Motivating Reluctant Helpers

Mailbag time! You're not going to believe this, but some kids are NOT super excited about doing chores. Here's what we do about it.

- question -

Hi Kendra!

My question is this: I've recently begun having my four- and two-year old children set the table for dinner each night. At first, they thought it was great fun to help with a grown-up task, but my four-year-old son has begun showing some aversion. I have already put my foot down on him whining about it (or from running away to hide, which happened once or twice as well!). A few days ago, he simply said, "I don't want to set the table." My response was, "Well, you may not like it, but it's your job. I don't really want to cook dinner or wash the dishes, but I do it because it's my job."

I was reflecting on my response later, and I'm just not happy with it. I feel like instead of agreeing that doing chores are something to be dreaded, I should have spoken more positively - focusing on our duty to serve the family (and the joy that is possible to find there). But how can I explain this to young children?

Or perhaps I'm just over-thinking the whole thing, and what I should do is just start considering comments such as "I don't want to _______" as complaining, and give out appropriate consequences for them!

Thanks for any advice you might be able to offer,

(Splendor in the Home)

- answer -

Hey Christine,

Well it's certainly nothing new, just ask Moses. The whole book of Exodus is pretty much Moses listening to people grumble about stuff. And God has a little something special up his sleeve for complainers.

What you said is pretty much exactly how I respond in that situation. I do think we have a responsibility, like you mention, of trying to model joy in acts of service to our family. But our kids should also understand that I don't cook them dinner because it's the thing I'd most like to be doing at that moment, and Daddy doesn't drive off to work each morning because it's his favorite place to be. I want my kids to understand that we do those things as a result of a conscious decision to love God and the people around us by our actions, not just our words or our feelings.

I want my kids to understand that they are a burden, but one for which I am grateful. We are all made better by doing things for others even when we don't feel like it. Especially when we don't feel like it.

Sometimes I'll respond just as you did. But sometimes I'll add, "Well, when you do something you don't feel like doing, out of love for God or our family, you get another jewel in your crown in heaven" or, depending on how that particular kid is best motivated, "Well, it's better to do stuff you don't like here rather than in purgatory. Setting the table in purgatory is probably much more unpleasant." And then, of course, they want to know HOW it would be unpleasant, and I don't know for sure, but we can come up with some good guesses.

Anyway, some push back on chores is TOTALLY normal. You just have to be a little more stubborn than he is.

And there's a line somewhere. For younger kids, just learning to do chores, I'm okay with a little push back, with some feeling around to see if I really do mean it, and to understand why they have to. But at some point it does just become complaining and a waste of everyone's time. I STILL have to have this conversation with my thirteen year old every so often. He labors under the belief that if only I truly understood how much he disliked doing chores, I wouldn't make him do them.

But he's wrong. I know he doesn't like 'em. He still has to do 'em.

I changed my approach a bit after reading the book The Temperament God Gave You . It helped me understand how best to motivate different kids. The oldest, for instance, really isn't much motivated by the idea of being of service to his family, but he does like a challenge, and to be given responsibilities that other kids couldn't handle. So, whenever possible, I'll ask him to do unique chores that come up, like running an errand for me, or replacing batteries, or gluing something that's been broken.

It's not always possible, of course, the table DOES need setting, and even if it's beneath him sometimes he's the one who needs to do it.

Good luck!


Some other posts you might enjoy:

Chores for Enthusiastic Toddlers

Can't Buy Me Love? Not For Chores Anyway.

Are Older Siblings Overburdened by Responsibilities? Or Are They Empowered by Them?

Mailbag Disclaimer: I am not a theologian, nor am I an official spokesperson for the Catholic Church. (You're thinking of this guy.) If you read anything on this blog that is contrary to Church teaching, please consider it my error (and let me know!). I'm not a doctor or an expert on anything in particular. I'm just one person with a lot of experience parenting little kids and a desire to share my joy in marriage, mothering, and my faith.

If you've got a question, please send it along to catholicallyear @ gmail . com . Please let me know if you prefer that I change your name if I use your question on the blog.

p.s. Would you believe I'm talking about complaining over at Blessed is She today as well? Click on over, read all about it.