practice.
Share the Planning
Finally, your child may be legitimately unclear on what’s expected. If you stop at, “Clean your room,” you forfeit any right to complain that his idea of “clean” isn’t good enough.
When assigning chores, describe clearly what’s to be done, and have your child repeat it in his own words to verify that he understands. Even better, don’t just “assign” tasks: gather the family as a group and get everyone’s input on what needs doing and who wants to do what. That way, everyone will not only understand what’s expected, but will feel a personal stake in being part of the home-management team. And “nagging” will become an unused word under your roof!