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We have a chore system for our two tweenagers, where we all clean up at the end of the day and they help out. So far it's been pretty good with less and less oversight needed over time, and relatively few arguments.

Recently I found out that when taking out rubbish, one or both of them have been just slinging it over the fence rather than putting it in the compost heap or the bin (small bags not big black bags). This doesn't seem to be every time, but it was at least 6 separate times from the amount I've just cleaned up, inside the last few weeks. Two times it was a nappy bag from our youngest which is particularly irksome.

The odd thing is, they actually walked out to where the compost heap is, then rather than lifting the lid and putting the bag in, just threw it from there. The bin for non-compost waste is in the opposite direction, about the same distance - so throwing nappy bags that way seems malicious. One was up a tree.

The trouble is, I don't know how to find out who did it and I'm not sure on an appropriate response. I'm pretty angry that they've fouled the nest, so to speak, and that they've acted so irresponsibly or maliciously.

Some background

One is sometimes prone to dishonest and sneaky behaviour, 12-year-old boy. The other is prone to burying her head in the sand and coming up with terrible solutions to problems (e.g. hiding rotten food rather than throwing it out until bad smells cause issues) and has a defiant streak a mile wide, 13-year-old girl.

I'd like to nip this in the bud, with a big focus on the responsibility to deal with rubbish appropriately and keep our house and neighbourhood clean. I want to raise the kind of kids that would pick up rubbish rather than drop it.

Question

How should I discipline them (both, or try to find out who?), making my anger and disappointment clear without garnering resentment or further littering?

  • From your description it sounds as if their actions didn't save them time or were less work (hence "seems malicious"). Did you ask them, why they that? And I mean in a neutral fashion to allow them to explain it - perhaps they really don't understand something about it. – Anne Daunted GoFundMonica Nov 4 '18 at 14:09
  • @AnneDaunted I haven't spoken to them yet, they are both away until tomorrow. I was wondering on the best strategy to tackle this when they get back. I'll consider asking them - but I don't know if it was only one or both of them. Not sure if you mean they don't understand the purpose of it or how to do it - they definitely understand what they're meant to do, and why. – nurgle Nov 4 '18 at 14:13
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My general approach in cases like this is to require the children to fix any messes they cause. My experience is with younger children, but I think the same approach may be appropriate.

My five year old has a similar job (take our recycling to the bin), and occasionally drops some pieces on the ground - not maliciously mind you, just either doesn’t see them or is too lazy to pick them up. My approach is that if it’s more than a piece or two (which I don’t mind fixing), to ask him to clean it up next time we walk by the garage.

That approach is the same when they cause issues from malice or from recklessness - if they’re goofing off with their milk for their cereal and spill a bunch, they know they have to clean it.

Since you don’t know who did it, ask both of them to clean it up next time it happens. They will both know who did it, and if your attitude is it’s their job together, they should both fix it; but one of them will undoubtedly tell you at some point who actually did it (the other) if it continues.

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The first thing I would do is sit down and have a conversation about it. Tell them what you've found and state that it needs to be fixed. Then everyone go clean it up. Lay out your expectations, explain why this isn't acceptable and state any consequences if the behavior doesn't correct itself. Sometimes giving the kid(s) a chance to self correct is enough. Then wait and see what happens.

If the behavior doesn't correct itself, you may want to go with something like this1. You can say "I've trusted both of you to take out the trash and to do it properly. I'm still seeing problems. As such I'll have to start monitoring the situation more closely to make sure this gets fixed. ..." Then state what you are going to do. You could watch them from the door to make sure they do it properly. Or go out and regularly check that the job they did was adequate (and if not, you've found your culprit).

No matter how you choose to handle it, you'll end up with one of the following:

  • The behavior will correct itself (because you are holding them accountable)
  • You'll find out who is causing the problem (from your observations) and can deal with it accordingly
  • The innocent one (assuming they aren't both guilty) will not like having to clean up a mess that wasn't theirs and having increased supervision and will reveal the guilty party

In any case, the problem gets fixed. It probably won't be fun and their will be complaints of things being "unfair". But it isn't fair that you need to clean up after your teenagers. It'll be a life lesson. It'll be worth it.


1 I'm not a fan of the idea of punishing multiple people for one person's actions. It's a heavy handed approach that harms the innocent to find the guilty. If you can't find out who did it by sitting down and having a conversation about it, you may not have many options left.

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The first thing you have to do before you can go down any disciplinary route is to discover who the actual culprit is at the moment based on what you are saying it could be either one or it could be both, so if you go down the discipline route now you could punish an innocent party. At this point it would be better to sit down with both tell them what you have found and explain to them why you are both disappointed with what you discovered and why it is so important that rubbish is dealt with appropriately and keep our house & neighbourhood clean for everyone. You have a good policy with this we do it here at home, but there has got to be a strong commitment from all to make it work and that entails each member of the family doing there share of the tasks to achieve the end result try and alter it from being a chore that they do and turn it into an activity or something along these lines that they can see the benefits the family and the environment you live in shows improvement by doing the required role

  • I didn't downvote, but I dislike when discipline is conflated with punishment. While punishment may be one tool in the box for instilling discipline, it should be pulled out only when necessary. – pojo-guy Nov 10 '18 at 23:34

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