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I have two daughters, age 8 and 10. My 10 year old is very diligent and responsible and has always done her homework, chores, etc. without any reminders or coaxing. So we have had a hard time adapting to our 8 yo daughter, who needs to be dragged/coaxed through every step of even the simplest and quickest of chores (clean the cat litter, put your dishes away, bring down your laundry, whatever).

She is very stubborn (very close to being diagnosed Oppositional defiant disorder) and efforts to impose consequences (taking TV/computer time away, canceling playdates or dessert, etc) generally result in huge tantrums and dragging out the process for far longer than reasonable. We almost never give in and let her off the hook, unless there are serious time/safety constraints involved -- which is rare since we have evolved to anticipate this behavior. We've also tried incentives in terms of allowance schemes, earning TV/computer time, etc, which seems to have zero effect on her motivation.

The flip side of this stubbornness is that she is really diligent for any task she's bought into on her own - she will get her homework done immediately after school, works hard in sports, will feed the pets in a heartbeat, loves gardening work, etc.

I want to make it clear that other than this one issue, this daughter is a delight in almost every way who makes us proud every day (poetry?) -- I'm not calling her "lazy" to be demeaning, she just is actually lazy in this one area.

Ideas?

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My personal experience, which does not stretch to anyone being 8 except me, is that chores become a chore when forced to do them, but that they become less of a chore when you get praised for doing them well. Hence nagging or punishing isn't likely to work, since they are a part of why it's a chore in the first place. Now, what to do about it, I don't know... –  Lennart Regebro Apr 19 '12 at 19:33
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Interesting thought on Oppositional Defiant Disorder and similar psychiatric illnesses: ( madinamerica.com/2012/02/… ). If I were the same child today that i was in the 70s, i would absolutely be diagnosed with a couple of these. But you know what? over time, i learned to deal with it without "better life thru chemistry" or a diagnosis and accomodation. –  monsto Apr 20 '12 at 15:25
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@monsto - very interesting. we are very anti drugs for most of these kinds of issues, though some cases do see warranted. –  zipquincy Apr 20 '12 at 16:05
    
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6 Answers 6

It appears that your child lacks motivation to do certain types of chores. She sees little interest in things that are imposed on her, which is unfortunate, because in the real world few get to decide what they can work on.

Perhaps there is a way to let her pick her chores. I am a big fan of letting kids enter bidding wars over chores. The premise lies in that either the kids take $5 for the chore or they do it for free. I am not entirely sure if this will work for you - as your child is not interested in getting a reward at all, but...if you could add a competition factor to it, maybe she will find motivation. She and your older daughter have to bid on chores - and you judge bids based on price/timeline proposed/reliability. The person who wins does the chores and receives their bid value.

I am also a little concerned that you gave into the "huge tantrums and dragging out the process for far longer than reasonable" that your daughter caused because she didn't want to do a chore. Taking away something is completely reasonable. Be firm, be consistent, and show her the consequences of her actions. Don't let her treat you like her servant; take away the feelings of "entitlement." If she is not doing simple things like putting her own dishes away (which is not a chore, that is a good habit showing common courtesy and respect), consider doing things like serving her next meal on the dish she never picked up. Not bringing her laundry down? Oh well, I guess you are out of clothes. These are not outrageous things to do. This is a way of showing her that her actions, or inactions, have direct consequences.

We live in a privileged world, yes, but that means that we have access to clean water and healthy food. It does NOT mean that we get to pick and choose only "fun" stuff to do in life. It's time you show her that fulfilling your responsibilities is part of growing up.

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usually "giving in" does come with consequences, and only happens when it's an issue of immovable scheduling, safety, etc. but its definitely "immovable object meets irresistible force"! –  zipquincy Apr 20 '12 at 16:06
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Sounds to me like you've been KO'd. I think the entire thing has been competition for who's in control of the conversation and the 8 yo person. Then there's another point that I'll make below.

Summary: It started at "just do your chores". Then there's a punch-for-punch escalation in rhetoric until you get to the huge tantrum part, at which point you don't know what to do. She wins.

