Children’s Tasks: What to AIM For!

Children’s Tasks: What to AIM For!

Children’s Tasks: What to AIM For!

Sometimes a task is daunting—or a child may presume it’s difficult or even irrelevant. Parents can think about the magnitude, manageability, and meaningfulness of the task, and also help kids deal with all of this by effectively taking AIM...

If you ask a young child to “touch the sky” he’ll likely raise his arms and gleefully stretch upward, although he realizes that it’s an impossible task. If you ask an older child to “reach for the moon” he’ll probably smile. He knows what you mean—to be willing to try something, and stick with it even if it’s a long shot or seemingly hopeless. However, if you ask either one of them to extend themselves just a bit and clear off the dinner table, it may be a different story altogether. Why is that?

The two HUGE stretching tasks in the above example are not off-putting because they’re figurative and fanciful. The small table-clearing task is dreary but certainly feasible. Think for a moment: What are some of the big tasks kids face on a daily basis—and how do they respond? And, what are some of the littler demands—and how are they met?

Kids’ responsibilities vary and include doing their homework, getting things ready for school in the morning, doing light chores, and helping around the house as part of the family dynamic. If a task is deemed large (like having to complete a major term paper or science project, or clean up a messy room), then it can register on a child’s radar screen as daunting. If a task is deemed little (like answering a couple of math questions or picking up a damp towel), then somehow it’s not considered a great burden. A child’s perception of the magnitude and manageability of the task—that is, the extent and complexity of the expectations—can affect if or when he’ll tackle the job, and even whether or not he’ll put any imagination into his efforts.

The value and fairness attributed to a task matters, too.  Author Malcolm Gladwell has spoken about legitimacy in relation to asking people to do things, advising that it’s best to be respectful, fair, and trustworthy. (1) How does this logic apply to kids and tasks? Quite simply, if children perceive a task to be reasonable and meaningful then there’s more likelihood of compliance. The bottom line is that if we want children to do some things—and to derive some benefit and enjoyment from what they’re doing—it makes sense to help them see the tasks as relevant. 

Manageable, meaningful AND motivating? Yes! Here are some practical strategies to think about when expecting kids to take responsibility and perform a task, hoping they’ll be productively responsive, and maybe even show some creativity, too. Using the acronym AIM, this three-pronged list is a starting point for helping children see seemingly onerous jobs as less onerous. Encourage kids to try the following:

a)  Attitude - Give the task a positive spin. Is it really that big or that bad? Is there a bright side? Replace a negative perspective with an upbeat outlook. For instance, have kids think about how proud they’ll be once they complete the task. Pin down why the activity matters so that it becomes more worthy of their attention. Figure out why it may seem overly challenging: Is it that it’s too difficult, tiring, overwhelming, time consuming? Is it possible to enlist someone to help share the load? Things go better (and often more quickly and with more fun) when done with friends. It’s okay to ask for help. (2)

b)  Imagination - Get creative! For example, when having to clean up a room add music and dance around; make a game or contest out of the tidying process; think about ways to recycle, donate, or maybe even sell stuff for profit; look for short-cuts; joke about what’s buried under the mess; pretend the garbage can or laundry bin is basketball net; get a timer and play beat the clock for different tasks; hunt for surprises, or for items starting with different letters; take before and after pictures; start a collection of “weird stuff” or “memory makers” for belongings that can’t be trashed. (3)

c)  Manageability - Consider pacing. (Parents can demonstrate.) Big demands are much less demanding when broken into attainable chunks. Be wary of distractions, and focus on one thing at a time. List and check off any progress as it occurs. It’ll feel good. Kids can give themselves a pep talk, “I know I can do this!” They can compare the task to something familiar that they’ve accomplished before, and think about how they were able to manage that. And, it’s important to strive for balance by incorporating breaks, and making time for relaxation, and reflection, too. Going outside for some fresh air can be revitalizing! It’s beneficial, and a sure-fire way to recharge energy. (4)

Making something more doable has a lot to do with perspective—whether the task looms large or it’s something the child thinks he can reasonably accomplish. The ways in which children view and value tasks, derive pleasure, and pace themselves, will influence their initiative and commitment. Help them take AIM.


(1) Malcolm Gladwell discussed the power of legitimacy in responding to expectations on the Fareed Zakaria Show on CNN, April 12, 2015.

(2) Here’s a wonderful poster from parenting educator Andrea Nair

(3) Check out these creative ideas courtesy of Andy Smithson: 15 Simple Ways to Help Make Chores Fun for Kids 

(4) See Hailey Eisen’s article entitled Ten Ways to Enjoy Nature and Have Fun 


Not Now, Maybe Later: Helping Children Overcome Procrastination by Joanne Foster (Great Potential Press, 2015)

Beyond Intelligence: Secrets for Raising Happily Productive Kids by Dona Matthews and Joanne Foster (House of Anansi, 2014)

Productivity and Kids: What Do Parents need to Know? 

For blogs and articles that complement this piece go to


comments powered by Disqus