Dear Kid Whisperer,
How do I deal with my nine-year-old who doesn’t ever want to help out and thinks he’s being picked on when he is asked to do extra to help? I love this boy to death, but I’m struggling with this new attitude. -Tracy, Houston, Texas
This can be a tough one for parents, since many parents pay kids for doing chores, which is a mistake. Kids should be given an allowance, but it should not be tied to chores. There are many reasons for this, and your conundrum reveals one of the reasons why paying kids to do work in the home is a mistake: it accidentally teaches kids that they need to be paid to make the family home a clean, orderly, functional place (they don’t).
The truth is that everyone pitches in to make the house functional. That’s just what family members do. Here is how I would establish the expectation.
Kid Whisperer: Oh, shoot. I think I have been unclear about something, and I think this lack of clarity has been confusing to you. I am sorry for being confusing. I won’t be anymore. Our family is a team. I am the team captain. You have many choices, and whether or not to help our team be successful is one of those choices. When I ask you to do something for our team, like cleaning the bathroom floor or carrying a laundry basket, you can either put your energy towards helping our family, or if you choose not to, I will use my energy to do that task for you– but I only have so much energy. So…. good luck, and happy deciding!
Kid: What are you going to pay me?
Kid Whisperer: Nothing. I love you. Good luck.
There is just about a 100% chance that Kid will refuse when asked to do something, so be ready.
Kid Whisperer: Oof. My back isn’t great. Could you and your young back please help me to take this laundry upstairs to the closet?
Kid: What part of our history together would make you think that I would do that?
Kid Whisperer: Oh, shoot. OK, I guess I will use my energy to take this laundry upstairs.
Kid: Wait. What? That’s it? Are you up to something?
Kid Whisperer: Don’t stress about it. Bye now.
Kid (dressed in full soccer gear and running excitedly down the stairs): Time for soccer. The game starts in twenty minutes. Why are you in still in your pajamas?
Kid Whisperer: (laying on the couch and watching reruns of “Punky Brewster”) Oh, shoot. I do not have the energy to take you to your soccer game. It’s all used up from carrying laundry baskets. I would be happy to start putting my energy toward doing things for you as soon as you start putting your energy toward helping our family every time I ask you to.
Kid: THAT’S NOT FAIR! I AM AN AMERICAN CHILD! I AM ACCUSTOMED TO A CERTAIN STANDARD OF LIVING THAT INCLUDES, BUT IS NOT LIMITED TO: TAXI SERVICES, TOYS, AND OTHER ASSORTED LUXURY ITEMS AND SERVICES!!!!!
Kid Whisperer: Oh, shoot. Punky is trying to sneak out of the house without Henry knowing.
Kid: FORGET ABOUT PUNKY BREWSTER! ARE YOU TAKING ME TO MY SOCCER GAME OR NOT?
Kid Whisperer: What did I say about that?
Kid: No, you’re not?
Kid Whisperer: There you go. Oh, shoot. Henry is not happy about this at all.
From that moment, the only place you should take your kid is to school. You may find yourself lacking the energy to cook delicious meals, and significantly simpler and more bland meals can replace them.
You can’t be the only one trying to make your home a functional place. Take a nice, long rest until you get some help.