Nailing chores for kids with the secret method of motivation

Last updated: 03-13-2019

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Nailing chores for kids with the secret method of motivation

Today we’re talking chores for kids, most importantly, getting them to do them! Dishes, vacuuming, laundry, oh my! Chores are all part of that daily grind that makes life so tedious. No matter what you accomplish, there is still pile of dirty clothes to attend to the very next day. Despite Snap Chat’s demanding answers, Binge Mode calling, and Instagram unable to scroll itself, we parents find it within ourselves to throw a load in whether we feel like it or not.

There’s a reason we resist our temptation to put off monotonous tasks: We have motivation to do them.

Kids? Not so much. If I looked up “unmotivated” in the dictionary, it would be an illustration of my kids not wanting to do chores.

I must force them. But I do so for their own good.

Why are we adults motivated (sometimes) to do chores when kids aren’t? We have a secret method of motivation: A reason to.

This is the long and the short of it: We see the long and short term benefits of chores that make their completion more important than our resistance. You know the benefits, you like the benefits, you stop fighting yourself to do chores. And, how valuable those benefits are to us positively correlate with how motivated we are.

This is the thing. Life experience that has showed us the benefits of our daily tasks, but kids don’t automatically know these benefits. They need to learn them from you.

Just like for yourself, if you want to get your kids to do chores, you need to give them a reason to. “Because you are a member of this household,” or “Because I said so,” or “Because I don’t like to see it,” are not reasons. They put kids and parents on the opposing sides, and kids are very good at arguing from their other side to postpone the chore, hoping you’ll get too exhausted or distracted by your own inadequacies and give up. Unfortunately, this works all too well.

But when they get a reason that they can get behind, they join you instead. Their resistance goes down and with that their complaining. (Unfortunately nothing eliminates complaining altogether. Brains just do that.)

Kids complain, as I explain in this post because their brains (yours, too) evolved to perfect two goals: 1. To survive and thrive and 2. To conserve calories (to support survival when there is little food).

This second function of the brain is the explanation for all psychological resistance to tedious and difficult tasks, unless there is a clear and present benefit to survive or thrive. Humans need a reason to override this resistance.

Luckily there are tons of surviving and thriving reasons to doing chores, I will point them out for you.

In my work as a psychotherapist, I see the relationship with the increase of stress and anxiety connected to our decrease in doing chores. My TEDxWilmington talk is all about how chores help kids calm anxiety. Watch my TEDx talk here:

Children build confidence when complete a challenge and see that could do it. Confidence comes after the accomplishment, because you saw it was possible with your own eyes. Past accomplishments can also give you confidence. However, if it is too far in the past, it is too easy for self-doubt to trick you into thinking that you can’t now. People have to continue to challenge themselves to continue feeling confident.

Reported by a 75 year Harvard Grant Study. “Kids who do chores are smarter.” Chores give kids a pitch-in mindset improving work ethic and increasing success, it says. Children practice solving problems, developing their prefrontal cortex and expanding their minds.

Doing chores with frequency helps you get familiar with the rewards that comes with doing the chores (all of these that I list here). With that experience of reaping the benefits, a person can’t help but value work. A strong work ethic helps one feel less like a victim and more like an agent in life. They feel empowered and use that power to create a happy, fulfilling life.

This gives children a sense of belonging and being needed in the community. Our souls, our bodies and our minds crave belonging. We want to matter, to contribute, and to have purpose. Chores toward the highest good of the community gives us that purpose.

Many people asked me after hearing my TedxWilmington talk: Should I pay my children for chores? That depends. In general, paying for chores teaches a valuable lesson and work ethic, cause and effect. It empowers them that they can do something to get what they want.

However, some chores are just part of being in the family and running a household, like keeping their room straightened and cleaning up after themselves, and schoolwork. But for yard work, painting, and other bigger tasks, getting paid can be extrinsic (external) motivation to do the job.