You know what? You're the parent. And one thing MOST parent's don't realize is that you are all-powerful over your kids. This means that at a moments notice, you can change the rules to to get anything you want out of your kids.

But it's the slippery slope and you must remember the Spiderman Rule... "with great power comes great responsibility." Abusive parents know they are all-powerful and they abuse it. Responsible parents use this power to teach their kids. In your case I'm recommending using this power to force your child into a learning situation.

Repeat and rephrase: My recommendation is that you force knowledge on your child about learning how the world works thru en-forcing household duties.

But you can only do this if you control the conversation. Your daughter has learned that she can win the conversation thru huge tantrum. So you counterpunch by taking the tantrum away.

Next time she starts going off like that, grab and hug her. Bear hug. Pull her to your body and hold her tightly. Not like a prisoner, but like a daughter. Pick her up if you need to.

"hey... hey hey hey cut this out. this isn't necessary. sshh shhh. I know I know."

She may start crying, she may push and strain and it may be uncomfortable, but hold her in this hug until she's calmed down enough to have a conversation. This whole thing is you changing the rules in your favor. You are using your position as unconditionally loving protector to take back the conversation. Such a protective stance will be unexpected to her. I would personally expect such comfort to end in tears. But the point of it is to have a necessary conversation so that you can both be productive.

Now, if she refuses to come down, you have other problems. Let her go and walk away "I'm not talking to you until you stop this sh... crap."

But it most likely will work. And once she's back down to reality, you own about :04 of a conversation. Use the time wisely.

Here's the point that I started to make at the top of the post: None of the previous answers have suggested that you talk directly to her. At 8 yo, she is an autonomous individual and it sounds like she's beginning to realize that a little earlier than usual. Therefore, I suggest that you talk to her as an individual. You seriously only have about 4 minutes before distractions start to take over.

First question: "What leads you to be like this about household duties?" (not chores).

At that point, the conversation is yours. Keep it succinct and focused because with an 8 yo, especially one that you know is distractable, you don't have much time to make your point.

side note: try to avoid the question "why?" or the derivative "why can't?" as these are keywords that lead to the universally hated "Iono." (I don't know)

For my part, I would ask her if she understands the importance to the household and her contribution to it. I would point out other responsibilites that she's clearly taken on herself and then "if you can do that, how can you not do this?" (again avoiding why)

Then I'd end with the confidence builder. "I know you're capable of this, you show it when you do the other stuff" kinda thing. "Do you think you're ready for this regular responsibilty?"

To put it simply, I think you have an 8 yr old that is attempting to exert indepence over herself like a 10 or 11 yo would. This will not end well for an individual that is still a child and highly subject to rules of the house. However, I think that if you know what your boundaries are and stick to them, communicate well with her and firmly discuss/negotiate the subjects of contention, then you can learn what her boundaries are as well as keep the home tidy (mentally and physically) with a minimum of stress.

you might show her this to set the stage for communications: http://www.outsidethebeltway.com/rational-discussion-flowchart/

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Loooong post, but well worth the read. –  Swati Apr 20 '12 at 20:32
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I'm not a psychiatrist, but your daughter is exhibiting one of the classic symptoms of ADD/ADHD; a clear preference for putting short-term interests above everything else, regardless of rewards and punishments intended to dissuade her. I hear your account and I'm immediately reminded of my own childhood, having struggled with much the same thing growing up. I refused to clean my room, the dishes/cat box/laundry were a constant struggle, etc etc etc. But, when I'd gotten it in my head to do something, I was borderline OCD about getting it done well. I STILL have this tendency even decades later, though with age comes maturity (or at least the appearance of it).

Traditional reward/punishment reinforcement is less effective on a child like this, because the child will quickly realize the reward or punishment is not a natural consequence of the action. "I get to go to the park if I clean my room? But I can go to the park with my room a mess; cleaning my room doesn't make a trip to the park possible". They will then become interested in the reward, separately from the work to be done (because they know the work doesn't make the reward possible, so it must be possible now), and the reward itself will distract them from the work. As for punishments, they're unpleasant; an ADD child will thus look for ANYTHING to take his mind off the impending punishment.

