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How do I deal with 7 year old kid who refuses to do a chore or task? He's not listening and ignores my request.

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11 Answers

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You have two options, positive reinforcement or consequences.

You should probably try positive reinforcement and adding basic things as "prizes" for doing the chore. You might think that for doing the task the child shouldn't get a prize, and that's fine; but a price could be something simple like a sticker, a star in the chart, even a hug. This will depend on the kid. However, if you make him part of the decision of what the prize is, the kid will more likely get the chore done.

With consequences you can then instead establish consequences like if you don't get X done you cannot play video games. Note however that this could be turned into positive reinforcement. If you do X, then you can play 30 minutes of video games.

You could argue that both options are the same, but it in part depends on what the child knows today as prizes and standard "rights".

We use both with our three kids, but what to use depends on the chore, the kid, and the thing that the kid is immediately most interested in.

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For a seven year old, I strongly disagree with offering incentives (i.e. bribes) to do or consequences (punishment) for not doing the chores, which are fundamentally all part of living together in a household. There is a middle ground of explaining why everyone in the house needs to do their part or the household grinds to a halt. If you describe it as a chore, that's a negative connotation right from the start. How about taking the position of the family being a team and that the team gets great results when working together towards the same goal? –  JBRWilkinson May 22 '11 at 10:30
    
After you explain and the child doesn't comply, what do you do? Also, if he/she complies, then he sees the reward in it. You are essentially giving him a reinforcer that he values. –  ale May 22 '11 at 11:51
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For example, you ask them to set to table ready for dinner. They refuse. So when dinner is served up and they have no plate, knife or fork, how will they eat? Dinner is not a reward, but a necessity. Them not being able to eat their dinner because they didn't lay the table is a very clear example of why they needed to do the task. –  JBRWilkinson May 22 '11 at 15:44
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Dinner is a reward. Reward doesn't mean that it's special. But it reinforces the behavior. I think we essentially agree, I just think that anything that motivates a behavior is a reward for that behavior. You are thinking rewards as special treats, toys, etc. My point is that they don't have to be. –  ale May 22 '11 at 16:17
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By expanding "reward" to encompass, well, everything, you are bringing it beyond the usual definition of the word. By your phrasing, life is a "reward" offered to children for eating and breathing. "Reward" in the context of motivating children to do specific tasks generally is something "special". Saying "dinner is a reward" implies that children don't deserve dinner unless they do something to earn it. Expanding definitions of terms to blur meaningful distinction is a semantic argument that does nothing for providing practical advice. –  Beofett May 22 '11 at 20:40
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In contrast with the other answers, I advocate not rewarding children for doing chores, particularly if they started off by ignoring or refusing to do them.

Offering children rewards for completing chores and basic tasks teaches them that they should expect rewards, and that tasks or chores that don't result in a rewards are not worth doing. It leads to a sense of entitlement, which leads to frustration and disappointment later in life when they learn that that is not how the world really works. Yes, they will get "rewarded" for doing their job later in life with pay, but more and more people seem to believe that getting paid for their job only requires them to do the minimum required by their job description, which is not a healthy attitude in a competitive marketplace.

The fact that he's currently defying you by ignoring or refusing requests to do chores only makes the risks worse. Offering rewards now is essentially bribing him to behave to minimum expectations. You are sending him a message that not only is it acceptable to refuse to do what he is told, it is also a valid tactic to refuse and then hold out until a suitable reward is offered.

Instead, I suggest restricting privileges until your son starts doing his chores. You don't need to state them as punishments. Instead, simply refuse to agree to any new activity or toy that he asks for, citing his lack of chores as the reason. In the short-term, this will be much more difficult, as he will probably offer strong (and loud) resistance, but long-term I believe it presents a much healthier (and more realistic) understanding of the way responsibility works.

