How to Get Your Child to Do Anything


Well sorta almost anything. But let’s start with washing the car.

So, I ask my son to wash the car and clean and vacuum the inside. Actually I tell him to do it. It is his job today. He has things to do daily and today is get the car ready to sell day. “I can’t” he says. What do you mean, “I can’t”?

“It’s too much – I don’t like washing the car”.

I say, “I don’t like washing the car either but sometimes it needs to be done. I can’t do it. It’s your job. I don’t care how you feel or what you don’t like. You are 21 years old. It’s a simple thing really, wash the car.

After a few minutes of going back and forth in this negative feedback loop I start to feel like it’s time for him to pack his bags and go find his own place to live. In fact I even think it. I look at that thought and say to myself – no. That is conditional love. There must be a way through this. A better way. He sits in the driveway on the ground looking at bugs. He is too old to be sitting on the ground looking at bugs. I am 64. I am too old to be doing this stuff. I’ve been doing this with this child since he was five, when we adopted him. So I think to myself, what is the priority here? Is it to get him to wash and clean the car or is it to get the car washed and cleaned?

Today, here and now, it is to get the car washed and cleaned. I decide to pick up the bucket and start washing the car. I let go of my thoughts about him, about what I want from him, and simply choose to wash the car. I started feeling less stressed I’m just washing the car. My son gets up, picks up another sponge starts washing the car with me. I don’t say anything to him like I usually would. I would normally say something like I don’t need your help now – I’m doing it. Get out of here. You had your chance and you blew it. Then both he and I would feel badly.

But today I just go on washing and cleaning the car. He continues on washing and eventually cleaning the car with me. We don’t talk about what he did or didn’t do we just wash and clean the car. He does a great job. In fact he does an excellent job. And he goes on washing cleaning and vacuuming for a couple of hours. He is slow but he is very detailed minded and does a great job.

In the end the car looks great. I feel good and he is still living with us. So what is the lesson here? Not only did the car get washed and cleaned but he did a lot of it.Yes I had to do it with him. He learned that he can wash and clean the car. He learned that it is not overwhelming to do so. But it is overwhelming for him to think of doing it all by himself. So my condition (I need to teach him to wash and clean the car by himself) falls away and we have overcome one major obstacle – the “thought” that it is too overwhelming.

This is one of Brian’s simple teachings. I have heard it over and over and over. If a child doesn’t do what you ask them to do over and over again, you do it with them. If they won’t do it with you, you do it. As parents is hard to imagine letting our kids off the hook so easily. Can we let them just get away with it?

If I asked my wife to do something for me she broke down saying that she felt it was just too overwhelming, would I stand there and tell her “I asked you to do it so please do it”. Would I punish her if she did not do it? Or would my love lead me to say to her, “I’m sorry honey. Here let me help or rather I will do it for you. I’m so sorry that what I asked was too much. I should’ve known better. You are just too stressed.”

Of course I would do what I could to make it easier for her. But what I do this for a child who in many ways is so under-developed, incapable and unable to function with my conditional expectations? Often times the answer is no. I would rather fight about it, try to make him do it. And end up with both of us in emotional hell. Would the car have gotten washed? Probably not. Would I have taught him anything? Probably not. Would other parents judge me for not punishing him for this? Most likely. If fact, had it not been for me going through this with him, I would likely judge myself. Bryan says that if the child won’t do what you ask them to do because they are scared and overwhelmed. We often look at scared and forget about overwhelmed. When I get overwhelmed I have trouble doing anything. Maybe, just maybe, it is the same for special kids.

“We must be the change we want to see happen” – Gandhi