If you’re like a lot of parents, you tend to brace yourself when telling your children to clean up or to do chores. You know you’re being reasonable and fair. You know all children need to learn responsibility and good habits. So, it isn’t that you question yourself. It’s just that, perhaps, you expect a lot of push-back from your children and often are not in the mood to deal with it, especially after a long day at work or as a stay-at-home parent (which is no less difficult).
So, what do you do? Do you muster up the strength and force of will and plow ahead, or do you take the path of least resistance and skip the chores “just this once” (which then turns into a regular avoidance)?
This article isn’t about being the perfect parent and always getting it right, because none of us are perfect and none of us “get it right” 100 percent of the time. This article is about improving our parenting so that we get it right more and more often; so that, in the end when all is said and done and our children have flown the coop to live a life of independence, we’ll have raised well-adjusted, emotionally healthy, responsible and self-disciplined children.
Many parents who don’t enforce household chores for their children explain with exasperation that they simply don’t have the strength to fight with them. Other parents feel powerless over their children. One mother (let’s call her June Cleaver) recently said to me with resignation in her voice, “What can I do? They don’t listen to me when I tell them to stop watching TV and clean their room.”
The problem is that Mrs. Cleaver has convinced herself she is powerless. She thinks she has no control over her children. In fact, she’s correct; this is exactly the dynamic that has developed between June and her children. She has relinquished authority and allowed herself to become powerless. The good news is that things are not irreparable. The dynamic between June and her children can be repaired in a very straightforward manner.
As with so many things in life, we adults tend to over-complicate things unnecessarily. So, in our mind, we exaggerate the effort it will take to get our children to do their chores, complete their homework, feed the pet gerbils etc. Of course, uncomplicated doesn’t necessarily mean easy or pain-free. Establishing and maintaining authority over one’s children often isn’t easy or pain-free, but it is remarkably straightforward and relatively pain-free when done the correct way. Amazingly, there is little bloodshed involved and “no children are harmed in the making” of an in-charge parent!
So, I’d like to offer some tips on how June Cleaver and the rest of us can parent in an effective and less stressful manner. (Keep in mind this is not an exhaustive listing of all the steps. For that, I offer a 32-CD set of my Parenting Education class which is available for 18 remarkably affordable installments of just $199.95.)
The first step starts with you, the parent. You have an important decision to make; that is, you need to decide whether you want to be the authority figure in the family or relinquish authority to your children. This may sound a bit harsh, but this is what it boils down to ultimately. Certainly, those of us who have difficulty acting as an authority figure toward our children don’t want to relinquish authority. It’s just that we may feel uncomfortable being assertive and firm with our children. Nonetheless, the end result is that we turn authority over to our children and render ourselves powerless.
As you can see, sometimes our own issues get in the way of proper parenting. Perhaps our personality is to be laid-back and relaxed, rather than to be firm and assertive. Or, perhaps deep down, it scares us to be firm and assertive with our children. Are we afraid we’ll lose their love? If we enforce rules in the home, are we concerned we’ll scar our children emotionally and they’ll grow up to have low self-esteem and poor self-confidence?
Previously in my column, in an article titled “When Children Tell Their Parents What to Do” (Jewish Link of New Jersey, Nov. 12, 2015), I wrote about different parenting styles. I explained that studies have shown time and again that the healthiest style is an authoritative one (note, this isn’t the same as an authoritarian style and the article explains the distinction). In an authoritative style, “parents are loving and nurturing. They set high standards for their children and expect compliance with their rules, while retaining a degree of flexibility. When their children disobey the rules, they receive a consequence. When appropriate, authoritative parents allow their children to have input into decisions. Children of authoritative parents tend to grow up to be independent, confident, self-motivated and follow rules appropriately.”
Armed with this knowledge, it’s up to us to get a good handle on our issues and work through them, which comprises the necessary first step in getting our children to do their chores.
The second step is to set realistic expectations of what it will be like when you’re being authoritative and instructing your children to do their chores.
Recognize that children will often give some push-back, especially while parents are still setting the tone and getting their children used to the idea that compliance with chores results in praise and rewards, while noncompliance results in negative consequences. Once children learn this process, they become less resistant and more cooperative. But until that happens, you can expect a good amount of arguing. So, when you experience this from your children, just remind yourself that they’re behaving like normal children and you’re not doing anything wrong.
At this point, my editor has signaled to me that I’ve run out of space. So, this shall conclude Part 1 of this article. In two weeks, when I re-emerge from hibernation, I’ll continue with Part 2. Stay tuned!
By Shoval Gur-Aryeh, PhD