If this is the case, the trick is instead to get them interested in the task itself in some way, and then once they've become focused on it they'll pick it up and carry it through to the end. ADD is, IMHO, mislabeled; ADD children in fact have extremely high abilities to focus and long attention spans, provided that whatever they're focused on interests them. Once it no longer holds their interest, or if it never did in the first place, they will actively look for something else to be interested in. Your task is to harness that focus instead of fighting it, by capturing their interest in what you actually want them to do (and not preoccupying them with something they can look forward to later).

This is easier with some chores than others. Household cleaning tasks like mopping the floor are chores a child like this will more readily pick up; It's something they can focus on, there's an immediate result to their work, and it smells nice (always a plus for girls), so set the bucket and mop in front of them and after a little whinging they'll get into it. Same with vacuuming; there's an instant reward of clean fluffy carpet and no more cat hair on the couch cushions. Cleaning rooms is harder to get them into usually because they let it go so long, but also because the scope of the work seems insurmountable and any initial effort they put into it doesn't seem to be making a dent. Dishes are similar; there's often an additional downside that some pots take some hard scrubbing, and some meals just stick to plates worse than others ("She used THAT pot to make dinner? Ugh, I'll NEVER get that clean again", or "Fondue? Ugh, that cheese sauce is like rubber cement"). Offer to help. Many hands make light work, and when the child sees the work progressing they get stuck into it more easily. Offer to mow the lawn in shifts, three laps at a time; that allows them to take a step back and see the impact they're having. Offer to help fold the laundry that the kids run through the washer. In addition to reducing the seemingly-insurmountable task you've presented them with, you also get to monitor the quality of their work ("Oops, this dish still has a tomato seed stuck on it, you'll have to get that scraped off and run it again").

Another thing to keep in mind is that if a job is distasteful enough for you to want to delegate it, there's probably something to be said for trying to make that job less distasteful in general. Contrary to the "Calvin & Hobbes" dad's mentality of "it builds character", the reality couldn't be further from the truth; every time that difficult or disgusting chore has to be done it only further reinforces their hatred of whatever is difficult about the chore, and of the chore in general (and Calvin realized pretty quickly that every time he "built character" by doing it the hard way, Dad saved time and/or money). If you don't want to clean a smelly, bacteria-ridden cat box, they probably will have the same problems with it that you do. Perhaps it's time to invest in a self-scooping box, reducing the maintenance to emptying the waste bin, topping off litter and sweeping up stray granules. If a child sees cleaning their room as an insurmountable task, they might have a point; they may have accumulated so many toys and clothes that when all of it gets bulldozed out of the rest of the house into their room for them to deal with, there simply isn't enough storage space to accomodate it all. A second look at the situation may be called for; you can increase storage space pretty cheaply with baskets on shelves, and/or you may ask your kid to rummage through the pile and make a snap decision to "keep" or "donate" each item they own. If a certain pot or cookie sheet or basting brush just never seems to come clean no matter how hard you scrub, your kids aren't going to have any more success; maybe you should consider retiring that dish or cooking utensil. Look for clothes with easier care instructions so you don't have to be as picky about water temperature and like colors (and if there's anything that's real important to you, wash it yourself). And maybe, just maybe, Grandma's recipe for aged oxblood haggis with Swiss cheese sauce should accidentally be dropped on a lit burner, so nobody has to deal with cleaning up the pot it was cooked in ever again.

Try making the job look smaller. A child could look at a room strewn with dirty clothes, toys and books and think it impossible. So, consolidate the mess. Bring in two boxes, a laundry basket, and a trash bag, and have them start in one corner of the room and make a snap decision about each thing in it. Clothing? Laundry basket. Book? First box. Toy? Second box. Trash? Bag it. When they're done with that, you take the laundry basket and the trash bag away; that's up to half of what they had laying around, gone. Books are easy to put away; that's up to three fourths of the mess taken care of in about 5 minutes. The last box is toys. Tackle the big stuff first; large self-contained toys without a lot of small parts are easy to grab and put in their proper place. Then you organize what's left, putting small parts with larger toys they belong to. By this time you can probably downsize the original box-o'-toys to something smaller, and the child is sitting on the edge of her bed in a pretty clean room organizing the last little bits. The only thing you have to keep an eye out for is the child beginning to play with the toys they're supposed to be putting away in this last bit. A little bit of play as the toy goes from the box to its proper storage is fine, but if they've fooled around with a toy for a couple of minutes you can suggest they come back to it later.

