Do you find yourself begging, pleading or threatening to get your 4 year old to clean up her toys?
Some kids are born with a knack for ignoring, whining, and explaining their way out of chores. (Like someone at my house just yesterday).
If you’re experiencing chore wars with your kids, you might try using a bit of psychology to help get the job done. It’s all in your choice of words.
“Helping” vs. “being a helper”
In a recent study, researchers Christopher Bryan and Allison Master and their team compared two groups of 3- to 6- year old kids who were encouraged to help out adults with some simple tasks like fetching an item or closing a box. One group heard phrases like “being a helper” and the other group heard about “helping.” The “helper” group was significantly more willing to do what was asked of them.
The simple phrase that points them to a positive identity
The researchers theorized that this technique works well with children because they are motivated to pursue a positive identity. When they are exposed to the idea of “being a helper,” kids readily identify with this image and want to fit the picture. However, when they are encouraged to “help,” it sounds a lot more like work and it doesn’t give them anything to live up to.
How can you use this technique to sidestep chore wars?
You can do just what the researchers did: encourage your kids using nouns instead of verbs. Use nouns that help kids identify with a particular self-image like “helper” instead of verbs like “helping.” Talk about how important it is to be a helper or a hard worker and how everyone in the family needs to be a part of the team to get the chores done.
This type of language works best with younger kids. Your 12 year old isn’t going to jump at the chance to be mom or dad’s “helper.” But that 12 year old might rise to the prospect of being referred to as a diligent worker. Obviously kids don’t want to be patronized so make sure your comments are genuine.
Is this the magic solution to getting the chores done?
There are no magic bullets. Chores are still work and no one is going to relish washing the dishes or take out the trash. Still, doing chores with a good attitude goes a long way toward making chores seem less like drudgery.
If you or your kids can feel good about a job well done, it’ll make the work go that much quicker. And that is something everyone can appreciate.
P.S. If you have a second, you’d be a great help if you shared this article on Facebook. (See what I did there?)
Want to read the study? It’s called “Helping” Versus “Being a Helper”: Invoking the Self to Increase Helping in Young Children