Since my recent TEDxWilmington talk was only 10 minutes, I wrote a few blogs to cover what I didn’t get to share in it. Today I am expanding about the resistance and complaining that kids do when asked to do chores. Because that shizzle is real!
Before I continue, please watch the talk (in case you missed it!)
Jodi Aman | TEDxWilmingtonWhat's your next move when your teen complains Click To Tweet
Why Kids Complain
Brains have two jobs. 1. To survive/thrive. and 2. To conserve calories. This means we quickly assess anything we come across to see if it is for our survival or if it will help us thrive in life. If so, we prioritize that as important.
On the other hand, if we don’t assess something as helping us with surviving and thriving, then, we’ll experience biological, mental and emotional RESISTANCE to expend calories to do, read, engage or otherwise give any attention to it. It is biological. Our bodies want to save calories in case there is a food shortage.
It doesn’t happen when there is a food shortage, it happens in case there is one. For the first 2 million+ years of humanity, this has been important, for 3/4 of a century, less so.
Some experiences we consider benign and we move on from them. But when we assess something to be against surviving or thriving, resistance shoots up, for obvious reasons. For example, chores that feel challenging or tedious, or emotionally dangerous, or anything that could potentially evoke discomfort or anxiety, spike resistance.
Resistance breeds anxiety
The resistance is bad enough, but what is worse, is that we attach meaning to this resistance that usually builds more resistance. For example, we assume it means we are being oppressed (then we feel like a victim and trapped), this can make us feel defensive and more determined to resist. Or, we worry that it means something is wrong with us – we are lazy/mentally ill/physically ill/weak/incapable/stupid/ self-sabotaging – which makes us feel out of control. Both of these can be very distracting, anxiety-provoking, and conflict-producing. Exactly what we see when we ask our kids to empty the dishwasher. Unfortunately, this all becomes the priority to deal with and the chore is rendered unimportant in the moment.
What is worse is that, over time, if not understood, this resistance leads to negative identity conclusions as the chosen label – victim/stuck/lazy/mentally ill/physically ill/weak/incapable/stupid/ self-sabotaging – starts to stick, even though we were just a regular human having biologically-appropriate resistance. Over months and years of seeing yourself this way and the ensuing isolation this negative self-judgment brings, ongoing depression, anxiety, addiction, OCD and more are the result. And then you assume you have a mental illness and so… you have a mental illness.
If we understood what the resistance is, we can save ourselves a load of pain. Without the distraction, we can see the benefits of the chore. We would know that we are safe doing it, and that literally we are able to, even if we don’t want to. Once we do the chores regularly, this resistance goes down because the familiarity will make the brain see it as less of a threat. Get it?
What parents can to do when kids complain
Life can feel so hard. When our kids are stressed we have a lot of power to help them make meaning out of the situation. We have to employ that power. It is essential we help kids understand “resistance” so things don’t spiral out of control, leading to long-term problems.
This is what you do: Validate it as what it is (explain it), be compassionate because you have felt it too, and convince them of the benefits (listed in this post), and make them do the chore anyway so that resistance doesn’t win. They can see that it is not too bad. They can feel accomplished and build confidence in themselves.
Chores help us in so many ways that make for a better future. Kids need to see how they help us thrive so their brains will stop fighting and life will start to feel easier.
When do you feel resistance? What did you think it was before now?