What to Do When Kids Ask “Do I Have To?”
I am sure we have all thought, heard, or said these four little words many times in our lives. They can be said in many different tones of voice, but essentially boil down to, “I don’t want to do what I need to do right now.” The reasons behind not wanting to do something can be varied.
The most common reasons I observe for not wanting to do something include feeling incompetent, thinking the task is unfair, the time involved, a feeling of overwhelm, prior negative experience, feeling weak or tired, or lack of interest. I am sure the list could go on. Stopping to think about why the question is being asked can go a long way in reducing frustration for everyone involved. Knowing the reason for not wanting to do something can often lead to a solution.
I know that when I am feeling incompetent or ill equipped to do a task, I find myself thinking, “Do I have to?” I see this played out over and over again with clients I work with and my own daughter. It makes perfect sense when you stop to think about it. Why would we want to engage in an activity that we feel we are destined to fail at? When I am feeling less than competent, I try to think of possible solutions such as asking for help, reading directions, or looking for ideas online. When I am working with a client or my daughter, and I see a lack of competence, I will try to determine the best way to support that person to build confidence. I can picture the look on some of my client’s faces when I ask them to climb to the top of the slide platform for the first time. The look says, “Do I have to?” But what it really means is, “I feel incompetent to climb up there.” Once we establish that I will help them with feet and hand placement, many of them give it a try. Often times they learn it is really fun, and then want to return to the slide over and over again. Taking the step back and thinking about why someone might not want to do something can make a huge impact on whether they have new and varied life experiences to build on.
When my daughter is feeling overwhelmed or that the task will be never-ending she will often say to me, “Do I have to?” My answer is always, “Yes, but I can help you.” One good example is when we have a particularly creative day with toys and activities all over the house, and clean up time has arrived. This can quickly lead to a sense of overwhelm for both of us. When I am able to designate a place to begin and a plan for the clean up things go a lot smoother; and I don’t hear the “Do I have to?”
Sometimes we don’t want to do something just because we are not interested, but we know we need to do it. When this happens to me, I know it is best to just get started. The sooner I get going, the faster I can get on to something I am interested in. I tell families all the time that there are just certain things in life that we may not like doing, but they have to be done – so it is always easier to just get them out of the way. This can be a really hard lesson; but when it is finally learned, the rewards can be powerful.
“Do I have to?” Sometimes the answer is “No,” but more often the answer is yes. Strive to find the meaning behind the question, and everyone will be happier.
Written by: Erin Roon, MA CCC-SLP
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