In response to my post "Ask, Don't Tell" a parent wrote:
I often ask my children nicely if they will do some task, and they answer just as nicely, "No thanks."
"How about you help me set the table for dinner?"
"No thanks, I'm playing.".
"Well - I really could use the help."
"I don't really want to right now."
What would you do about that?
A few options come to mind to experiment with:
I might say, "Hmm, you don't want to do it, and I'm too busy cooking to do it. That's a dilemma! What can we do?" and then wait to see what happens.
I might ask them if they think they could do it in 5 minutes.
I might change my question to, "When can you help me set the table for dinner?" or "Let me know when you are at a good stopping place and we can set the table together."
Knowing this is a pattern, I might try giving them more advance notice to let them bring their current activity to a close. "Honey, I'll be asking for your help setting the table in about 15 minutes."
I might bring it up during a warm and connected time together, and ask "Hey, you know that setting the table thing? I would really love to have your help, and I wonder if we could figure out a better way for that to happen."
I might try responding, "Okay, no problem. As soon as the table is set I'll serve up dinner."
I might just grab a plate for myself and fill it with food and enjoy it, and let everyone else do the same.
I might go ahead and set the table myself, which might then delay dinner or impact my post-meal enthusiasm for kid-friendly activities because I need time to recover from all the extra work.
I might set it myself and not say anything at all.
I might walk over to where they are, touch them or make eye contact, and say, "Honey, will you please help me by setting the table for dinner?" Sometimes it takes close proximity and/or contact for your request to penetrate their awareness enough to divert their attention and momentum.
To capture their attention in a light-hearted way, I might pretend to have a tantrum and lay on the floor kicking and screaming, or I might laugh and make a joke of it by chanting please-please-c'mon-pretty-please-I'm-begging-you-on-my-knees.
If I was cranky, I might take my voice up a notch or two in volume and intensity and ask again, to see if I could capture their attention that way.
I might say nothing and do nothing -- just sit at the empty table and wait.
So there are lots of ways to respond to this without resorting to orders, demands, or shame. When we are mentally caught up in thinking about how wrong our children are for not helping us, or how we must not be good parents or they would jump eagerly to please us, it's harder to think of creative ways to get the table set.
To generate even more options, ask yourself what you might do if you politely asked a co-worker for assistance, and she declined to lend a hand.