They Don’t Have to Like it, They Just Have to Do it

Parents frequently ask me how they can get their kids to care about having a clean room or about their grades or about treating a sibling with respect. I often reply by asking what it would take to get the parent to care about pro wrestling, flower arrangement or concert pianists when they are not already interested in such things. Many parents will reply that there isn’t anything that would make them care about pro wrestling, nothing that would make them enjoy floral arrangements, nothing that could move them to be interested in classical music concerts. That is when I draw the similarity between those things in which they have no interest and the things in which your children have no interest. Your kids are probably not inherently interested in brushing their teeth. They probably do not seriously care about their GPA and how that affects their admission to college. They are not interested in having a neat and orderly room. What would it take to get them interested? Tie something they do care about to whatever it is you want them to do. Back to the parent example, it is probably true that there is nothing I could do to make you enjoy classical music if you don’t already like it, but I bet there are things I could do to get you to go to a concert. If I offered you free, front row tickets to your favorite sold-out concert and all you have to do to get them is sit politely through one classical concert, you might just be able to do it. If I would do all of your dishes for a week if you would simply sit down with me once a week and watch pro wrestling, I bet you could do it. You may even be happy about it. It works the same way with children. Don’t expect them to be excited about cleaning their room. Tie something exciting to that task. Tell them that if they do clean their room, you’ll take them to see a movie they’ve been bugging you to see. Make an arrangement that each week that they brush their teeth daily without reminders; you will rent them one video game. Tie their favorite game to doing their homework. That is, let them know that you will play one hour of their favorite game with them for every 2 hours of homework they do. Will that make them care about combing their hair, making their bed, or turning in their papers on time? Probably not, but it will get them to do it and doing those things over time is what makes anyone care about doing them. When you are repeatedly forced or coerced into washing your face night after night, eventually you get used to it and you prefer that condition to a dirty face. When rewarded for cleaning off your desk each Saturday, over time you get used to being able to find stuff when you need it and you may like that and eventually do it without any type of reward. The thing itself becomes rewarding. Likewise, if forced or coerced into watching soap operas day after day after day, eventually, you may become interested and actually enjoy them when you didn’t previously. In summary, it is not your job to get your kids to like doing the stuff they have to do, it’s merely your job to get them to do it and it’s easiest to get them to do undesirable stuff by attaching some desirable stuff to the tasks.

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