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How to Get Kids to Help Without Nagging or Begging

How to Get Kids to Help Without Nagging or Begging

A few years ago I read a Dear Abby letter that really stuck with me. It was from a distraught mom who signed off as “Alone in the Kitchen.” The poor woman sounded so beaten down and well, clueless as she described how her adult daughters arrive for the holidays each year expecting the guest treatment.

For some mysterious reason, these able-bodied young women never offered to help dear old Mumsie with the cleaning, shopping, or cooking for the Big Feast. Instead, they sat on the couch for a few days, snacking, texting, and watching movies, until Mom slumped to the linoleum and whimpered like a pathetic dog, begging for help. At which point the princesses would roll their eyes and deign to lift a sponge for a fleeting moment, before trotting off and abandoning Mom again.

I read and fumed. But my anger wasn’t aimed at the daughters as much Mom. Where did she think her lovelies learned to act like royalty at home? How in the world had they reached adulthood totally lacking the common courtesy to pitch in?


"Dear Alone in the Kitchen"

Abby called out Mom for overindulging, but I gave her response a C+ because Abby neglected to offer Mom any solutions. If it had been my column, here’s what I would have said:

"Dear Alone in the Kitchen,

Are you wondering where your girls picked up their sense of entitlement? Look in the mirror because it’s self-reflection time. If you really want to change the dynamic in your family this holiday season and forevermore, start with an apology. I’m serious! You have failed to teach your children the first thing about being helpful. Instead, you’ve taught them that their job is to sit back and let you cater to them. You’ve also held them back from developing a cooperative spirit by rewarding their self-centeredness. Admit the ugly truth. Forgive yourself. Apologize. And move forward, quickly, because you’ve got a turkey to stuff!"


There are always things that need to be done to make a home livable. (Of course, living in a home is what makes it messy, but we can’t get around that, can we?) Whether you’re prepping for a special holiday event or needing to dive into seasonal household chores, make a master task list. Gather the troops, post the document, and announce to your family, “Here’s what needs to get done. Which tasks are you taking responsibility for?” (Speak as assertively as possible. No shouting, asking, pleading, guilt-tripping, etc.) If you lack confidence in someone’s promise to help (due to past flakiness) then get it in writing. After each self-selected assignment, smile, and in your best coach voice say, “Thanks. We’re all counting on you. And when will you have that done?”

Creating a New, More Cooperative Pattern

My personal, unscientific research clearly indicates that when we want something completed, the chance of cooperation drops to less than 20 percent when our request comes in the form of a spineless question like, “Can someone please help me?” (“No thanks.”) “Can I ask you a favor?” (“Sure, but I’m not doing it.”) “Do you have a minute?” (“Not now, Mom.”) See what I mean? Instead, try this: “Hey guys, I need some help in here.” See the difference? It’s a statement, not a question. Practice on your own so there is no trace of pleading in your voice.

Breaking family patterns isn’t easy, but it’s easier than breaking your back doing all the work with little or no cooperation from anyone. It’s also better for your soon-to-be young adult children to notice the needs of others—essential in teaching them to be good people.

As for any mom who believes that she must do it all single-handedly otherwise she won’t be loved and appreciated, please allow me to set you straight. You are already loved, appreciated, and admired. And when it comes to holiday celebrations, if you do much more than your fair share, you may end up with a sore back and feelings of resentment. And where’s the holiday spirit in that?

So teach your children to help. Otherwise, how can they possibly learn to make a killer Thanksgiving dinner on their own some day? And how will they teach your future grandkids to be helpful people at home and out in the world? 

Image Source: iStock Photo

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, POPSUGAR.

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