Lastly, instead of assigning one chore to each family member, encompassing an entire family's detritus in that area of home maintenance, have each family member handle their own portion of the chores to which everyone contributes input. When you get up from the table, take your plate, silverware and glass to the sink, rinse them off and put them in the dishwasher. Everyone sorts, folds and puts away their own laundry. Not all chores can be divided this way (you can't really divide up a cat box), but for the ones that can, you create a sense of individual responsibility for cleaning up one's own messes without making them responsible for everyone else's as well. You also get everyone in the family involved in the chore at the same time, instead of one kid facing the cleanup while everyone else heads off to relax or have fun.

The hard part of all of this will be the last 10-20% of any job that needs to be done. Once you've got them interested they'll make a big push at it, then at some point they'll look around, see the results of their work so far and how much of an improvement they've made, call it "good enough" and lose interest. Even adults have problems with this; they'll have put their effort in, made a huge dent, but then be stuck with the last little details that seemingly don't matter until you look at the job with a microscope, and they'll call it "good enough" and move on. This is classic 80/20; 80% of the effort goes into 20% of the finished product and vice-versa, and many people, of all ages, simply don't have that kind of patience. Unfortunately, I honestly don't have a good answer for holding a child's interest until the job is completely finished, because it's bigger than ADD; it is, as I said, human nature for a large chunk of the population.


TL;DR:

  • Many kids, especially kids identified as ADD/ADHD, will not respond to a typical reward/punishment disciplinary model. The child will be able to separate a reward or punishment that isn't a direct effect of the job, and so the reward and/or punishment will actually distract them from the task and have the opposite effect than desired.
  • The trick in these cases is to interest them in the task itself; once they're interested, they will stay focused for the majority of the work.
  • Your strategy will differ based on the type of work you want them to do, but generally you want to either avoid or push past the initial lack of interest:
    • For jobs where a little effort has visible results, just get them started on the job however you can, and the results their effort brings will draw and hold their interest.
    • Try sharing the load, in various ways; make each member of the family individually responsible for the messes they create like dishes and laundry, and offer to share the work of jobs that just have to happen like lawn mowing.
    • Small chunks help. Get them to mow one contained area of the yard; that area is then "done" and they can be proud of that and more willing to move on to other parts. This can be easily combined with sharing the load; by dividing the work, the part the child has to do is smaller and easier to manage.
    • For jobs that can take a lot of effort with no visible result, structure the job to get some up-front results. A room can look a lot cleaner very quickly with an initial round of quick sorting into boxes or baskets according to the type of detritus.
    • For distasteful jobs, make them less so; if you would rather delegate the task than do it yourself, ask why, and see if there is a feasible way to reduce that displeasure.
    • In some cases you may actually be asking the impossible without realizing it. Take a step back and look at why the child is dragging their feet; they may know something about the job that you don't.
  • Praise helps. Praise for doing the work is a direct cause-effect relationship, unlike material or "enrichment" rewards. Praise them for hopping to it, praise them for what they've done so far, praise them for completing the job.
  • Demonstrating fairness and consistency helps. If Dad doesn't want to mow the lawn (his assigned chore) in a given week, that may be his prerogative, but it's easy for a child to see this and draw the same conclusion about their own assigned chores. If a chore goes undone by the person whose responsibility it is, they should be able to be called on it by any other family member, parents included.
  • Unless your child is borderline OCD and really sticks with a job, at some point during the last 20% of the work they will be prone to losing interest. While all of the above helps to reduce this in an ADD child, this behavior goes beyond ADD to basic human nature; at some point a person will call it "good enough" and want to move on.
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mmmm... aged oxblood haggis with Swiss cheese... yum! This is an excellent thorough answer and I will talk about with my wife. –  zipquincy Apr 25 '12 at 12:58
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Have you tried the reward scenario? Our three get a small amount of pocket money every week. If they help out with chores they can earn more, and the amount depends on how onerous the chore is.

