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Quick answer: child who enjoys refusing to help

(38 Posts)
StephaniePowers Fri 03-May-13 13:23:43

I have a child who enjoys letting us know that he doesn't want to help.
I suspect it's a power thing but I don't know how to handle it.
Little jobs get allocated and the children are expected to do their bit and they do get thanked.
DS (8) simply hates this. Wall charts, rotas etc: he just refuses.
Being thanked: he says 'I don't care'. I'm sure positive reinforcement is getting through on some level but why say he doesn't care?

This morning he went to pick up the post - I asked him to - and came through to tell me with a look of triumph that he'd got his own letter, and left mine on the mat.

I have no idea how to respond. I want to stop him being unpleasant and I assume telling him that what he did was unpleasant and selfish wasn't the best tactic. blush

Goldmandra Fri 03-May-13 13:56:30

How frustrating! It does sound like a power thing.

You could try repaying his behaviour in kind. Perhaps you could fold up everybody else's washing for putting away but leave his crumpled or put snacks and drinks out for everyone else but him. If he asks why, you can tell him that you want to help the others because they are helpful to you.

givemeaclue Fri 03-May-13 13:57:51

Could the others get a reward for helping that he misses out on

Goldmandra Fri 03-May-13 14:00:43

It is really hard to think of a positive way of dealing with this isn't it?

Maybe someone inspirational will come along soon with a really good idea.

DeWe Fri 03-May-13 14:14:59

Reward the others when they've helped. Pocket money linked to jobs, or maybe an ice cream when the van drives past, or a small trip out. Not big things, and not all the time, so he doesn't know when he might miss out on something.

"Don't care" ime is often a line trotted out when they do care but don't want you to know.

StephaniePowers Fri 03-May-13 14:33:40

But Goldmandra, I don't want to be that person: I don't want him to think that actually life is all tit-for-tat. I agree it is so hard to deal with!

Rewarding the other one seems reasonable but I don't want her to gloat blush

colditz Fri 03-May-13 14:36:21

Life is all tit for tat. Altruism comes later, as an adult, when you are eight, life is completely tit for tat.

So reward the children who do as they are asked, and when he asks where his reward is, be clear that he isn't getting one because he won't cooperate.

colditz Fri 03-May-13 14:38:13

I once gave ds1 a pound for NOT throwing a tantrum on the way home. His little brother looked on in fury. But he didn't have a leg to stand on, he had thrown a doozy of a tantrum, he could hardly say that I wasn't being fair.

It's my money and I will hand it out as I see fit. If you want some, you have to give me a reason to give it to you!

stowsettler Fri 03-May-13 14:46:21

Totally agree colditz, I think that one of the most important aspects of a parent's job is to teach their DCs about consequences to actions (or lack of action). Life isn't all positive - we all have to learn that at some point in our lives.

StephaniePowers Fri 03-May-13 14:55:23


However can you see that I'm wary of instigating a family dynamic where I will only do things when something is done for me? It's not so much about encouraging non-existent altruism, it's about being wary of modelling an unpleasant form of behaviour.

I will accept that he might not be as sophisticated as that, though, and seeing his sister being praised and getting a small treat might get to him after a few days of saying he isn't interested in treats.

Goldmandra Fri 03-May-13 15:02:01

I can see where you're coming from.

How about doing the normal for everyone as usual but then doing an extra favour for his sister just because she's done something nice?

So if she has chores, just do one for her out of the blue. Or maybe tidy her room for her.

I wonder if that might work better than praise and explicit rewards because he is old enough to be aware that you are doling those out to get behaviour you want to see.

Does that make any more sense?

secretscwirrels Fri 03-May-13 15:08:33

I would try a little emotional blackmail.
Sometimes 8 year old boys don't think anyone else has feelings.
Explain that in a family we do things for each other because we love each other and want to make each other happy. Tell him some of the stuff you do for him. Also that his behaviour or when he says he doesn't care it makes you feel sad because you do care.

StephaniePowers Fri 03-May-13 15:12:55

Secretscwirrels I have done all that and tbh it was his response that drove me to post here. I totally agree with your post and it has always been our party line.

He literally rolls his eyes (in a way which I can't describe but is subtle enough that I know he knows what he is doing, ie winding me up). And comes back at me with utter rubbish about what I don't do - things like allow him unlimited access to the computer. I don't allow this to go on too long as it's such rubbish but I'm aware that he isn't being heard and I am being disrespected. I want to get out of that dynamic.

LondonJax Fri 03-May-13 15:21:44

Have you tried asking him why he doesn't care? Or asking him why he left your post on the doormat? If it were DS I'd sit him down and ask him to think how he'd feel if that happened to him (don't say 'If I did that to you' as he'd just say he didn't care - say 'how would you feel if someone left your post on the doormat). Then how he'd feel if someone had handed him his post instead of leaving it.

