Habit Forming: Employing and Enjoying the Power of When

Children are such a joy, aren’t they? Absolutely...most of the time. As a parent, you can increase that joy by having your children chip in and do their part (when they’re old enough) with household tasks and chores, just like the adult members of the family do.

Done properly, this will make them feel more important and even more “grown up”, which are feelings most children enjoy experiencing.

As we hinted at just above, this whole concept is only appropriate for children of the proper age. It’s up to you, the parent(s), to determine what age that is for your particular child(ren). It will vary from family to family and even from child to child. They didn’t all come from the same mold, so don’t treat them as if they did.

One of the ways to accomplish this scenario is to employ the powerful word “when”.

The general formula is this: When you have done X, you can do Y, where X is some task you’d like to have completed that they can handle, and where Y is some event that your child really wants to experience.

When you first try to implement this procedure, it’s probably best and easiest to stick to the singular for both X and Y. In other words, propose that your child do just one thing for you and reward him or her with one thing that they can subsequently do.

For example…

When you put all your crayons back in the box, you can have a cookie.

One X. One Y. Simple as that.

It almost goes without saying, but we’ll say it anyway. What the X and the Y are are totally up to you. If you don’t think it’s good for your child to have the cookie mentioned in the example, substitute something else, like a carrot stick or a nickel or...whatever.

The physical motions you go through while making this agreement can be important too, especially if your child isn’t used to the situation.

Get yourself at eye level with your child. Make sure you’re looking into each other’s eyes before you make your statement. Afterwards, ask your child if he or she understands what you just said.

Using the example above, if your child says, “Okay, after I finish coloring my picture,” that’s fine! A short delay in the completion of the task is not a problem, as long as it eventually does get done.

If you need the task done immediately, you need to state that in the proposition along with the reason why. There’s nothing wrong with this either, as long as both of you understand what’s happening.

One word of caution: Don’t promise something you can’t or don’t intend to follow through with. It only takes one such occurrence to make future deals worthless in your child’s eyes.

As your child grows older and becomes more familiar with your “when” propositions, you can very gradually increase the difficulty or the amount of tasks or both. The goal here is to instill the idea in your child that he or she is a valuable, contributing member of the family - someone the family would find it difficult to do without. The rewards can also increase in number and magnitude, too.

You might eventually want to turn some of these tasks into daily or weekly chores that are to be done automatically for an “allowance” (money) or other reward. This idea isn’t exactly new. It falls instead into the category of tried and true. The main difference between implementing it today as opposed to 50 years ago is inflation - you’ll probably have to give your children more money (periodically) than your grandparents gave your parents.

The tasks you want to pass on to your children will probably vary more from household to household than the rewards your children will appreciate. Though there will still be plenty of differences there too, we can think of several possibilities that are likely common to most children.

Some of the items or events they probably want include the following.

  • The new wifi password (aka screen time)
  • More screen time (on a personal device, aka phone or tablet)
  • Video games (for screen time)
  • An allowance (aka moolah)
  • Food treats (aka cookies, candy, carrots, cauliflower, etc.)
  • Hobby supplies (art supplies, models to put together, collectibles, etc.)

You know your children better than we do, so we’re sure you can think of more, and probably better, rewards.

This “when” method for getting your children to do some of the things you want them to isn’t the only one that works. We have found, however, that it is one of the more powerful methods available and one that rarely fails.

We hope you find ways to put it to good use for the benefit of your whole family.