Work Smarter; Discipline Less

All parents want their children to take initiative and perform certain tasks around the home. Whether it’s taking out the trash, feeding the dog, or setting the table, there are household chores that are appropriate for every age group. When children don’t take on the requested responsibilities (or don’t do them satisfactorily), many parents resort to discipline measures as a way to “motivate” the child to do the task. But this approach creates stress for both the parent and the child. A better approach is to work smarter with your child. When you do, you’ll find that you actually discipline less. Here are some tips.

  • Once a task has been performed, the objective should be to focus on progress—rather than on perfection. If the activity does not meet parental expectations, something positive can still be found to comment on. This is far more effective than comments that foster guilt or a sense of failure. A positive approach prompts an incentive for the task (and a desire to try again)—in contrast to criticizing, which provides a disincentive.
  • Choose a specific time of day for required activities. When tasks are structured and organized, they are easier to accomplish. When establishing routines, consider the timing, such as whether or not the child is tired or hungry. There may be causes for being cranky or uncooperative. Similarly, if you are interrupting a child’s favorite activity or television program, don’t expect the youngster to be very cooperative.
  • With an adolescent, the “state of mind” needs to be considered. A typical example is a parent’s demand on a youngster’s time. Let’s say that the son has not taken out the trash or completed some other chore, and he is watching television. The parent reminds him. The timing is met with a negative reaction. A more successful approach would be to ask later or wait until he is upright, preferably in motion. Once on his feet and moving, the young man will be in a state of mind much more receptive to taking out the trash. In addition, the implicit message will not be that what the parent wants is more important than what the youngster wants. A key phrase to remember is, “Under duress, they do less.”
  • Offering help to start a chore is a good technique. Younger children prefer starting tasks with others rather than in isolation. After the youngster is involved, then withdraw, saying something like, “I’m sure you have the skills to do the rest without my help.”
  • Finally, any task should be age appropriate. “Have you picked up your clothes?” is more manageable and not so discouraging as, “Clean your room.” In addition, once the clothes are picked up, cleaning the rest of the room may naturally follow.

When you give some thought to how you interact with your children, you’ll find that they are much more receptive to your ideas, and the need for discipline diminishes as responsibility grows.