Whitney Noble has had the same problem since her kids were small. When she asks Ryan and Lindsay, now 12 and 15, to help out — put away the school bag, take out the garbage — they say, “Sure.” But too often, the Thornhill, Ont., mom ends up doing the dirty work herself. What gives?
“It’s always ‘Oops, I forgot!’ or ‘I’ll do it later!’ or, most infuriating, ‘It wasn’t my mess!’” says Noble, who claims her kids have always suffered from the magic fairy syndrome. “They figure the fairy (me!) will do their jobs if they don’t!” It’s a frustration we all can relate to — yet it’s important to keep calm while encouraging kids to follow through with age-appropriate household tasks. Here are some helpful strategies:
“Never take on their jobs, no matter how tempting it is to pick that underwear off the floor,” says Jo-Anne Cutler, a family communications specialist in Toronto. Kids are conditioned to “forget” to follow through, she says, because you’ve taught them that if they do nothing, you’ll throw up your hands and come to the rescue.
No more. Sit your kids down and explain that you need and value their help in the household, whether it’s wiping the counter or unpacking lunch bags. Then tell them you are turning in your fairy wand. The hardest part, Cutler says, is sticking to your guns — even if sometimes a cup hangs out on the coffee table for three days straight.
What drives Noble crazy, though, is not so much the cup but the fact that her kids aren’t respecting her authority. “The problem is that kids respond more to Mom’s or Dad’s angry energy than to the demand,” Cutler explains. That’s why, to avoid a power struggle, you have to stay calm, no matter what.
Give your kids the chore, then add that there will be no dessert or Facebook until it’s done. But be careful not to let their responses push your buttons. “When kids don’t want to do something, they come off disgruntled — but you have to stay calm and clear,” Cutler says. “You can’t blow a gasket just because there are shoes in the hallway.”
The fact is that a child’s vision of cleanliness is different from yours, Cutler says. If Martha Stewart is your idol, you will find it difficult to understand how your daughter can feel at home in a sea of clothes on the floor. The key is to focus on those tasks that are a priority in your household, she says.
Your daughter’s bedroom is her domain, explains Cutler. “Close the door and, eventually, when she runs out of clothes, she’ll help with the laundry.” For the rest of the house — the shared space — let the kids choose chores from a list and assign deadlines. Whatever tasks they take on, expect that you’ll have to give reminders.
Reminding is part of the parenting job (that’s how habits are formed), but it’s how you remind that makes all the difference, Cutler points out. She’s a fan of replacing nagging with humour.
“Thank your son for moving the cup from the dinner table to the sink,” she says. “Then tell him that, sadly for him, the dishwasher fairy doesn’t live here anymore.”
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