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I have four kids, ages 3, 5, 7 and 12, whom I have to ask multiple times to get them to do anything, and then they don't do a very good job of it. What can I do to make them respect me more and get their daily tasks done?


Trish Booth, MA Replied: It's tough being outnumbered four to one. There are some things you can do to regain the upper hand.

To start, children don't do as good a job as adults, especially when it comes to cleaning up. So, first, think through what the standard should be for each child's chore. Then, see if there are things you can do to help each child do a good job. For example, if they have to make their beds, a bottom sheet and a duvet are much easier than a bottom sheet, top sheet and blanket. Light-weight mesh or plastic containers are easier to move around when cleaning up toys.

Then, after you have thought through each chore, hold a family meeting and explain the standards they will be held to. In addition, explain the timeline for each child's chore. Rather than nagging about needing to do the work, explain and put on a chart when the task must be done by. For example, setting the table for dinner must be done by 6:00 PM. Give the child whose responsibility this is one reminder, say at 5:45. This would give that child enough time to do the task without rushing. Your 12 year old can have the most leeway in timing. Your 7 and 5 year old need shorter time frames to keep them on task. Most 3 year olds work best as part of a team, working with you or a sibling. Setting a timer might also be helpful. Some families have work times when everyone is doing their chores. For example, your children can be cleaning up and setting the table while you are fixing dinner. Or, everyone can work on clean-up projects Saturday morning.

Then, in the beginning at least, there should be a reward for doing the task or a consequence for not doing it. Younger children do best with a reward that comes soon after the task. So, for example, your 3 or 5 year old could earn an extra story or extra cuddle time just before bed on the days they did their chores. Your 7 year old can delay gratification and earn points toward a desired object or toy. Some 5 year olds also work well with a point reward system. Your 12 year old may be too old for points and respond better to earning privileges, like playing a video game. If the task is not done on time and properly, there is no video game playing that evening.

Related to cleaning up, the loss of a favored object when the area is not cleaned up can be effective. The object goes away for a set period and must be earned back, say by three consecutive days of doing the task. It's best to use logical consequences. There should be some understandable link between the behavior and the loss.

When you announce the new standards and rules at a family meeting, expect a lot of testing for the first few weeks. However, if you stick to your plan, don't nag, and reward or carry out the logical consequences, you will see a change in behavior.

Posted On 2010-06-08 23:10:43
Brenda Nixon, M.A. Replied: You ask a great question - and one that most parents ask. Children are quick learners. They soon learn if you mean what you say the first time or if you'll constantly remind (nag) them. To correct a problem where kids ignore you, simply state, "I want you to . . . " Then if they don't obey, get up take one by the arm and lead him/her to the assigned task. Stand over and supervise if you have to. Now, on to the next child. Each will soon learn that you say it once and then expect action.
Posted On 2010-06-06 18:54:29
Dr. Tom Greenspon Replied: This is an age-old question that almost every parent has had, probably since the chores included cleaning bones out of the cave! The basic principle in answering this question is simple: if you respect your children, they will respect you. Have a family meeting and talk about what needs to be done, and why. Let everyone have a say. View this as a joint problem-solving effort, where everyone has a role in the running of the house (this does mean everyone, including both parents if present in the house), and where everyone benefits from the results. Arrange for fun evenings, or outings, when things have run smoothly, and don't worry if everything hasn't been perfect. Try things out for a week or two and have another meeting to discuss the results. Suggest changes if needed. And remember to tell each other what you have appreciated about one another, even if some things have not gone well. This may take some time to show results. Constant arguing and anger about what people aren't doing right will only create power struggles an defensiveness, and will grind things to a halt. If that has happened, talk about it in the first meeting, and say that you are looking for help in making the home feel more like a place where everyone wants to be. Ask for suggestions, and get some agreement on which idea should be tried first. As time goes on, these meetings can actually be good times, so keep at it -- it's worth the effort!
Posted On 2010-06-06 11:27:49
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