I have tried everything to get my kids to do their chores, but it is a constant battle. Why can't they just do what I ask? Are all kids as lazy as mine?
Most parents know that it's important that their children develop a sense of responsibility, not to mention the fact that we could all use help with the endless tasks that are part of running a household. But handling chores can become a hotbed for parent-child conflicts.
The worst four words to use when starting to make a request of a child are, "I need you to..." Outside of a close and loving connection, these words announce that your children have the power to either satisfy your need or deprive you of its fulfillment by ignoring your requests or defiantly digging in their heels. Beginning a request with I need you to disempowers you, setting you up for a parent-child power struggle.
When we believe that our kids should voluntarily delight in taking out the trash or -- as you'll see in a moment, pick up their socks -- we come AT them aggressively, prompting them to push back. This is why I so love the work of Byron Katie. Because unless we neutralize the belief in our minds that rigidly lays out how our children should be or behave, we are likely to come across in a way fuels their defiance.
In other words, when we try to give our problem to our children, they tend to resist. We may be suffering with the smell of the trash or the wet towels on the bathroom floor, but to our children, those things may be invisible. If we want to engage their cooperation, we have to start by accepting that we cannot force them to take on our problem -- the messiness around us -- as their own.
In a recent episode of the three-part series that I am doing with Katie on The Work and Parenting (hosted here on HuffPost*), the topic of chores was addressed in a very interesting way. Katie talked about how angry she would become with her children for leaving their socks on the floor. She would scold, threaten and cajole, but the socks remained on the floor.
It wasn't until she understood that the only person who had a problem with the socks was her that things shifted within her family. She started cheerfully picking up the socks that bothered her, realizing that establishing peace in the home was within her reach if she stopped making the issue a battleground for war with her kids.
Telling a different story about her children -- that they simply didn't see the socks as a problem -- allowed her to stop coming across angrily, which ultimately shifted something in them that motivated them to help out.
When we judge our children, they feel it. Just as we don't like it when someone angrily tries to force us to what they want, our kids are wired to resist our coercion. Taking it further, when we look at the many ways we avoid doing things that we don't see as essential or fun, we become less harsh with our kids when they do the same.
When we make loving connection with our children our priority, they are going to be more inclined to cooperate. This starts by acknowledging the reasons they'd rather play than take out the trash rather than acting as though they share our concern over the task at hand. It also involves speaking in a loving way that inspires them to say Yes, rather than a harsh tone that motivates them to say "no."
WATCH: The Work on Parenting
I hope you'll tune in for more on The Work and Parenting with Byron Katie. You can view the event at the top of this post on Wednesday, May 27th at 10:00 am PST. To register for replays or future follow ups, please click here.
Susan Stiffelman is the author of Parenting Without Power Struggles: Raising Joyful, Resilient Kids While Staying Cool, Calm and Connected and the brand new Parenting with Presence: Practices for Raising Conscious, Confident, Caring Kids (An Eckhart Tolle Edition). She is a family therapist, parent coach and internationally recognized speaker on all subjects related to children, teens and parenting.
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