One of the ongoing challenging tasks for parents is to help children and young people to get their jobs done. Trying to help children and teens follow through on mundane tasks like cleaning rooms, unpacking bags, putting their toys and doing assigned chores.
This is hard enough for parents with kids who have easy going personalities and few life demands - but when you are trying to help a child who struggles with worry/frustration management, attention problems and other life challenges - getting them to do their chores is extremely hard work.
Parents in our clinics talk about the immense frustration that comes with reminding, nagging, yelling at young people in order to get them to do these simple things - and how they end up just doing it themselves.
There's no easy solution for helping young people get things done, but in my experience there is ONE detail that can potentially make a big difference. If we get this detail right, then it is significantly more likely that children/young people will do their jobs, and if we don't - it's much less likely this will happen.
What's this details?
It's the "When"
Working out with children/teens exactly WHEN they will do each assigned job and making sure that it happens at that specific time - results in children far more likely to follow through. The WHEN might be after or before a certain activity or it might be at a particular clock time - but either way, everyone knowing WHEN the job will happen helps tremendously.
Let's take some examples.
Let's say a household rule for Jody's family is for Tom and Tracy to keep their room tidy. Jody nags, complains and begs the kids to just maintain basic level of tidiness - clothes away, food out their room etc. Jody doesn't feel like she asks that much - but constantly walks in their room to find it a disaster area.
What Jody needs to do is to specify a WHEN. She implements a rule that after breakfast every weekday Tom and Tracey will spend 5 minutes cleaning their room, and on Sunday night before dinner is served,they both spend 10 minutes cleaning their room. Yes, Jody needs to remind, monitor and follow up - but knowing when she has to do this, and the kids knowing when they have to do the tidying - it makes it more likely that clean rooms will result.
Let's take another example. In Trevor's house, the rule is that you need to put your lunchbox on the sink at night. Trevor is sick of telling the kids about this every single day of the week and having to call out in the morning - lunchboxes! Kids! Lunchboxes! So Trevor specifies the when. From now on, the rule is that as soon as you walk in the door, before afternoon tea, your lunch box comes out of your bag and is on the sink. Now Trevor knows when he has to monitor, remind and ensure the kids do their job,and the kids know when they have to do it.
One last example. Let's say in Helen's house, the teen kids - Lorraine and Katie are expected to unpack the dishwasher. Helen always asks but often ends up doing it herself. She is now going to specify a WHEN. This might be harder because there is more variation (it depends when it's full!). So we have a "when" that varies, for example:
The dishwasher gets checked after tea and after breakfast. Lorraine empties it when it's clean after breakfast on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wedesdays, and Katie empties it when it's clean after breakfast on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. This is written down. Helen reminds the girls regularly about not just "you need to unpack it" but when they need to do it, and Helen knows she needs to coach at THOSE particular times.
As parents we still need to be around for many months to train up, coach and cheerfully remind and assist until the skill is learnt. And sometimes there needs to be a negative consequence (ie nothing else happens until job is done) in place if the job isn't done (but this will usually only help if the parent is right there, reminding and coaching). However, having this extra detail helps a lot.
This is particularly true for "tricky" kids and teens. Young people who feel things deeply and have strong independent traits, need as much predictability as possible in order to deal with the ups and downs of life. Having parents nag and ask them to do things in a way which isn't highly consistent and predictable makes life much harder.
Next time we get frustrated with kids who are not doing their jobs/chores, think about whether we need more WHEN details - it can help a huge amount.
Our online resource Calm Kid Central has a couple of videos for parents/carers on helping children do their chores regularly and on time. These videos are accompanied by tips sheets for the fridge or pin-up board. For more information, click below.