"If our children make choices out of fear of disappointing or upsetting us, they will miss the intrinsic value of being helpful, thoughtful, and self-expressed.”
Their desire (inherent) to gain and keep our love becomes used to manipulate them, and while there is nothing wrong with that, it obscures and then undermines their desire to contribute, to participate, and retain their agency. Retaining their agency (self-determination) while maintaining parental love and support, when we as parents use it on them rather than give it to them unconditionally is the primary source of parent-child conflict. That there is conflict is a huge learning opportunity, but only when free choice is granted. Otherwise, the learning possibility is redirected to avoiding loss of parental love and support. This re-direction of focus is an automatic survival response and is not under your child’s control. Thus the primary motivational experiential reward for cooperation (being personally responsible for helping another is a different experience than “having to” help), and partnership is lost (at the time).
Sure, threatening and showing disappointment when a child declines our demands to cooperate can get our children to do what we ask. But when cooperation is chosen in order to avoid causing parental upset, concern, or disappointment, the immediate threat of loss of relatedness is alleviated, but not the future threats. Because of this, a child will begin to look for ways to avoid our requests or demands in the future, and this means getting out of range! And they will feel guilty being around you as well (just as you likely do when you feel you did something wrong, whether you actually did or didn’t).
What is our alternative? Just like your children are doing, experiment. There is no one right or wrong way to handle human behavior.
My suggestions: Ask yourself: what would I like to see in and get from my child, both with regard to their learning and in living cooperatively and enjoyably with them? (If you don’t take down notes on your answers, you are highly unlikely to accomplish anything new.) Then, ask the question this way: what could I make happen? How could I show (demonstrate) the kind of relating, a way working together, and the nuts and bolts of having a safe, healthy, and satisfying home to these young people? How would I want to be talked to, asked to do things, shown how to do things, and given time to learn to do new things?
Now here is really both the hardest, and the potentially most fun, part. Enjoy doing what you are doing. If you want or need to do something, make it satisfying and/or fun. “But it is not fun to do the dishes and other things, especially when I have so many things I have to do!” Ok. That’s just normal. Don’t settle. Act like you love it, whatever it is - “fake it til you make it” really works in this case! You have nothing to lose, and when you are enjoying what you are doing, your young children will want to be with you and help. So invite them! (See ideas on how two-to-five-year-olds can help).
Sorry, but here is the second hardest part: share as much of all the above with them. That’s the only way can learn how to be an empowered, active, and fulfilled adult (without lots of work later in life). And wouldn’t you like to be living with people like that sooner rather than later?
What can pre-schoolers really help you do? And why start before the can do much?