Question: I have three kids, ages 8, 6, and 4. I need help solving the "pick up the playroom" dilemma. When an area in which they've been playing needs to be picked up and straightened, the 8-year-old always ends up doing all the work. The other two continue to play or just pretend to be helping. The oldest complains that it's not fair, and he's right. What can I do to ensure that they all do their share?
Answer: This very common problem is the result of parents who think children are adults. One aspect of emotional adulthood (not to be confused with chronological adulthood), is the understanding that cooperation with others is usually necessary to accomplishing anything of value and, furthermore, that cooperation results in short- and long-term benefit to all concerned.
Children are not adults, which might seem self-evident, but obviously is not. When siblings are assigned to the same task, it's typical that one or two siblings will do as little as possible while one — usually the oldest — does all the work. That's human nature, which is fundamentally irresponsible and always looking for the easy way out.
The solution to this problem is to rotate tasks among the kids. Picking up the playroom is a good example. The first time it needs to be picked up, assign it to the oldest child. Send the other two kids elsewhere. The second time it needs straightening, assign it to the middle child. The youngest performs the next cleaning and then it's back to the oldest.
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Voilà! The job gets done, and none of them complains that "it's not fair!" Or, they all complain, which, after all, is only fair.
Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents' questions on his Web site, Rosemond.com.