We’re becoming increasingly concerned about our 13-year-old son because we feel as though he is pulling away from us. Everything we ask him to do becomes a battle and we feel we’re nagging all the time. This has come as a shock because he has always been a helpful child and still is at his friends’ houses. Just this week we had to ask him repeatedly to do the lawns, and the chore still wasn’t done by the end of the weekend. His room is a tip – he always says he’ll do it when he gets home from his mate’s place, but he never does. It’s impossible to get him to empty the dishwasher when it’s his turn, so of course we end up doing it so we don’t get behind. We need some tools to turn this around.
It can be alarming when our kids seem to go through a personality or behaviour change. In your case, it sounds as though you have an emerging teenager who is beginning to push against your boundaries. He is trying on a new identity and appropriately starting to become independent from you. This developmental stage does require us to take on some new parenting skills and to keep ourselves steady. None of your excellent training and coaching to date has been lost – even though it may seem to have disappeared from view for the moment. Isn’t it interesting that he’s still being helpful at his mates’ houses?
I think a lot of us share the fantasy that one day our kids will magically take responsibility and offer to help around the house. The truth is, they will forever be our kids and we will be their parents, and we will continue to interact in that well-practised dance even into adulthood. So let the fantasy go, and try these ideas for getting cooperation.
Doing chores and helping out at home seem to be well-established routines in your family, but maybe it’s time to renegotiate the choices and the time frames. Teens are much more likely to cooperate when they have contributed to the plan. They also need to know the reasons for helping out – “These are life skills for when you leave home.” Or, “When we all share the work, we can all have time to relax.” Talk about reasonable time frames and get his input on what these could be. For example, “The lawns need mowing before you go out with your mates.” Be clear about what the consequences will be if jobs aren’t done – “No lift to your mate’s until the job is done.” Or, “No devices until the job is done.”
Following through with what’s been negotiated requires us to remain calm and dignified. A firm but pleasant reminder might sound like, “Let me know when you’ve finished the lawns and I’ll give you a ride to your mate’s.” Sometimes it’s just a matter of saying, “Towels, please”, if you see towels left on the floor or, “Kitchen bench, please”, if it’s been left untidy.
Sometimes teens can feel overwhelmed by the size of the task, so offering to give them a hand to get started can be all the incentive they need. Help them break the job down into bits. For example, “I’d like you to change your sheets and vacuum your floor today.” Teens also need increasing amounts of freedom and responsibility, so giving them choices works well – “Do you want to empty the dishwasher or help me cook dinner?” Always acknowledge their help, their attempts and any improvements, saying things like, “Remember when you first mowed the lawns? It took you ages and now you can get it done in half the time. Nice job.”
Our ideas sounded so simple and they are! We had started to panic that this was a slippery slope and there was no solution. Your ideas gave us the ability to be steady and calm with our son, and as soon as our tone changed, he responded. If we’re calmer and more reasonable, so is he. He still tries to get away with his old tactics, but we just pleasantly maintain our position and he responds. This has really reversed the negative cycle we had gotten into and has given us confidence again. Thank you.