I use that technique all the time - DS knows it as 'having a little chat' - I don't tell him off. I ask him to think and come up with his own ideas of making things work better. For example, DS told me a lie last week about a girl at school. He'd had a few little problems with her (nothing much, just being a bit bossy) over the past few months. Last week he came home and left his new birthday watch at school. He said this girl had told him he couldn't wear a watch to school and had taken it off him without his permission. So I said I'd go in to see the teacher to check if he could wear a watch (which I knew he could) and to say could she keep an eye on the girl as it's not her place to make rules in the class. Something about his story didn't ring true so I got to the bottom of it. It turned out that he'd got a bit worried that he couldn't wear the watch and had taken it off, leaving it in his work tray. Then he'd forgotten it at the end of the day. He'd lied to save a telling off (which he wouldn't have got - I just wanted to know where the watch was). So I sat him down and went through what could have happened to this girl if I'd have gone to the teacher and what would have happened if she had started a problem in future and I thought he'd lied again. He genuinely hadn't thought through the consequences - he's only just turned 6 years old. When we'd finished I said 'do you realise why a little lie could have been so bad' and he said something like 'yeah, X could have got in a lot of trouble and her mummy might have had to go up the school and she'd have been told off at home - that's not fair is it Mum?' - job done! I didn't want to tell him off - I knew there was a reason for the lie, he's usually pretty honest and I needed to know why he'd made up a story. Shouting at him wouldn't have got to the bottom of it.

I had the recommendation of a really good book which I got when DS was about 3 years old and tantruming for England. Called something like 'how to talk to your kids so they listen and listen so they talk' or something similar. DH is always amazed how I manage to calm DS down or get him to do something that DH battles with him over - I keep telling him to read the book cos I use it all time!

Andro Fri 03-May-13 18:53:09

However can you see that I'm wary of instigating a family dynamic where I will only do things when something is done for me?

Understandable that you don't want to create that dynamic...and you don't have to. All you have to do is link a small extra treat (one that you know he would really want) to the helpfulness, if you do it within the boundaries of a more general treat you avoid the 'I'll only do X for Y set up.

StephaniePowers Sun 05-May-13 09:05:01


Yes of course I ask him why (sorry, not being stroppy, just that MN isn't my first port of call for advice, it is the last!). He simply tells me a lie - very creative but very odd. About the post, he told me a long story he'd thought through about one of his friends. Everyone in their family gets a magazine and they all go and fetch their own magazine when it comes in the post, one by one, and he likes that system. It's utter fabrication.

If I ask him to imagine how I feel when he got something for himself and deliberately left mine behind, and then preeningly told me what he'd done - he shrugs. Did you think I'd feel bad? Shrug.

All of you with kids who can or will respond to normal questions with normal answers - great. Happy for you. My whole point in posting here is that I'm getting answers I cannot fathom sad

Goldmandra Sun 05-May-13 09:18:23

Do you feel it would be helpful to open up the channels of communication a bit?

Someone wise said to me that all behaviour is communication so when you don't understand the behaviour, try to work out what the child is communicating.

Maybe some time to talk would help. Shoulder to shoulder with busy hands is a less threatening approach so perhaps you could do a job together or he could accompany you on a car journey, sitting in the front. Peeling potatoes, making an Airfix kit or even building Lego together might be good.

Start by sharing a personal experience or difficulty so he feels that you're opening up and treating him like an equal. You never know, he might open up himself and share something that explains his behaviour.

AnnaClaudia Sun 05-May-13 12:59:39

Maybe it's attention seeking? Just an idea, but seems this little boy is getting lots of attention from refusing to do things. I'm wondering if ignoring his behaviour would help, along with giving the other child lots of attention for being helpful? You've probably tried this already but thought I'd mention it incase you hadn't.

Kiwiinkits Sun 05-May-13 22:48:04

I agree that your DD should get a random treat for helping. You may not like the suggestion but I do think it will work. She may gloat, but let her gloat. A little bit of gloating and show-offing from a little sister might get through to him.

And, if it's attention he's after, find a way to give him attention (like the lego suggested up thread) that's not got anything to do with helping/not helping.

There you have it. A two pronged attack.

SuedeEffectPochette Sun 05-May-13 22:55:54

I haven't read this in detail but you could try reading my favourite book, How to Talk so Kids will Listen and Listen so Kids will Talk. They would say that you should sit down and try and come up with a mutual solution in writing. I see there is another fan of this book further up the thread!

Kiwiinkits Mon 06-May-13 05:50:05

I also love that book Suede. Love it!

noteventhebestdrummer Mon 06-May-13 07:40:34

Will he help when other people ask?

In the classroom or at cubs etc?

Does he play any team sports or a musical instrument?

I'm thinking you could expose him to more situations where cooperation is expected and lauded.

DeWe Mon 06-May-13 13:28:29

I think with the post, I would have removed his letter off him until he's fetched the rest of the post.

posadas Mon 06-May-13 16:36:11

Stephanie -- I could have written your post!! In fact, I logged on precisely to see if I could find any help to deal with exactly the same situation. I'm at my wits end -- and also very sad as I DS used to be the most loving, respectful, kind, and (usually) obedient child. Now he is defiant , challenges almost everything I ask, etc. (Not all the time... there are still enough moments of "good" to give me hope!). I have tried everything -- but neither positive reinforcement nor threats (ie withholding treats) seem to work.
Sorry I can't offer suggestions of my own -- but I will read with great interest to try to learn from others!

DawnOfTheDee Mon 06-May-13 16:43:05

I agree with AnnaClaudia that it sounds attention seeking. have you tried ignoring this sort of thing? how does he respond then?

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