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I disagree Beofett, I thik the fatc it teaches kids that you have to work for rewards, is a life lesson, in my opinion. We give our kids pocket money, which can be topped up by working with us. I don't think kids, per se, should have to work around the house, I don't, I believe it's their choice whether they help (outside of the obvious). –  Hairy May 20 '11 at 13:54
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That's entirely your prerogative. However, I believe it is a parent's job to teach children the lessons they need in order to be a good adult. "You don't have to do basic chores, and you should only do tasks that aren't fun if there's some additional benefit to you" is not a good lesson, and "if you refuse to do things that I ask you to do, I'll reward you" is even worse, and I believe these result in adults who have poor attitudes towards work, chores, and sometimes life in general. –  Beofett May 20 '11 at 13:57
    
Giving back privileges is the same as giving rewards. As I mention in my answer, it is all the same, just depends on how you sell it. And I agree in general that they shouldn't get a new video game each time they make their bed; rewards|privileges can be pretty much anything... –  ale May 20 '11 at 14:30
    
Just... everybody... read this book. Please. alfiekohn.org/books/pbr.htm –  kivetros May 20 '11 at 14:54
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@Ale sorry, but I think there's a big difference between "here's a prize for making your bed" and "sorry, you can't go over to the playground because you haven't done your chores yet". I also think there's a difference between "go sit in time out because you didn't make your bed" and "sorry, you can't go over to the playground because you haven't done your chores yet". Claiming "its all rewards" and "it just depends on how you sell it", while arguably true, reduces it to the point where meaningful discussion on what works and what doesn't fails. –  Beofett May 22 '11 at 0:30
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@torbengb requested that I elaborate my comment into a proper answer, so here goes.

According to Punished by Rewards by Alfie Kohn, it's an extremely bad idea to try to get people to do things by bribing them with rewards / praise. The book explains it better than I can, but essentially, conditioning a child (or anyone, really) to do a thing in order to get another thing has several extremely negative consequences:

  • The work is always of lower quality; the doing of the thing simply becomes a means to an end whereby one can attain the proverbial 'carrot', and people will do as little as possible to get the 'carrot'.

  • It conditions children to always expect something in return, regardless of the task - and it reinforces the behavior of 'doing as little as possible to get by'. They learn to seek external gratification, rather than to be able to appreciate the sense of accomplishment from a job well done.

  • The focus is always removed from the task at hand, and is rather placed on the 'reward' - and the more this happens, the more that people are apt to totally lose interest in whatever they're doing. Disinterest turns work into drudgery; drudgery takes its toll, and sometimes the task doesn't get completed; the 'carrot' isn't obtained, the worker gives up, and on the cycle continues. I've been there myself, on more than one occasion.

Now, this might be a lot to take in at once - the whole concept of 'doing things for the sake of doing them' might be a little much for your seven-year-old to grasp, especially if you've operated with sticks and carrots thus far. I encourage you to read the book for yourself, and to see what you can take away from it for your situation.

Just remember this - bribes are ALWAYS a quick fix. They never last. Having worked with youth as much as I have, I've seen this happen a million times. You might get them to obey you once or twice, but in order to keep them under your control the carrot's got to get bigger - and way out of proportion to the task at hand.

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-1: provides a good counterpoint to another answer, but never answers the original question –  Javid Jamae May 22 '11 at 12:44
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I too have found that my example and especially doing the chore with them greatly helps. My 8 year old son loves helping me wash the cars because we usually turn it into a competition. Mom is the judge of the cleanest car and for some reason, he always seems to win. Also, during the summer, you can turn it into a water war.

Also, at 7, most chores (beyond the simple) require you to let them know they are doing it to your expectations, so you're probably close by anyway making sure they don't put tire cleaner on the paint job.

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Time to teach them about Team work

As children get older, they're more able to help out around the house and do little tasks themselves. When they do this, it means that Mum and Dad will have more time and energy to spend with the children and doing fun things together.

Explain to your child that if you have to tidy their room for them, cook, clean up, lay the table, pick up their toys, etc, then you have less time to play with them, read to them, go out and about, etc. If they could do some of these tasks themselves, then we will all have more time for the nice things.

Some of the tasks they should be able to do themselves are:

  • Putting their toys away in the cupboard/toy chest
  • Putting their books away
  • Putting their dirty laundry in the laundry basket
  • Helping hang out the laundry
  • Vacuuming at least two rooms of the house once a week
  • Laying the table for dinner, or wiping it clean after dinner

I strongly disagree with offering incentives to do or punishments for not doing things that they should do anyway - it's not that you want them to do these tasks, they need to do them regardless.

