Monday, June 13, 2011

Call me "Tom"

I have come to believe that most of parenting is just marketing - trying to convince your child that they actually want what you want for them. This theory works great, especially with chores. A friend of mine who has witnessed this phenomenon has called me the "Tom Sawyer" of parenting. Remember how happily he got his friends to paint the white picket fence for him?

The thing about kids is that they want to do "work" and they want to be helpful. Anyone whose child has enthusiastically helped cook or vacuum knows what I mean. At this age, all work seems fun (at least initially) and its a good time to teach them how to do chores.

This is actually much easier than it sounds. Here's a real-life example that worked for me.

1. Build enthusiasm. "No, you are not quite yet big enough to clean out the litter box. But, maybe next month." The children began to look longingly at the forbidden litter box.

2. Demonstrate your own enthusiasm. Don't let them see you grumble or complain about a task. Then they believe they shouldn't want to do it either. They have heard me say, "I get to clean the litter box now. It feels so good to be able to take care of our cats."

3. Never bribe your child to do what you want and expect them to do. Kids are smart. They know that if you are desperate enough to give them a treat or a toy to do something that it must be a big deal and they have leverage. They are as astute at wielding power as politicians. Don't give them the opportunity.

4. Switch things around and use the chore as the reward. "Okay kids. You have been making very good choices and showing me how responsible you are. I think you can clean the litter box soon." This is met with enthusiastic cheering from the kids.

5. Perfect your high pitched "happy" voice. Imagine a Chihuahua eating a handful of pixie stix under a rainbow with glitter and dancing unicorns all around. Seriously, seriously happy and excited. Adding dramatic pauses helps build anticipation. "Okay kids....Today...we get to...........CLEAN THE LITTER BOX!!! HOORAY!!!!" It helps to throw in a little dance move here to convey the appropriate level of joy.

6. Make the chore a game. Our cleaning the litter box demonstration involved me with a pirate accent looking for buried treasure, matey. There may have been costumes involved.

7. Always praise the child's genuine effort. Don't redo what they have done. If it is a job you have very exacting standards on, perhaps that isn't the job to pass onto the kids. Lower your standards.

My children were begging to clean the litter box again for several weeks after they learned.

Yes, I'll admit the enthusiasm can wear off when they realize that they aren't actually pirates digging for buried treasure but instead scooping out stinky poop. One child came to me a couple of weeks later saying, "Mom, you know cleaning the litter box isn't really all that fun." She seemed genuinely surprised that the joy didn't last.

I gave my child a big hug and a smile and said, "I'm sorry you feel that way. But, you are an important, helpful part of the family and I'm so glad you know how to do it anyway. And I think it needs to be cleaned."


Mary M said...

That's awesome! I love the way you make everything so positive! :)

Heather said...

Hysterical! I was laughing out loud!

Tanya G. said...

You are a hoot! I can actually picture you doing this with your kids!