This Mom’s Corner comes from a request that we had for practical advice concerning how to get children to do what they are supposed to do. Here are the details:
“My concern and quest for help begins in the kitchen. A background on my children is that they are EXTREMELY happy children, almost to a fault. What I mean is that they do not know when to STOP laughing, giggling, and being silly, in order to get down to business. We have used your ChorePack system and for the most part it works wonders in keeping my home clean and well ordered. I especially love that the non-readers can have responsibilities without my prodding constantly.
“My trouble is in the kitchen. They are each assigned a task to do for ‘KP’. They complete this task after every meal. I am there to inspect after it is done, and during the task I am there to ensure that they are doing it. The trouble is that they do the task sloppily, they goof off half the time, and I feel as if I am nagging them to continue.
“I have tried different approaches to solving this problem, including various consequences. Some seemed too harsh for the offense, while others just didn’t work. I have tried offering rewards. That didn’t seem to motivate for the duration either.
“The other day I had a wrapped gift I had found as we unpacked our boxes from another move. I set it on the table, and everyone was very interested. I told them that they could open it if everyone did their KP WELL and without talking. I left the room to go unpack boxes. They enjoyed their usual meal filled with giggles and noises, and then all of a sudden my house was QUIET!! Not too long after, I heard one or the other begin giggling and chatting, and I thought, ‘Oh well, that didn’t work too well.’ I walked out to find a PERFECTLY cleaned kitchen!! I was not only floored but somewhat disappointed that it took a wrapped gift on the table to accomplish that for which I have been striving for YEARS!!
“I asked my eldest son later (age 12), ‘What could I do to get my children to clean quietly like that when there ISN’T a reward waiting?’ He wisely said, ‘Well, this is just an idea . . . but you could ask a woman who has older children and has some more ideas than you!!’ Here I am asking you for some ideas, advice, and prayer!! I am seeing that I am training my children to disobey me, not the goal for any of us. I have gone to the Lord through James 1 and am believing that He WILL give me the wisdom I need to train my children in the way they should go!!”
I opened this Mom’s Corner with all of the details from the question we received because I felt that most of us could relate to the mom’s situation and struggles. She has tried many ways to get her children to do what they should do, but she isn’t having the success she would like to achieve. This then can easily lead to discouragement for Mom.
She has started right where she needs to begin—by depending on the Lord and crying out to him. “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. . .” (James 1:5-6). We know that when we are weak, without answers, the Lord Jesus is strong. “And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. . .” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
I believe what is being dealt with here is very normal childish behavior. Scripture speaks to this in 1 Corinthians 13:11. “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” Children are simply children—full of life, excitement, and most certainly childish ways. We can expect them to act like children while they are children. Our goal is to help them mature into a godly adult with a heart to serve and obey Jesus. “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6). “And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4).
This is a gradual process best facilitated little by little with loving encouragement, gentleness, and consistent consequences. Here are two verses that support this approach, “The wise in heart shall be called prudent: and the sweetness of the lips increaseth learning” (Proverbs 16:21). “For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little” (Isaiah 28:10).
What we want to have happen as we disciple and teach our children is to tell them what they are to do, demonstrate it for them, watch them do it, encourage them, and then have them do it perfectly from then on. However, that simply isn’t the way it always works. Remember with me and say it to yourself again, “They are just children.” It takes a mom’s ongoing time, effort, and consistency to achieve the desired goal.
In this case, as in almost every case that involves children’s behavior, consistency of consequence is more important than the actual consequence itself. It isn’t the exact consequence that matters most, but it is the utilizing of the consequence every time it is needed. It is likely that even though this mom has been in the kitchen with the children, she hasn’t been consistent with her consequences.
Let’s take a very normal problem and assign it a consequence. The problem is that a child isn’t doing his cleanup job but instead is reading the mail sitting on the kitchen counter. If we have designated ten minutes of sitting on a chair during free time as a consequence for a child who isn’t doing his kitchen work, then we would give that consequence. I am certain that if the consequence is given and utilized EVERY time the child begins to read the mail, he will soon stop doing it and stick to his task.
What happens, though, is that we remind the child to get back to work or he will receive the consequence. He stops reading but soon is back to it, and again we remind him to do his job. We would do better in teaching our children to be responsible by giving them the consequence right away and giving it consistently every time. If we make it a simple consequence like sitting on a chair during free time, we are more likely to actually use the consequence. If the consequence is difficult to implement or if we feel it is too hard, we will tend to continue with the reminders to help the children avoid it.
