When our daughter was about three years old, I asked her one day to clean her room. She gave me a puzzled look and when I returned in a few minutes, I couldn’t see any change. I reminded her she was supposed to clean her room and she replied, “I can’t.”
Now this is the point where most parents begin lectures on obedience and responsibility and begin threatening consequences. The problem is, she was telling the truth. She couldn’t clean her room, because she didn’t know what that meant or how to do it.
It doesn’t end with the toddler years though. What does “Don’t have sex until you’re married.” mean? What about “Don’t do drugs.”? Even teens struggle with doing what their parents ask them to do.
There are some really quick things you can do to make it clear whether or not your child is actually in rebellion to your request or sincerely hasn’t a clue what to do.
- Define terms. What exactly do you mean by “clean” or whatever the request that is given to your child? Is it everything put away or just a clear path to the door and a made bed? Clearly define what your expectations are of the finished task.
- Give steps for completion. If you expect your child to complete three smaller tasks as a part of cleaning their room, then list each of them.
- Teach or demonstrate new concepts and tasks. Ever asked a child to do laundry without very specific teaching and demonstration of the task? If so, you probably ended up with all of your whites becoming a brand new shade of pink. Don’t assume your child knows how to do anything unless you have taught them. (This goes for schoolwork, too. You would be surprised how many things we realized weren’t taught in school when we began homeschooling.)
- Set any additional requirements. Don’t get angry when the room isn’t cleaned in 20 minutes unless you told your child they only had 20 minutes to get the room clean. Children will automatically drag out a task – particularly one they don’t enjoy – as long as possible. You can’t be angry though if you didn’t set specific expectations.
The next time your child doesn’t compete a task you have given him or her, take a step back before lecturing or punishing. Make sure you covered the steps above first. If not, go through them with your child and give him or her a second chance. Your kids might just be more obedient and responsible than you realize.