“If My Kid’s a Slob Now, How Will He Hold a Job Later?”


“When I look at my son’s messy room, it puts a knot in my stomach.”

Joe was insightful and honest as he described his emotions about his son’s room. “Just the sight of his dresser drawers hanging out with stuff all over and I’m thinking pessimistic thoughts: If he can’t even push his drawers shut, how is he going to be responsible to hold anything but a low end job? It even makes me feel like I’ve failed as a parent to help my son learn to be responsible.”

How Family Meetings Can Un-Spoil Kids

One day, my wife and I looked at each other and noticed ourselves doing many things for our kids that they were fully capable of doing for themselves. We also noticed that our kids, to varying degrees, would plead ignorance or inadequacy in an effort to keep us in our enabling roles. We took a step back and asked, “Whose responsibility is this, anyway?” This started our journey toward achieving a more cooperative family.

One of Our Biggest Parenting Mistakes…

One of our biggest parenting mistakes is to try to get kids to behave right for the wrong reasons.

It’s a good thing to want our kids to behave responsibly and to internalize the value of responsibility, but parents tend to turn this desire into a goal for a child’s behavior.

Here’s how it works: When kids fail to take responsibility the way parents want, these parents tend to engage. We nag. We remind. We may even yell, all with the goal of getting our kids to behave responsibly. The problem is, the most important goal of parenting is not to get our kids to behave right, but to believe right. And all this effort towards behavior communicates to our child the very opposite message we’d like them to believe.

Building the Family Team: A Solution to Chore Wars

7-year-old Bryce was a master “chore evader.” When asked to help with chores, this distractable drama king would slump over and whine, “But I wanted to play!” His parents, Sandy and Jeff, had run out of ideas and came to me (Lynne) for help.

When kids begin chore wars, often the most effective response is not declaring war but shifting perspective and discipling children through the process. In this case, I helped Sandy and Jeff develop the following practical plan as they shifted their efforts from focusing on “How do we stop the complaining and get some help?” to “How can we use this opportunity to build character and even faith?”

The Joy of Family Chores: A Tale of Two Moms


In a family, we all need each other. We are a team, and we share in the responsibility of the household. “God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be” (1 Cor. 12:18). Each child has a special contribution to make to the body of Christ, and to whatever group she is in, including her family. When everyone contributes, everyone benefits. One child’s service to the family blesses other family members.

In addition, children need to serve in order to grow into healthy, contributing adults. When parents do everything for their children, they can create a sense of entitlement that leaves kids unprepared to care for themselves and others. However, when kids use their talents in ways that bless others, they begin to find their way into the purposes for which God created them.

So what can I do to help my family learn to serve together?

Cooperation Made Easy! (…At least this time.)

A few years ago, I took my two young nephews camping. Just the three of us.

One morning I got up early to think and pray about our day. The previous night had been fun but exhausting, so I enjoyed the refreshing solitude, focused my mind on expressing my joy in my nephews, and then woke them for breakfast.

After breakfast I wanted to go fishing as soon as possible and decided to let the boys play while I cleaned up. They started wrestling and were loud enough to bother the other nearby campers. Focused more on getting the dishes done than on what was good for the boys, I scolded them sternly three or four times to get them to be quiet, which accomplished nothing. They kept up their noise and friendly tussling. I felt my ears getting hot.

I took a deep breath. I recognized that this was not what I had hoped for, and that the way I was reacting was not helpful. I changed my plan.

When Kids Leave Messes

If your kids are messy, and won’t clean up after themselves, it’s not because they’re bad kids, it’s because they haven’t been taught well. Some kids are harder to teach than others. For these kids, a little fun might be the answer.

With the two year-old in our home we made it fun. You can read about it here. The short of it is that just after he turned two he learned to set the table and clear the dishes all by himself. He was SO proud. Now, a year later, he still happily engages in dinner prep and cleaning.

The simple technique used to help him learn was (is) to have fun doing it together, give clear instructions about what is expected, provide help and encouragement along the way, and enjoy the results. Just the other day, when Eli wanted to go play downstairs, I said to him, “Eli, you can play downstairs as soon as you’ve put your upstairs toys away.” “OK!” was his answer, and one minute later his drums and blocks were properly put away, and he waddled joyfully downstairs. As a three year-old he truly values cleaning up his messes, and many times even does it on his own initiative.

Older kids present different challenges, but the same process can be effective. One time Lynne was praying about how to encourage 13 year-old Bethany to clean her room. She was hoping God would reveal some wonderful, crafty, and powerful consequence that would motivate the cleaning. Instead she felt like God’s spirit whispered, “Clean with her, and enjoy the results.”

So they had a fun time together cleaning. The whole time Lynne resisted the urge to make sure Bethany did it exactly “right” (whatever “right” is – who after all owns the corner on the market of exactly what is the “right” way to clean?), and instead joyfully worked with her until the room was decently clean. They then took some pictures and printed them so Bethany could be reminded of the day, and the results.

Over time, Bethany took increasing responsibility for keeping her room clean, and Lynne kept resisting the impulse to nag, and instead would offer to help when she could see Bethany was overwhelmed. This approach once and for all broke the intensity of the cleaning wars.

So whether kids are young or old, don’t fight them, join them, and enjoy the process.

Image © Udra11 | Dreamstime.com

You Can Both Win The Chore Wars!

I had been frustrated by ten-year-old Noah’s lack of thoroughness, and what I considered poor effort in cleaning the bathroom. Then it dawned on me: I was expecting him to just know how to do it without ever actually breaking it down for him!

So we started over and cleaned the bathroom together while I guided him in understanding and writing a step by step checklist of tasks that was then taped to the inside of the cupboard. This was a far more effective approach.

kid cleaning bathroomYears later, Jim and I spoke with Mark Holmen, a nationally known speaker who trains church leaders and parents to guide children’s faith development. His teaching format peaked our interest, as we realized it has lots of implications for how parents interact with kids. Instead of taking the common approach of explaining to parents what they should do, Mark’s highly effective program follows this format:

1) Motivate people.
2) Model what you’re asking for.
3) Practice with them.
4) Provide resources to help with follow-through.

What a great teaching format to help our kids be successful at accomplishing a challenging task! Here are a few questions to help you apply this to kids and chores:

Helping Kids Learn Independence from Tots to Teens

Building Insight And Independence


Our teen-aged son had been working on a variety of “extra-credit” home projects for us as a way to earn money.  (For younger parents, don’t miss Tips for Tots application below.) I definitely noticed some strengths and weaknesses in his work habits. I was tempted to give him the rundown of my assessment, and pay him what I thought his work was worth, and move on, no questions asked. Then I remembered my renewed commitment to be more thoughtful and intentional in my parenting.

So I said, “Looks like you’ve gotten most of today’s list done. I want you to evaluate how it went. What do you think are the characteristics of a diligent worker? Like, what would an employer be looking for in someone who does a really good job?”