When they are saving up for some special toy they become very helpful.

From a less commercial standpoint, have you looked at how you approach chores? If you always moan about them, your kids will not want to do them, however if you sail through them, talking to your kids while doing the chores, they will be far less put off.

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A possibility is to have a family meeting with the stated goal of working out the reward(s) for chores. If you present the chores as a done deal, but meet to discuss their ideas for what they get for doing the chores, then you are far more likely to get buy-in.

We did this with our four (ages 13 to 4) and it's been perceptibly better.

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We've been through that cycle before but the effects fade quickly. Possibly we need to make it a regular even t –  zipquincy Apr 20 '12 at 16:06
    
I have read that regular meetings are more effective since after the first one the kids just figure it was a flash in the pan. (And I don't really blame them. I think I need to schedule another one at my house soon. :7) –  Will E. Apr 20 '12 at 16:30
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Many children, instead of being motivated by reward are motivated by being in control. Having worked with kids with OD (oppositional Disorder), I've learned how kids can use bad behavior to prove to themselves they are in control when they feel they are being controlled. I am not saying your kid is OD, but she definitely sounds like she is one of those kids motivated by control. With these kids neither reward nor punishment will work. NATURAL consequences both good and bad are your best weapon, but can be ellusive to figure out. Now that your child is 8, delayed consequence is actually even better than immediate consequence as it is much more true to life.

The best immediate response is actually to give her some control while asserting your own. For example, "Would you like to clear the table tonight, or do the washing of the dishes" Often, kids will comply without even thinking about it and just do one of the options. If your kid is a little quicker than that and says, "niether" I've included options below. The key here in this first form of action is to make sure both options are ones you are happy with but give two to three options. IT WILL NOT WORK IF ANY OF THE OPTIONS ARE DISAGREEABLE TO YOU OR ARE REALLY JUST VIELED THREATS i.e. "Would you like to clear your plate, or be grounded for a week?"

I would give her a daily and weekly chore list with each chore actually being two options.

If she doesn't complete her chores by throwing a fit, or just not doing them, don't get upset, cojole or even punish. Do the chore for her, but say, "Wow, I hope this works out for you. I'm going to be really sad when a consequence comes along because of your choice right now" If she is throwing a fit say that and NOTHING more. Let her have her tantrum. In adult life, if she doesn't want to do dishes, she might be able to hire a maid (course she has to have the funds), so you could consider charging her some nominal amount of her money for every chore you wind up doing (this could be lucrative for her sister as well) it is a real-life solution and when her funds run dry a real-life consequence that she can no-longer pay.

If the chores aren't done (or paid for) when she gets invited to the next chance for a movie with a friend, or the next time you all are doing something special as a family, or whatever. She can't participate. Your words, "I know. Its really sad. While we are out celebrating (or whatever you have to stay here) we will miss you so much. Its such a bummer you won't do your chores." Do NOT sound sarcastic, sound genuine. Connect it with something like, "If you would do your part in the family community, then you could celebrate with the family community. Bummer".

Be truly sad with her, but don't let her drag you down. If she throws another fit, say, "I know, Its really sad and I love you and feel for you. I look forward to seeing you when we get back" and WALK AWAY. This is not a punishment it is a consequence of the fact that she is not taking care of things.

In adult life, throwing fits, will mean others won't want to be with her. Teach her this now in a way only the loving and supportive parent can. When she is throwing a fit, reassure her you love her and then WALK AWAY. No extra attention, no more of her controlling your time, just, "I love you" and walk away.

Likewise, if she doesn't get chores done, her home will not be a pleasant place. She might not get bills paid (paying bills is a chore in my book), she certainly won't be able to maintain a job if she won't do what she is asked. . . so natural consequences now is better than natural consequences later.

Let me recommend a book, "Parenting with Love and Logic" (the teacher's version was very useful to me and I now use the parenting version with my own kid), and then a website that is really designed for homeschooling families but has a lot of good insights about children and motivating children that are motivated by control. The Dad is a principle, and the mom homeschools her daughter. It is called, schooleffectivelyathome.com. You might find some good articles with information about this style of parenting useful to you.

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