Why Won’t My Kid Do the Dishes?

Recently we got an email from a mom asking what to do when her 10-year-old son refused to help with the dishes after dinner, even when punished with spanking or loss of electronics. Conflicts around chores are something that many parents and kids struggle with, so we thought we’d share our response.

When kids say “No,” parents’ first instinct is often to go right to threats or punishment to gain obedience. Spanking or yelling usually happens from a place of demanding obedience as a first goal. But if a parent’s first goal is to tap into God’s holiness and the fruit of the Spirit on the way to helping the child learn to value obedience, the scene usually goes much differently.

For example: Before asking your son to do the dishes, enjoy a fun, connective meal together. Ask about times your son felt good about something he did. When was he a blessing to someone? Do some work to be sure he knows he’s loved, and affirm whatever small things he’s done to use the gifts God gave him. Kids who know they are loved and enjoyed are less prone to acting up in order to feel a sense of control. So enjoy him.

Also, be sure he’s been trained in a fun way to do the kitchen chores and feels part of the family team that gets things done together. Then, when it’s time to clear and load the dishes, involve him in deciding what needs to be done before the family moves on to the next things (playing, TV, working in the yard, etc). Often, just this approach diffuses obstinate encounters.

But it can still come to some opposition, especially if this is a new way of doing things. So here’s how it might go when a parent’s first goal to exemplify the fruit of the Spirit and to not exasperate their child.

As you’re about to finish a fun dinner together ask, “So who’s going to do what tonight before we go on to our other activities for the evening?”

Son says, “Whaddya mean?”

“Well, what jobs do you think need to be done to get things back in order in the kitchen?”

He may answer or he may not. If not, be sure you say it clearly for him: “The dishes need clearing and loading, the table gets cleaned, and the leftovers get put away.”

Then say, “Let’s honor each other by getting it done together. It’s been your job to load the dishes, but perhaps you have something else you’d rather do?” Giving sincere and empowering choices will often pave the way for kids to choose more wisely. But not always.

“I don’t want to do any of it!”

“I know, these jobs can be kind of a pain sometimes. But as soon as you’ve done your part you can get on to your other stuff.”

“No! I hate your rules, and I hate loading the dishes.”

“Yes, it’s tough to grow up and become more responsible sometimes. Do you want me to hang in the kitchen with you while you do it?”

“I’m just not gonna do it! I’m going outside.”

“Wow! You’re pretty upset about this. It’s OK to be upset. I get upset all the time. But you’ll still need to do the dishes before you go outside. What do you want to do?” (If you stay matter-of-fact about all this, he’ll perceive this as a true choice. If you are angry or even a little frustrated, he’ll perceive it as a power struggle. As soon as he interprets a power struggle, he will do whatever he has to do to win, or at least make sure you don’t win, because that’s what he’s learned to do in power struggles.)

“Just do the dishes yourself!”

“Well, that’s not an option. But if you wanna cool down a bit before doing them you can. And just this once, if you feel like you want me to help you get started, just let me know.” Letting kids know you’ll help them, even when they’re struggling, is another way to guide your child toward a different way.

Even the most defiant of kids, if they feel respected in this process, will take responsibility to do what they’re asked to do when it’s laid out this way for them. It’s when they feel cornered by “my way or the highway” tactics that they remain defiant.

As you read this, you may be thinking about all the different ways it would go differently with your child. But remember – the focus in this approach is not on what your child does, it’s on what you are responsible to do as God’s child and as your child’s parent. I am quite certain that as you make progress to be more filled with love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness and self control, you will see notable changes in how things play out, and more importantly, in how you feel about your parenting.

Frustrated by constant discipline challenges? Take 15 minutes to read our free ebook When Your Child Misbehaves – Four Strategies for Lasting Change.

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