Friday, May 22, 2009

Negative Consequences

Lately, I have felt a little bit invisible.

OK, VERY invisible.

See, my children seem to no longer acknowledge my existence, unless they are asking for something. Often this is a good thing, because it means they are entertaining themselves and I am free to do laundry, cook dinner, pay bills, blog or even (*gasp*) go to the bathroom all by myself. It's definitely NOT a good thing however, if I am speaking directly to them or telling them to do something. In fact, being ignored in this way absolutely drives me crazy.

I have been making a concerted effort to organize a little bit, and then to tidy up on a regular basis so that, at any given moment, only some rooms will look like they've been bombed. In theory, the organizing part will make it easier for the kids to help put stuff away. Also in theory, making them responsible for some of the tidying will instill good cleaning/helping habits in them, so that this whole endeavor will become easier as time goes on.

I run into a problem when any instruction to my children goes utterly unacknowledged, and forcing acknowledgment from them has no affect on whether they actually do what I have told or asked them to do.

I can think of five ways to handle this:
1) Enforce some sort of negative consequence for willful non-compliance. In other words, I explain what the negative consequence will be if they don't do what I have told them to do, and then follow through with the "punishment" if they still don't comply.
2) I could bribe them to do what I tell them to do.
3) I could let it slide, and let them see the natural consequences of not cleaning up. Let them experience firsthand that a messy environment means they cannot find what they want, that they don't have room to play active games or set up elaborate constructions, and. . . well I'm sure there's other consequences that they might care about. Then they would see the benefits of keeping tidy, and this lesson would be understood much more clearly than in the first way of handling things.
4) I could lock them in their room, slip meals under the door and live in a clean house while they have their very own pigsty to enjoy.
5) Throw my hands in the air, clean it myself when I find time, and live in a disaster area the rest of the time.

So far, it's mostly been option 5. I'd really like to get a little more teamwork going in this equation, though.

I don't like option 2. I don't want my children to expect a reward every time they do something right- that's not the way life works. Despite that, Billy and I have been known to use this method on occasion. It is pretty effective. (Dammit.) Option 3 happens whether I plan for it or not, and I can tell you firsthand that the premise is laughable. Honorable maybe, logical perhaps, but utterly laughable. It doesn't work. And while option 4 might be very attractive sometimes, I don't think it's terribly practical in the long run. ;)

Therefore, I have been struggling with option 1: Negative Consequences.

Time outs are not effective in this scenario. They work in some situations with my boys, but not during a run-of-the-mill day at home. I've tried spankings, but the boys don't care about them enough to really change their behavior if a spanking is threatened. I will follow through, but if it's such a diluted concern that I end up having to spank often, then I want something more effective. I don't like giving spankings. I tried a "ticket" system wherein they could lose tickets for bad behavior, and if all tickets were lost they had to stay in their room the rest of the day. That's very difficult for me to enforce- we're always going someplace, and even after enforcing it a couple times it still wasn't "bad" enough to be effective. So, I've scrapped that one, too.

I'm feeling totally ineffective.

I need a better plan.

I'm writing about this here for a couple reasons: I know my experience is to some degree universal among parents, and I am looking for suggestions. Any ideas?


Grace said...

One thing that works VERY well with Ella is to give her some "control" over the situation. Often I say "Ella, I'm putting the towels here in a basket and they need to be folded by lunch time." I wait to hear OK. By giving her some control in deciding WHEN to do the chore I have found it is almost always done and many times I don't even know it. I just walk by and the towels are folded and stacked. If it gets to be lunch and they are not folded. I give a quick reminder like "E, why don't you fold the towels while I fix lunch?". This has dramatically changed the complaining or slacking. It works much better with Ella (just turned 6) than Aubry (3). It really involved me adjusting my attitude. I used to want it done RIGHT NOW but have found it so much easier to let her do whatever the chore at her pace.
This make work with your oldest.

I also pretty much let the mess go crazy during the day and the girls know that they have to clean up all toys before dinner. Once the are made to clean it up every day for a week or two they realize it will have to be done before dinner. It used to be pretty awful with the complaining, etc. but now they just do it. Then come to me and say "ready for you to check". I check their rooms and the homeschool/play room. If I see anything that needs work, they have to correct it. Really it usually takes about 15 minutes to clean up. We are all much happier with a relatively neat house and we can find stuff!

All this pretty much breaks down on the wkend when dear husband is here all day!

OK, sorry I got on a roll there. Good luck. Keeping a relatively (emphasis on relatively) neat house is an ongoing project.

S said...

I may be the last person qualified to offer advice, but I do agree with Grace. Having some say in when/how something gets done has made things a little easier for me as well. I also wanted things done right away, but kids simply don't have the same priorities.

But girls are different from boys and there is no getting around that. The girls see me work and they internalize that and it's just easier to get them to work with me.

I am making progress with Robotson, but it's been a very long process. Granted, I wasn't doing very well for several years there. The basics are:

He has the same responsibilities every week, in the same order. So he always knows what to expect.