For a fascinating insight into motivational strategies, listen to Dan Pink's TED Talk on motivational strategies. Yes, it is more aimed at adults in the workplace, but the 'team work' aspect is the key:

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We're fortunate in that our son enjoys participating in doing these things just by his nature. But we frequently justify cleanup as "Yes, I'll make a puzzle with you, but, before we can do that we need to pick up all these toys!" Then start cleaning, and he always joins in the fun. Now he's gotten to a point where he is lecturing me about cleaning up my office, and my wife the kitchen! –  Bryce Jun 21 '12 at 19:18
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Make it fun. Have them do the chore with you and make it enjoyable. Spend enough quality time with them building a loving and trusting relationship so that they want to be with you and want to help.

I think positive reinforcement and reward is much more important than any kind of negative consequences for not helping with a chore.

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My wife would likely disagree with this, as I've used it on her a few times, but for fear of being labeled a socialist, I think the right answer here is to explain that as part of the family they need to pull their own weight and help keep the house running if they want to enjoy the rewards of being part of it. (Our son isn't really old enough to do much chores yet, but he's starting to help with things like cleaning his toys up.)

That could be as simple as taking out the kitchen trash after dinner... you enjoyed the food with us, but didn't help prepare it? Fine you can help clean up after it.

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what you explain is a reward system. No matter what the reward is, if you point out what you get in exchange for doing something, it is a reward. Like I tried to explain, a reward is not always candy or video games. Food in itself is a reward. "You can come to dinner once you've picked up your dirty clothes"|"You get to eat dinner after you pickup your clothes". It's all how you sell it. –  ale May 21 '11 at 15:33
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uh, yeah... you'll note I used the word "reward" right in the answer.... –  cabbey May 21 '11 at 18:33
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Okay, I'm late to the party on this one, but I can't not respond.

First, let me point out that it isn't a request and thinking of chores as a request is starting you out on the wrong foot. Doing chores should be a bare minimum for any child. Chores are a part of being a family and living together. You are a parent, not a servant, and part of your job is teaching children that there are expectations involved in living together and they are at the age where it is time for them to begin learning what that means on a practical level.

Chores are awkward because children are small and not very capable so it takes three or four times as long for them to do things and it's often easier to just do it yourself—not to mention the aggravation and bad feelings as you ride them to get their chores done. You have to remember, though, that your time and emotional resolve are an investment in producing capable adults (eventually), and that this is something they need to learn.

Enough background. How do you do it? Coercion, plain and simple. How you do so is up to you. Personally, I'd go with the theory that a child who fails to provide the bare minimum effort is inviting you to demonstrate the bare minimum you have to bring to the relationship. A week of bland food, no chauffer service, no compliance with his/her requests, no friends over, no going to friends houses, no new clothes/toys/what have you will make your point. I'd accompany that with the explanation that your job is to see that they learn what it takes to be a responsible adult, and that you still love them (indeed, it's that love that prevents you from taking the easy path and simply doing all the chores yourself).

At any rate, that's the path we took with our kids. They still slack occasionally if we don't follow-up with them, but they're at least competent to do the work, now. And seeing them become competent adults after the years of effort has been very rewarding...

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A house is not just a mom and a dad. The kid are a part of it. Make it clear that just like mom and dad going out to work (even when they don't feel like it) to support the household - each kid has his/her own responsibility that's not an option.

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I made chores part of my daughter's allowance. Dusting, general picking up around the house, and helping in yardwork for a set amount of money weekly. If she did not do her chores, she didn't get her allowance.

The rule was half of her allowance was hers to spend as she liked, the other half went into her college fund. It helped her learn that all those things she thought were 'cool' and 'fun' were also EXPENSIVE.

She learned to evaluate what she 'needed' vs what she 'wanted'.

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We use a simple method of rewarding them helping us with extra pocket money, removing the extra pocket money if they don't do what is the minimum expected of them (make beds, keep bedroom tidy), and also restricting times for certain activities, like using the computer, TV, DSi etc, which is already limited in use.

Obviously, what I'd encourage is to find out what they really, really, really like doing, and use that as the carrot and the stick.

The combination works well, but the carrot has to be as enticing as much as the stick isn't, for want of a better analogy.

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IMO, bribery or reduction in pocket money is not the answer here - you'll get half-hearted efforts as they take learn the route which maximises payment for the minimum effort. –  JBRWilkinson May 22 '11 at 10:34
    
Apologies, we remove the extra pocket money, not the normal pocket money; that's inviolate. Of course they will learn to maximise payment by minimum methods, that's human nature. we fidn the most effective route, the stick as such, is to remove the things they like doing the most. –  Hairy May 23 '11 at 6:35
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