Q. My grandchildren, ages five, 10 and 14, stay with us for several days on occasion. When they’re here, they don’t pick up after themselves or help us in any way. I decided to start paying them for picking up their things and helping their grandmother, and proposed a payment system for work. Although they agreed to the plan and seemed excited to earn money, they continued to do nothing to help. I pay them anyway because I love them dearly and want them to have money to buy things they want. I know this isn’t helping things; what is your take on this situation?

A. Rewarding behavior that you don’t like only reinforces that behavior. Instead of the kids picking up after themselves and helping, you will see less of these behaviors. By paying without getting the work done, you are teaching the children that they don’t have to do anything to get rewards. When children do nothing to help at home and/or don’t have to earn anything, there can be problems when they grow up and try to succeed in relationships and the work place. It’s also beneficial to teach children that everyone in the family needs to contribute by doing some work without pay, because they are part of the family. They also lose opportunities to experience working hard to do a job the way someone else wants it done. Without this experience, a person can develop narcissistic traits and begin to think, “It’s all about me.”

I suggest you stand firm on contracts with your grandchildren. Draw up a written contract with them and don’t pay unless they deliver the work to your satisfaction. If they tend to procrastinate, write into the contract that you will pay the full amount agreed on when the children finish the work to your satisfaction by a given time. Put in writing what you will deduct for delays. And above all else, don’t pay if they don’t complete the work per the contract!

Many children will respond quickly to the enforced rules, while some may need to experience the loss of reward a few times to get on board. That’s okay and not a reason to feel guilty or give in. Expecting more responsible behavior from your children and grandchildren means it is more likely they will grow up to be responsible and considerate adults.

Betty Richardson, PhD, RNC, LPC, LMFT, is an Austin-based psychotherapist who specializes in dealing with the problems of children, adolescents and parents.

Got a question for Betty Richardson? Email us here and you just might see the answer in an upcoming issue!

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