I give him days off. Just like I don't want to do chores everyday, neither does he. He can opt out a couple of times a month and sometimes I just blow them off for all of us.

If the work isn't done, he doesn't get extra privileges.

I work with him most of the time. Side by side means it gets done faster, but with less complaining because everything has to be "fair" these days.

I use a whole lot of "I" statements. I need such and such done. I am too tired from doing such and such now. I would appreciate ______. It used to be all about how they weren't helping, they always wanted something but didn't do anything in return, etc. As we learn empathy together, they begin to see how hard it is for me to do it all myself and the effects that has. Of course, I am learning their limits too.

Kit said...

@ Grace- I have tried relaxing the time frame a little bit, but it doesn't work- maybe as they get a little bit older. The one plus to it is that there's a little less grumbling when I do finally make them stop and get it done.

As soon as finish getting the rooms in some sort of order, I am definitely going to try the every-evening-pickup.

And don't worry- I am grateful for the comment!!

@ Sarah- I think you're right, there's something different about boys and housework. I hate to sound so stereotypical, but it seems hard-wired. . . maybe I'm a boy in a girl's body! LOL.

But anyway, that's interesting about the "I" statements. I'm going to give that a shot too- I don't know if Mr. Sweetcheeks is empathetic enough to care, but Littleman might.

And I'm considering a chore chart, so it's easier for the boys to see what needs doing, when.

Thank you!

Michelle Roebuck said...

#4... Go with #4.


It's way too hard to figure out what foods are flat enough to slide under a door anyway.

Alicia said...

We've been there plenty over the years too. Here's what works with our oldest 3 (6, 9 and 11):

1) I'm the opposite of Grace in terms of giving time frames. If the kids get a chance to do it "later" or "sometime" they'll just forget. I'm more likely to say something like "Anna, at the next commercial I need you to put your clothes away" and then at the next commercial remind her, or say "Jack, please pause the game and feed the cats." I do respect if they're right in the middle of something and wait for a break, though.

2) Make sure you get their attention, often with a touch on the shoulder or going to them and making eye contact. Kids can get so much parent noise that they sort of tune it out. :) If you make a connection, they're more likely to just do it.

3) Remind them that you're all a team and it's everybody's responsibility. Mom is not unpaid help. I find it helps if I'm just cheerful and matter of fact about it. If I put on my martyr hat they shut down. :)

4) Spell it out and make it small bites. If I tell my kids to clean their rooms they will shriek and fight it or spend an hour and not make a dent. If I say, "We're all going to spend 15 minutes cleaning the living room. Victoria, please put the books away. Jack, please carry all the toys upstairs. Anna, please gather up the shoes and clothes and take them to the laundry room" then they'll do it. Even Alex (2) will chip in if I show him how to toss toys into the toy cubes or give him things to carry to the trash. I suppose my kids work well with direct orders. :)

4) Give them some say. In our house, everybody has daily jobs but it's sort of dependent on what we're all good at and what we like to do. I hate doing dishes but my husband doesn't mind so he does them. Anna can be flighty so she is in charge of helping Daddy with dishes and errands so he can keep her on task. She puts the dishes away each morning and does jobs he assigns. Jack feeds the cats and gathers recycling. Victoria hates general cleaning but she loves to do laundry so I taught her how to do that. She also loves to cook lunch and she's good at cleaning the table, so she gets those jobs. We also remind them that those jobs are part of the reason they get an allowance.

5. Make changes gradually. I think it takes several weeks of doing things daily for them to become new habits, and cleaning is the same way. If you make small changes like adding an afternoon clean-up before playing, then once that's in place you can add a little more. We have gradually increased our kids' responsibilities so our lives are way easier as they've gotten older, and they didn't seem to notice or balk at it.

I don't know if any of that will help but that's helped around here. It also works well here for me to set the timer and then just assign tasks and have us all speed clean for 15 minutes. It's amazing how much mess we can all undo in 15 minutes of working together. :) Good luck!

Kit said...

@ Gypsy Guru: LOL! Yeah, on second thought that would be way too much trouble.

@ Alicia: Wow! What a great list of ideas- thank you! I think I'll actually need to do a new blog post to highlight some of the tips I've heard. I'll repost these there. :)

Kit said...

Well, I didn't repost them, I just directed people here instead. But to address Alicia's great ideas:
1) I'm not sure yet which technique works better with my boys. Littleman seems to appreciate the autonomy, but that doesn't mean it gets done.
2) This is essential for ANYTHING I need them to hear.
3) We're working on this. I'm not sure they get it, yet.
4a) I'm working on this one. It seems to help, especially if I am right there supervising.
4b) Right now I am only working on getting them to help tidy messes they create. I am open to offers of help with other tasks, which sometimes occurs. But for now, I just want them to put stuff away often enough that we don't end up buried. :) We'll add more as they get older.
5) This is important- I need to remind myself of it often! :)