We know the children in the example can do what they are supposed to do because they did the job the mom wanted them to do when she had a reward for them—a wrapped present to be opened upon the successful completion of KP. A reward like that is okay once in a while, but we desire that our children learn to do what they should do simply because they need to do it, not because there is a reward for it. This mom found through her little experiment with the package that her children were very capable of doing what she was asking them to do, doing it well, and doing it in a timely fashion. Now she just wants to continue with her training and discipline to bring her children to maturity in doing these things without rewards, reminders, or consequences.
Personally, I would work toward having the children become responsible in their jobs but allowing them to talk and enjoy each other’s fellowship as they are in the kitchen together. In our family, this is one of the greatest blessings of tackling a job as a group—being able to talk as we work. While the children are fellowshipping through their KP duties, their work will go much more quickly and they are building those lifelong relationships. Our family loves working together. However, talking can lead to goofiness, which undermines the task at hand, so there have to be consequences that are set in place for playing rather than working and for not doing a good job.
Consider making the consequence for poor quality work having to redo the job during the child’s free time. Since this is an after-lunch cleanup, if a child is required to redo several of his jobs, it will most likely mean he isn’t ready to start the afternoon’s schoolwork on time. Then are two choices. The first possibility would be to have him redo the poor or undone work right then, and begin school later. For however much later school is started, it would go that much later in the day. For example, let’s say it is 12:55 when Mom inspects the kitchen and sees a child’s work that needs to be redone. She calls her child to redo the work, and it takes him until 1:15 to accomplish the tasks. School was to begin at 1:00, so he now has to go fifteen minutes later in the afternoon with school than he normally would go.
The second possibility would be to begin school at the scheduled time, and then when free time arrives, have the child redo his work. For example, if the child didn’t load the dishes into the dishwasher after lunch and some of those dishes are needed for an afternoon snack, he could be required to wash and dry the dishes by hand. However, if the dishes aren’t needed until dinnertime, there might be opportunity after school for him to redo his job. Which way to work the consequence would depend on whether the chore has to be accomplished correctly for other aspects of the day to continue.
If the consequence, consistently used, isn’t working, then one raises the impact of the consequence. In this case, the mom could begin adding extra time doing other jobs, doing schoolwork, or for a younger child, sitting on a chair. If that isn’t working, add more time. But remember with me, and say it to yourself again, “I have to be consistent.” If your consequence isn’t working, reevaluate whether you are being consistent.
This mom might try to give her children an incentive to move through their work in a timely fashion, such as free time before the next scheduled activity. For example, breakfast cleanup could be scheduled for a half hour, but you know it should only take fifteen minutes. If the children are working efficiently, they will have fifteen minutes of free time before school starts. However, if they goof off during their meal cleanup, they would be using up their free time. If that happens, then it really doesn’t matter much because it was just their free time that was impacted. Just be careful, though, not to always use rewards and thereby teach your children to work only if there is a reward.
I have regularly dismissed all the kitchen helpers and left the work to one child whom I observed not doing his work. Extra work for our children has been a good consequence that I can use consistently. I would also consider using extra work for the child who isn’t doing a good job with his task—give him a sibling’s job in addition to his own work—particularly if this could reward the child who is being thorough and diligent with his work, releasing him from it for a day or two or more.
After sharing, in a much briefer fashion, these thoughts and suggestions with the mom who wrote the introductory question, she responded a short while later with this result:
“I have really taken your counsel to heart, especially the encouragement to be consistent and the ideas to add more work for those trying to sneak out of work!! I can assure you that these, perhaps obvious, thoughts have truly brought PEACE to my home after each meal!! It was really helpful for me to hear from you that my children WILL grow into maturity!! I believe this is true AS LONG AS I train them in that right direction.”
Using consequences consistently is vitally important to gaining results in teaching our children to do what the need to do. We also want to remember that they are children and not expect adult behavior from them. Look back at their level of responsibility two years ago, and it is likely there has been progress. Two years in the future, it will have progressed even further. May I encourage you to lovingly, gently, and consistently tackle any areas with your children—like KP—that have had you discouraged? I believe you will be happily surprised with the results.