Q. Our 12-year-old son and 9-year-old daughter share animal chores on our family farm in the evenings. Every night we have to remind them, and they always put up a fight before the jobs get done. They are definitely not too strenuous for them, and my husband and I feel the responsibility is good for them. What can we do to make sure they do their jobs, preferably without constant reminding and screaming (on their part, not ours)?
A. I began having chest pains just reading your letter. After the EMT unit left, I consulted the most recent edition of Making Diagnostic Mountains Out of Molehills (MADMOM-IV), indispensable to us mental health professionals, only to discover that your children are afflicted with both Explosive Reaction to Parental Pestering (ERPP) and Attention to Chores (ATCHOO) disorders, the first recorded cases of which appear in historical documents shortly after mankind's expulsion from the Garden of Eden, at which time "chores" first became necessary. Both of these disorders intensify over time, eventually causing parents to begin wishing they'd never had children.
The treatment plan is very specific: First, stop nagging (pestering). Tell the children something along these lines: "You will never, ever again hear either of us so much as even refer to your chores. You know what they are, and we expect you to start them no later than (say) 7 o'clock. If you have not started your chores by 7, we will do them for you. Sound good?" Say no more! To any questions, reply, "That's really all we have to say." Then just sit back and wait. The next time the kids let the designated "start time" lapse, just pick yourselves up and go outside and start doing their chores. When you have finished, come inside and announce that it's time for them to go to bed. Be cheery! When they protest that bedtime is at least two hours away, say, "Oh, didn't we tell you? At 7 o'clock, either you are on your way out the door to do your chores, or we are out the door to do them for you. If we do them, you have to go to bed as soon as we finish. In fact, if we put even one foot outside to do them, your opportunity has passed, so you might as well be in bed, lights out, by the time we come back.
"Oh, and by the way, if we do your chores on more than one night, Sunday through Friday, then all weekend privileges for you are canceled. Any questions?" All of this should be communicated in a matter-of-fact and therefore infuriating tone of voice, accompanied by dumb looks and many shrugs of your shoulders, as if to say, "Gosh, kids, we're real, real sorry about all this."
This will activate what I call the "Agony Principle." Parents should not agonize over anything children do or fail to do if those children are perfectly capable of agonizing over it themselves. The person or persons who become upset over a particular problem will try to solve it. In this case, you are trying to solve a problem -- and driving yourselves slowly nuts in the process -- that only your children can solve. They will solve it when you cause them to begin going nuts because of it.
Now, sit back, relax and let 'em begin learning how the real world deals with people who do not accept their responsibilities. They're 9 and 12? Good, then it's not too late, but time's a'wastin'!