Wouldn’t it be nice if, every once in a while, our children actually did what we asked – without complaining?
Instead, many of us fall into the trap of arguing with them, bribing them, and eventually putting them in time out when they just won’t give in.
It sometimes feels as if parenting is one long nag-fest, but getting our kids to do things for themselves – without being asked 100 times – doesn’t have to be a hassle.
We’ve rounded up some top tips on raising a motivated child, who wants to do things for themselves.
How many have you tried – and did they work?
Praise instead of punishing
Okay, so it’s hard not to shout when we’ve asked our child to get their shoes on 15 times in a row, but the problem with constantly criticizing and punishing is that it can dent their self-esteem.
They start to see themselves as ‘naughty’ or ‘lazy’, and telling them off can reinforce those traits, rather than knocking it out of them.
Instead, try to give your child praise when they DO do something right – and make it specific. Saying, ‘Well done, I’m so proud of you for putting your shoes on by yourself’ is more effective than just saying, ‘Good boy,’ because your child knows exactly what they’ve done to earn your approval.
And, because children instinctively want to please their parents, the more you praise them, the more motivated they’ll be to do it.
Give them explanations
Children are naturally self-centred (no kidding!) and find it hard to see how their behaviour affects others.
So if your child is driving a toy car through their breakfast, rather than eating it, they’re not doing it just to annoy you – they’re just focused on what matters to them right now.
You can help them see that their behaviour affects other people by explaining why it matters that they do what you’re asking them to do.
Telling them that they need to eat up quickly, because otherwise you’ll be late for work and you’ll get told off, can help them understand other people’s needs.
Have reasonable expectations
Sometimes it’s easy to forget that kids are just kids, and when we do, we can expect too much of them.
For example, it might be completely reasonable to expect your four-year-old to get dressed independently – but not to tidy their entire bedroom with no help.
Setting expectations that are too high can put your child under pressure, and, knowing they can’t meet them, they may just give up.
Equally, having expectations that are too low denies them the chance to find out what they’re capable of.
Try to work out what your child can and can’t do, and set your standards accordingly.
Make it fun
Sounds obvious, doesn’t it? And in many ways, it is.
If you can make the task that you want your child to do seem exciting or fun, they’re much more likely to do it than if they see it as another chore.
Why not set a timer and see who can put away the most toys in two minutes, pretend you’re a dinosaur who’ll eat their toes if they don’t put their socks on, or put some music on in their bedroom while they’re getting dressed?
Give them choices
If your child feels like you’re always telling them what to do, their motivation for doing it will soon run out.
Instead, try to give them some say in what they do, so they feel more in control.
For example, you could let them decide whether they want to wear shorts or trousers today, or if they’d prefer to help tidy the playroom or empty their book bag.
Keep instructions simple
Children have a short attention span. So, if you’ve given them a list of things to do and they’ve achieved precisely nothing, it’s not because they’re being defiant – they just can’t remember what they’re meant to be doing.
It’s much more effective to give one (or two, at most) instructions at a time. So rather than telling them to clean their teeth, brush their hair, put their lunchbox in their bag, get their shoes on, and put on their coat, break it down into single elements.
You’ll be amazed by how much quicker the jobs get done.
Use visual aids
Many of the things we need our kids to do are the same, day in, day out, so using a timetable or checklist can be a good way to keep them on task.
At first, you’ll need to keep reminding them to check their chart when they’re drifting off task, but, in time, they’ll learn to consult it for themselves, rather than relying on you to prompt them.
Give them rewards
But isn’t this the same as bribery?
Well, yes, a bit – but rewards, if they’re used sparingly, can be super successful in motivating children to do things for themselves.
The key is to match the reward to the task. So, for things that need doing every day – like brushing teeth – you might decide that your child earns a sticker for each day they manage to do it without being nagged. And maybe they get a new comic, or packet of stickers, when they get to 10 stickers.
But for a bigger task, like helping you wash the car, you might reward them with that comic there and then.
And don’t forget that praise is the best reward of all, so make sure you’re letting your child know how chuffed you are alongside handing out the treats.