Using Temptation to Help Your Kids Complete Tasks

Is it hard to get your child to do a task they don’t enjoy or feel immediately rewarded for doing? Say, clean their room, or practice their handwriting, or take out the trash. (If your answer is “nope”… when are you holding your parenting seminar?!) Even as adults, we all struggle to do activities or tasks that we know will pay off in the long run, but are not enjoyable in the moment (cleaning, exercise, paperwork, etc.). For kids, these sorts of tasks can be even more difficult because the part of their brains that is willing to wait for a long-term reward is still very much developing. We all need to do these kinds of tasks, so what can we do to trick ourselves into the motivation of doing them? The answer may well be Temptation Bundling.

Temptation Bundling is when we pair an enjoyable activity with one that provides long term rewards (but may not be rewarding in the moment).

For adults, this could be listening to an audiobook or podcast you love while working out, or watching TV while folding laundry, or getting a fancy latte or mocha while you work on your taxes. To up the ante, ONLY allow yourself this enjoyable activity when you do the task you tend to avoid, this can turn the loathsome task into one you even look forward to!

For kids an almost identical approach can be taken: listen to an audiobook while weeding or doing dishes, get a hot chocolate or special treat while working on homework or practicing.

Temptation bundling for kids may be different from what you do as an adult in two ways, a pro and a con.

  1. First the con: Developmentally, children must work much harder than adults to pay attention, especially to do two things at once. So, for some kids, watching TV while folding laundry, or listening to an audiobook while doing dishes may be just fine, for others, this could be way too distracting. If so, try pairing enjoyable activities that don’t take concentration (music instead of TV or audiobooks), or turning the un-enjoyable activity into one that becomes fun through games and imagination, which leads to…
  2. The pro: The great thing about kids is that imagination and even the simplest gamification can turn almost any task into an enjoyable one!

Here are some ways to temptation bundle by using some child-friendly hacks to turn an otherwise boring or tedious task into a fun activity:

  • Imagination and character acting. I remember thinking it was fun to pretend to be a garbage gal, and ride the garbage bag to the can on my bike around the driveway to drop it off. If your child is imaginative, what do they enjoy pretending, and could a chore become part of their pretend world?
    • Adding costumes can take this to another level, an extra-large shirt that becomes a smock, aprons, fun hats (a chef hat for the kitchen!), work gloves, superhero capes, anything that gets them into character increases the fun.
  • Kids loooove to boss their parents around. If you are doing a chore together, let them be the boss and let them tell you or show you how to do it, or ask them to ‘check your work’. While making dinner, they are chef de cuisine and you are their sous chef. You may be doing most of the work but they are in charge and making sure your work is up to their high standards.
  • Being a helper. Just like kids love to be bosses, they also love to help. Instead of telling them to do a task, ask them to help you do it. Have you seen the tweet saying: “My mother used to tell me I was the world’s greatest potato peeler and I really bought into it. And every time we’d have potatoes I would be so excited to show off my skills… Touché’ mom, touché.” Exactly.  
  • Tools! Have you ever given your child a spray bottle to clean the table? Oh, the joy! Other tools could be squeegees for window or mirror cleaning, child friendly scissors or knives for food prep, a clipboard with a list of to-do’s to check off, a magnifier to inspect the work, a toothbrush to scrub with, gardening tools, measuring tapes (even if you don’t really need to measure anything, including this aspect could make the task more fun if your child gets to use one!).
  • Gamify the activity.
    • How fast? Adding a time element can really up the excitement. How fast can they complete the task? Can they do it faster than you or their sibling? Or can they do it before the timer goes off?
    • Add elements of skill. Instead of picking up clothes and putting them in the hamper, turn the hamper into a basketball hoop. Can they shoot their clothes in like a basketball? Sorting: can they find/pick up everything that has red on it, or with letters, or that is soft? Can they do it while the floor is lava?!
    • Boardgame. If it’s a daily routine, turn each step into a space on a boardgame and they get to move a game piece each time they accomplish the step. This could be a visual schedule in a horizontal line and they move a clothespin along the bottom of the schedule for each step. Or each step is crossed off by using a hole punch to mark it off (tools!), or a sticker is put on the step they finished.

We all have to do things that are less than enjoyable in the moment. As adults we are slightly better at doing things when we remind ourselves of the long term pay off we will get down the road. For kids, because their brains are still developing, they need your help to make these dull or tedious tasks more fun!

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