What This Is Like from Your Perspective

You’ve asked your kids to pitch in around the house, and sometimes they do what they’re supposed to do… but you also notice they use less effort than you’d like when they do that chore. So you ask them to

…Clean the bathroom, but when you look, you notice that the counter tops are are still sticky

…Put their backpack away, and it’s where it’s supposed to be… but not hung up

…Put away the dishes, but there are a few left out…unwashed

When you see that, you know you have to have an uncomfortable, complaint-filled conversation with them… and you often just end up finishing the job yourself instead (which leads to resentment).


What This Is Like from Your Child’s Perspective

Just like adults, children often don’t feel like doing chores. Unlike adults, they don’t usually have the motivation (or desire) to put their full effort into chores around the house. And sometimes they don’t even notice when they haven’t completed a whole task the way we wanted them to. So they

….Clean the toilets and sinks and don’t notice when they’ve left some stickiness on the counters (especially when they can’t see it)

…Are tired after school and put their backpack where it’s supposed to go, not understanding the need for hanging it up as well

…Put away most of the dishes, start to think about the next thing they’re going to do, and move on before they’re completely finished with their job

For better or worse, kids don’t have the same priorities we do, and they have trouble caring about everything we care about just because we want them to.



How It Usually Goes When Kids Put

Less Effort Into Chores Than You’d Like


Scenario: Laura and Jameson are supposed to clean a fort they’d built in the basement. Their mom had warned them that they’d need to clean up after themselves, and they promised they would. But when their mom goes to the basement to get something, she sees that there is still a mess where the fort once was.


Mom: Laura and Jameson, get down here!

Laura and Jameson come downstairs, worried by mom’s tone of voice that she’s mad. 

Jameson (already defensive): What?

Mom: Look at this mess!

Laura: We cleaned up!

Mom: You call THAT clean?

Jameson: Yes!

Mom: But the couch cushions are all over. And the blankets you used to build the fort aren’t put away. And I see tape on the floor!

Laura: But we put away all of the other stuff!

Jameson: Yeah! We spent so long putting everything away.

Mom: You can’t just do things halfway! That’s not responsible.

Laura: Why does it have to be perfect?

Mom: It doesn’t have to be perfect. It just has to be DONE. Go clean the rest now!

Jameson: Aw Mom, I was in the middle of something upstairs.

Mom: I don’t care! Finish what you started or you won’t be able to build forts again.

Laura: I did my part. Jameson is the one who left that stuff!

Jameson: That’s not true! The blankets were yours!

Laura: But I folded them…

Mom: Enough! Both of you! Clean up NOW!

Both Jameson and Laura are defensive and upset, so they continue arguing over who should clean up.  Exasperated, their mom threatens to take things away from them to try to motivate them. She doesn’t know what else to do. 


How It Could Go When Kids Put

Less Effort Into Chores Than You’d Like

Scenario: Laura and Jameson are supposed to clean a fort they’d built in the basement. Their mom had warned them that they’d need to clean up after themselves, and they promised they would. But when their mom goes to the basement to get something, she sees that there is still a mess where the fort once was.

Mom: Laura? Jameson? Come down here, please.

Laura and Jameson come downstairs.

Jameson: Yeah?

Mom: I know we talked about you cleaning up the fort… And I see that you did do some clean-up.

Laura: Yeah… I took down the blankets and sheets and folded them up.

Jameson: And I put away the stuff we had inside the fort!

Mom: That’s good to hear. And I see what’s been done. I also see some other things that haven’t been done.

Laura sighs.

Mom: Do you see a few things that still need to be done?

Jameson: No.


Laura and Jameson’s mom believes they actually know what to do to finish cleaning. She also knows if she assumes that they’re acting ignorant on purpose, she’ll lose her cool, which won’t motivate the kids to clean. So she focuses on what she can do to keep the situation moving rather than on the fact that the kids are stalling. 


Mom: OK, I’ll help. Before the fort was built, the couch cushions were neat enough so we could sit on them. I think we’d hurt our behinds if we tried to sit on there now! So what do you think still has to be done there?

Laura: Who cares how they look?

Mom: You’re right, we are NOT going to be featured in any magazines! But you know how we talk in this family about finishing what we started? In this case, I’d like you to finish what you started.

Laura: Fine, I’ll fix those.

Mom: Thanks, Laura…. Jameson, do you see anything else that still needs to be done?

Jameson: No. The cushions are neat now.

Mom: How about the blankets? Could they be put away?

Jameson: I guess. (He makes no move to do it.)

Mom: Jameson, you don’t feel like finishing this, do you?



Laura and Jameson’s mom wants the kids to act more responsible. She also knows that they have a perspective that is important to them as hers is to her… so she acknowledges this perspective, knowing that respecting her kids is more likely to motivate them than telling them all of the reasons their behavior is unacceptable.


Jameson: No… I spent so long before on this. And it looks fine to me.

Mom: Yeah, I know you don’t care about things the same way I do. But it is my job to teach you how to be responsible. So this does need to be finished before you go back to your game. Would you like me to take one blanket while you take the rest?



As much as she understands the kids’ point of view, Jameson and Laura’s mom does not lost sight of her boundary. She focuses on being firm while giving them tools to be successful.


Jameson: Why don’t you just take them all?

Mom (laughs): Good try, kiddo. Don’t push it. Here, let’s do this so you can go back to your game. And do you know what? Next time I’ll be more clear about exactly what I mean when I tell you to clean up.

Jameson slowly moves to pick up the blankets because he knows he won’t be able to do anything else until this gets done… and because he’s more willing to help when his mom seems like she’s trying to help him, not control him.


What To Do Proactively to Make This

In-the-Moment Scenario More Likely


Jameson and Laura’s mom was able to balance FIRMNESS (maintaining a boundary) with RESPECT (understanding her kids’ perspective and giving them tools to  be successful) when dealing with their behavior.

Proactive actions will make all of the difference in whether you are able to stay calm, connect, and correct behavior effectively.


You are more likely to  be able to stay CALM if:

a.) your biological or emotional “needs accounts” are met (otherwise you won’t have a reserve to draw from and you’ll immediately go into Yuck when your child doesn’t do what you want) and

a.) you recognize (and respect) that your kids have have a different perspective and agenda than you do…and that their perspective and agenda matter.

When you make sure your own needs are met and you set realistic expectations PROACTIVELY, you are more likely to be able to stay calm.


You will only be able to CONNECT if:

a.) you respect that ALL behavior has a reason and

b.) you understand those reasons
(in this case, that Laura and Jameson not only aren’t motivated to clean up completely, but they also may not realize what cleaning up completely means)

When you become comfortable with the reasons behind behavior PROACTIVELY, you will be able to connect more effectively.


You will only be able to CORRECT behavior if:

a.) You have demonstrated consistently in the past that you mean what you say when you set a boundary like “You need to clean up or you can’t play your game.”

b.) You have made enough deposits into your kids’ emotional needs that setting a boundary doesn’t put them immediately into Yuck.

When you demonstrate that you mean what you say and when you make deposits into your kids’ emotional needs PROACTIVELY, you  will be able to correct behavior more effectively.