The Best Way to Get Kids to Do Something…


Saturday morning. My turn to get up with the kids. I usually look forward to this time when we can be together in the morning and just enjoy each other’s company. No rushing off to school or work. No timetable at all (except to make sure kids eat breakfast before they pass that “I’m so hungry point” when things can turn ugly.)

But, on this particular Saturday I am so fatigued. My body feels clumsy and slow and my limbs feel like lead.

Everyone around me is moving too fast. Talking too quickly. Needing too much.

  • All the kids want pancakes.
  • Charlie (age 8) wants me to read more “Little House on the Prairie” to her.
  • Tristan (age 2) wants me to sit next to him while he pretends to be a baby kitty cat.
  • Ian (age 6) is asking for something, but I can’t even make it out in the din.
  • Max (age 10) is bouncing around with oodles of energy and it’s riling everyone up.

On top of that, the kitchen is still a mess from the night before. Too tired last night, and I let it go ’til morning (not my usual M.O.). The dishwasher needs emptying and refilling. There’s still some things to clear from the table and it needs wiping. Things on the floor crunch under my feet. All of this makes me irritated and edgy!

Now Charlie is saying in a whiny voice, “Mommy! Just… reeeeeead!”

In my head, I’m thinking, “Just… shaaaadup!”

In an irritated tone I say, “Charlie, there’s a lot to take care of right now before we can read. If you want reading to happen quicker, you could help by emptying the silverware tray of the dishwasher. Or help clear the table.”

Charlie really despises kitchen chores. And in the morning before breakfast she does not handle the thought of even being asked. She starts to get pissy and whiny. “I don’t WANT to do that.” Whether she’s right or not (for not wanting to help out), I know that, left unfed, she’s capable of a big, long, drawn out bout of pain-in-the-assery. We are snipping at each other. Ian and Tristan are fighting and crying. I want to scream.

But I stop.

And I remember part of the Dale Carnegie book I’m reading. It’s something like, “The best way to get someone to do something, is to make them WANT to do it.” Not a fear tactic. But a motivating tactic. Hmmm.

I need to handle one thing at a time and do it quickly. First Charlie. Then Ian and Tristan.

I shift Dale Carnegie’s thinking slightly to, “The best way to get help right now, is to find something that Charlie WANTS to do, that’s also HELPFUL to me.” No battles. Just cooperation. And both of us moving in the same direction to a common goal: Reading together once people have had breakfast.

Charlie loves making pancakes. And she’s good at it. That’s a job that needs doing and it’d help me out. My tone of voice totally changes to go with my new found calm and wisdom. I suggest the idea to her. She hops up, happy. “Sure!” She chit-chats as she sets to work. “I love making pancakes. And I have some special tricks that I use to make them… ”

OK. One person “solved.”

Ian and Tristan are still fighting. Tristan hit Ian with a toy. Ian scratched Tristan. Tristan is crying and saying he needs a bandaid. I describe what I see to bring their awareness to it, without attacking their character (a tactic that I pull straight from Siblings Without Rivalry, one of my favorite parenting books). I say, “I see two hungry kids who are mad at each other. Each one is mad because the other one hurt him… I feel sure that you will find a way to work things out.” I go back to cleaning.

Tristan says, “I want a band-aid!”

Ian says, “I can get you a band-aid!”… Then “Wait! We can BOTH get band-aids!”

Tristan (happily), “Yeah!”

Off they go to get their bandaids. I bust through the clean up. Charlie  is pouring pancake batter on the griddle. I know we have a bank of about 4-minutes worth of stability before people will lose their shit again. But as soon as they are fed, they’ll be ready to cope. And I know we’re gonna make it.

We do!



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