What This Is Like from a Parent’s Perspective


You do so much for your kids. Your daily to-do list is a mile long, and practically every item on that list is something you’re doing for your kids.

…So when they make a mess of the entire main floor of the house and then resist when you ask them to clean up after themselves…

…Or when you ask them to do a simple thing (like taking their plate to the counter after they’ve eaten) and they complain…

You want to tell them how many things YOU do that you don’t want to do.

And you worry that they’re never going to act responsibly. 


What This Is Like From a Child’s Perspective


Whether or not a child WANTS to do act responsibly, their brain isn’t wired to act responsibly.

Instead, children’s brains naturally seek whatever is engaging or novel… and will not usually be thinking about (or care about) the thing that they are “supposed to” do.

…So they naturally stop playing something and move on to the next task without stopping to clean up.

…And once they’ve eaten, their brains have moved on to the next activity rather than thinking about putting their plate away.

Kids don’t want to get yelled at for not doing something… but they don’t always have the tools to act responsibly when it goes so much against their nature.

They just need a little help.


How It Usually Goes

When We Ask Kids Do A Chore  


Scenario: Marlena’s parents want Marlena to take responsibility for cleaning her room. They also want her to have some control, so they’ve told her only that she needs to clean before the weekend is over.

But it’s Sunday night and Marlena hasn’t yet touched her room. Her dad reminds her that she only has another hour before she has to finish.


Dad: Marlena, remember the deal is that you have to clean your room before the weekend is over. And bedtime is in an hour.

Marlena: I know, Dad.

Dad: So when are you going to do it?

Marlena: I will. Soon.

Dad: You’ve said that before and it hasn’t happened.

Marlena: Dad! Stop!

Dad: I’ll stop when you go clean.

Marlena: You said I have till the end of the weekend. I’ll DO it!

Dad: That’s what you said last weekend and it didn’t get done.

Marlena: Well I WILL this time!

Dad: You’d better, or you’re not having your play date after school tomorrow.

Marlena: Dad!

Dad: I’m serious, Marlena.

Marlena makes no move to clean. She just glares at her dad.  


How We Can Motivate Kids to Do Chores

Through Proactive Joint Problem Solving


Scenario: Marlena’s parents want Marlena to take responsibility for cleaning her room. They also want her to have some control, so they’ve told her only that she needs to clean before the weekend is over.

However, they’ve noticed that she doesn’t actually clean before the weekend is over, so they talk to her before the weekend arrives.


Mom: Hey Mar… We’ve noticed that your room hasn’t been getting cleaned on weekends. I bet there’s a reason for that.

Marlena: Wait! I clean my room! 

Mom (laughs): Sometimes I’m still tripping over your clothes on Monday  mornings, honey. (Lightheartedly): I will admit, though, that your stuffed bunny does look adorable surrounded by all of those clothes on the floor.


[expand title=”CALM”]

Marlena’s mom wants to argue that Marlena is wrong. But she knows that will just start a power struggle that will not motivate Marlena to act responsibly.

And because Marlena’s mom is dealing with the situation proactively and is not filled with Yuck, she can stay calm. [/expand]


Marlena (smiles).

Mom: The room does need to get cleaned.

Marlena: I know. 

Mom: OK, well what do you think is stopping you from cleaning?

Marlena: I don’t know.

Mom: What is it that you prefer to do instead?

Marlena: Anything. Color. Read. Watch videos.

Mom: Ah, all stuff that is interesting to you.

Marlena: Yeah.

Mom: Cleaning your room is NOT.

Marlena. No.

Mom: Oh I get that. I used to hate cleaning my room too. I STILL think it’s boring but I find ways to make it less boring. So how would we make cleaning your room less boring?


[expand title=”CONNECT”]

Marlena’s mom knows that if she wants to give Marlena the tools she needs to act responsibly, she has to see the situation from Marlena’s perspective and understand where the resistance comes from.

Because she’s handling the situation proactively, Marlena’s mom is not in Yuck and it’s easier for her consider Marlean’s point of view. [/expand]


Marlena: I don’t know.

Mom: Can I make a suggestion?

Marlena: I guess.

Mom: What if you put laundry baskets around your room? And played a basketball game to get the clothes in?

Marlena: I don’t know.

Mom: Do you have any ideas?

Marlena: No.

Mom: Babe, it’s gotta get done. And you do not like doing it. It does stink that we have to do things that we don’t want to. (She doesn’t say anything else and the two sit in silence for a moment.)


[expand title=”CORRECT”]

Marlena’s mom maintains her boundary while teaching Marlena tools to be successful. She also stays calm and silent to show Marlena that she is on her side AND that she is not going to budge on the boundary.

Handling the situation proactively allows Marlena’s mom to focus on being firm without getting angry. [/expand]

Marlena (sighs). Fine.

Mom: What’s your idea?

Marlena: I’ll try the baskets around the room. I think I might need music too.

Mom: Music is fine. (She pauses.) So laundry baskets and music. One more question.

Marlena: What?

Mom: What do you want me to do if this plan doesn’t get followed?

Marlena: You can just say “baskets.” That’ll remind me to throw the stuff in the baskets and get it done.

Mom: OK. But we’re going to revisit this plan to see how it works, OK? Because the room has to get clean.

Marlena: I know, Mom.




Why Proactive Joint Problem Solving Works


  • When situations are dealt with in between times of Yuck, Yuck is no longer an obstacle.  Without Yuck, parents stay calmer and children are less likely to be disrespectful or resistant to solutions.


  • When parents can truly listen to and connect with their children, they can identify the real reason that kids aren’t doing what they’re supposed to do. And once they know the reason, they can find a solution for that reason. 


  • Joint problem solving requires children to have a say in the plan and the consequence if the plan isn’t followed. When children have this type of control, they are more invested in making the plan work.