Sometimes extrinsic motivation gets a bad rap as inferior to intrinsic motivation (a person should just want to do it to be a good person.). Firstly, kids have to read the world and learn cause and effect before they can employ intrinsic motivation. And secondly, the world is filled with extrinsic motivation so this has great value too.

It is important to keep in mind that the more responsible a person is, the more freedom that they have in the world. At the extreme, if you are not responsible (i.e., you break laws) you get imprisoned. For kids, the more responsibility they show, the more more freedom, things, money and privileges your parents give them. Kids get good grades, parents want to do something nice for them. Kids keep curfew, parents let them go out again. Responsibility earns respect. Respect earns freedom.

In a study in California, they found that people with cluttered homes have increased stress, depression and anxiety.

Being organized helps you be ready for your day, this makes you feel good and calm. You decrease your chances of losing or forgetting something important. You can grab more opportunities when you are prepared.

When faced with challenging chores, children find they need to find information, help and resources. It is excellent to practice this, because in the future they will be faced with needing this all the time. Many of us adults give up on opportunities and success because we are too nervous to ask for help!

It is our job to help our kids read and navigate the world. If we try to make all of their choices, do their tasks, or protect them too much, we take away their ability to learn how to do this on their own in the future.

Lots of times kids want to protest rules, as if they are “oppression.” They feel like a victim of the rule. I tell families to practice reading rules wherever you see them. Like on the wall at a public pool. Have them guess why each rule is there. “No running on deck” is because kids often slip on the wet concrete.

If they understand the process the leaders have to set rules, they won’t feel so random, and easier to follow. This will help them see the benefit to them and the greater good (i.e., safety) anytime they approach a limit set by an authority of institution.

Children often don’t see the point of high school. What is the point in learning all those historical dates? Kids tell me, when am I ever going to need those?

The point of school is to gain experience doing things that you don’t want to do. Practice figuring out how to push past resistance of what you might find as nonsense tasks, towards a bigger future goal. Also, school trains you in how to find answers to your questions, how to ask for help and get along with difficult people. And how to do it all by a deadline. Valuable stuff. THIS is what you get out of school, not dates and equations.

Not all authority is created equal. Some people in authority abuse this power. This is why it is important to have our children not blindly follow all authority figures. Unfortunately, we parents have noticed this has more than sufficiently caught on. In fact, you may be thinking that the pendulum may has swung a bit too far. Young people are starting to question authority anytime they feel the resistance, and end up perceiving even good-for-them tasks as oppressive.

Through practice, they learn how to take a step back and assess if the authority figure has their best interest as well as the communities best interest in mind. This way, they will respect them and their guidance. (Hopefully this will hold our leaders accountable, too!)

Children learn that they can count on themselves when they see themselves accomplishing things. When you feel skilled, life is less daunting and scary. You feel empowered and ready for challenges. They charge you up, rather than freak you out.

This translates to a happier, less-stressed life because you are more equip –have more skills and confidence– to handle what comes your way.

If you want your children to believe in chores, send them this list. Even once kids understand and desire the benefits that chores bring, they still will complain. Expect this, or you will be very frustrated and disappointed. Have kids do chores anyway! Stay strong and calm. You can do this!

My Book You 1, Anxiety 0 on Amazon

Cause and Effect: Written version on my talk at TEDxWilmington

How to get kids to do chores. The Maya Method (Start young) 

What is your biggest struggle when trying nail chores for kids and getting your children to do chores?

Jodi Aman, a psychotherapist for over 20 years, helps clients recover from every problem in the book. Through humour and warmth, her popular videos inspire thousands of people all over the world to give up their fear and live with vitality.

Having clawed her way out of her own anxiety and depression, Jodi shares her story of personal transformation and that of many of her clients in her best selling book, You 1, Anxiety 0- Win your life back from fear and panic. She’ll teach you how to change limiting beliefs, calm life’s chaos, create peace and master happiness in your life. Learn how to let go of what no longer serves you in 3 practical steps.

Find help at jodiaman.com. Learn healing at youtube.com/jodiaman. Feel loved on Facebook.com/jodiamanlove.


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