Parenting: "Start" Behaviors – Garage Strength

Parenting: "Start" Behaviors

Our 5 year old son recently began doing a regular chore once per day. Since we heat our house with a wood stove we tasked L with moving five pieces of fire wood from our wood pile to the front porch. Our son has been helping with the collecting and stacking wood since he was born, playing on the wood pile while my husband and I did the various jobs involved in heating with wood. The chore was not foreign to him, and he was quite enthusiastic about the first day of chores. 

The second day, L received a brand new wheel barrow to use for his new chore. His enthusiasm continued.

On day three, major tantrums ensued. L searched for every possible way to get out of his chore. "My foot hurts" "it's too hot" "I am too tired"
When we wouldn't budge he tried, "can you push the wheel barrow?" and "can I get 4 pieces today instead of 5?" It's so important as parents to be firm in these situations and provide the structure your child needs to create his or her own self discipline.

The best way to reinforce good behavior in chores is to incentivize the desirable behavior (Phelan). The biggest mistake parents make with chores is they provide the wrong incentive or they punish the child for not completing his chores. 

Punishment is a great tactic for "stop" behaviors. If a child is doing something and he needs to stop doing it, hitting, kicking, using poor language, ect. then a punishment is probably warranted. Punishments can vary from time outs, to corporal punishment, logical consequences, or taking away something ( toy, game, electronics). Regardless of what form of punishment you choose it will not be effective for, "start behaviors".

When you need your child to do something, particularly when he or she does not want to do it, you need to try to incentivize what is desired rather than punish the child for not completing the behavior. 

So what do we do? The night before our son had a complete melt down at chore time, my husband and I discussed how we could handle the situation when our son refuses to cooperate at chore time. (Our conversation timing was pretty lucky). We decided that the ultimate goal is for our son to learn the intrinsic reward associated with task completion. But he couldn't learn the satisfaction of completion of he wouldn't do the chore in the first place. 

Earning money can be good motivator, especially for older kids. At 5, our son is too young to understand the true value of money so earning an allowance was not a good motivator. We came up with the following ideas to motivate start behaviors in young children:

1. Special Parental Attention- mom or dad will push you on the swing, read a book, play a game (as soon as you finish the chore) This could be an immediate reward so there would be no delayed gratification.

2. Reward Chart - earn a check mark on a calendar for every day that chores are completed 
(A sticker for every week that 5 days are completed. Ice cream trip for three weeks worth of stickers). In conjunction with number 1, this would offer a way for L to see there is value in repeatedly completing his chores. As well as a consequence for not completing them.

Neither of these is a perfect solution, because I am sure L will still refuse from time to time, and resist to the best of his ability. However, its the best we have for now. Any suggestions are welcome in the comments!! We always accompany our child while he does the chore, but we agreed to be firm. We will not assist him in the chore. We chose an activity that our son is very capable of completing on his own, and we want our son to take the ownership upon himself. We also will not make the chore easier. Giving in to a simpler task, like you only have to get 4 logs today instead of 5, only opens the door for more laziness later. We offer suggestions to make the task easier and lots of encouragement. And We follow through with praise.

We hope this chore is a good learning experience for our son. Because really, its about more than just chores. We are using this as a teaching tool for cooperation, for doing something even if you don't want to, and taking responsibility and ownership over a task. We want to raise kids to be good citizens, and not just helpless drones. 

Written by Caitlin Browne

Used for Reference, "1-2-3 Magic" by Thomas Phelan

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  • 3 weeks before an ice cream reward for a 5 year old is Draconian. LOL.

    Stephen Browne
  • Very good read. My sister had the sticker collection for her son when he had a hard time to get his stuff ready in the morning before leaving for school. He had a list with pictures of things he needed to have ready, like brush teath, get dressed, eat breakfast etc and be on time. He collected five stickers and when he earned them he had a list of activities he could choose from, like read a book with mum or dad, watch 30 min of tv, bake a cake etc. and it was his choose what he wanted to pick. Worked great and of course there was mornings he was crying and screaming and he simply did not get a sticker, and in effect that delayed the activity. Once he got a bit older and getting ready in the morning was not an issue, they switched to something different to do to collect the stickers.


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