Tired of asking the kids repeatedly to clean their rooms, empty the dishwasher, or do that summer homework they've been avoiding? I hear ya. But do your kids? Does nagging actually work? Nagging is not the least bit enjoyable for the nagger or the naggee, and in my experience, it usually ends with yelling and tears. Yet we continue to do it… repeating a request over and over again in hopes that by some miracle, our request will be completed. The fact is, nagging is aversive and actually DECREASES the chance that the desired behavior will happen. So every time you ask your child “Will you please pick up your room?” and your request does not lead to the desired behavior (picking up the bedroom), the effectiveness of your request decreases. Asking your child to pick up her room 20 times does not make it 20 times more likely that she will actually pick up her room; in fact, it make it far LESS likely she will actually complete the desired task- now or in the future. Not to mention that nagging causes your stress level to rise, and before you know it, you’re yelling and your child is crying or has shut down completely, which means she's no longer listening to you. And the bedroom will still be a mess.
WHAT TO DO INSTEAD:
Avoid having to ask by using a chore chart. This will create less stress for you and shapes responsibility and independence in your kids. You may be thinking, "But we've already tried that chore chart thing. It didn't work." But did you really try it? Really and truly? As in, you made a valiant effort to reinforce and follow the chore chart consistently for six weeks? (People say it takes six weeks to form a habit.) If you didn't really and truly try it, I urge you to take another stab at it. Create an age-appropriate chore chart with your child so she knows exactly what is expected of her and when this is expected (before school, after school, every day, once per week, etc.). The chart can be decorated according to your child's preferences, but remember to keep it SIMPLE. A complicated, overly detailed chore chart will end up unused or in the garbage out of frustration. Place the chart on the refrigerator or somewhere highly visible in the house. Make sure the tasks on the chart are linked to small daily rewards (e.g. stickers) and larger weekly rewards. Handipoints has some great free charts, or you can use one from this website as a model to create your very own.
If your child is not completing a desired task on her chore chart you can give ONE clear and specific reminder using a calm, very matter-of-fact tone of voice (e.g. “Sarah, it’s 4 o’clock. Time for you to empty your lunch box.”) If Sarah does not comply, walk away and ignore fact that the behavior is not completed.
Review the chart at least once a day (or in the morning and at bedtime) and allow your child to place a sticker or symbol after the desired task, if completed. Give your child lots of praise and positive reinforcement for completing desired tasks. Do not provide stickers for incomplete tasks and don't focus on these. Simply ignore incomplete tasks and if your child tries to convince you to give her a sticker for these, say “Nope, not today. Tomorrow you’ll have another chance to earn a sticker for this.”
The idea behind the chore chart is to positively shape your child's behavior in order to increase independence and responsibility. It's quite likely you won't have to be a slave to the chore chart forever. Once kids become accustomed to completing chores, the desired tasks and behaviors will become habitual... with the occasional test of wills, of course. Just remember, keep it simple and try your best to be consistent with the chart for six weeks. It'll pay off in the long run.
Already have a chore chart or great way of getting your kids to do what you ask the first time? Harmony At Home wants to know! Please share your comments.
Licensed Clinical Psychologist
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