Stop the Parent-Teen Chore Battle

The Healthy Family Connections Podcast:

Stop the Parent-Teen Chore Battle

Episode 026 · Duration: 00:18:13

 Stop the Parent-Teen Chore Battle

Do you find yourself in a constant struggle trying to get your teenager to do their chores? Today we’re answering a question from Al of Chattanooga, Tennessee— which is interesting since there was a recent jump in sales of my book, Ending the Parent Teen Control Battle in Chattanooga. So someone there is spreading the word with their friends. Maybe it’s Al! In any case, thanks Chattanooga.Stop the Teen Chore Battle

Al writes:

I’ve got three kids, 16, 15, and 11 and they’re all great kids but the one area that takes the most energy is getting them to do their chores. They all know what their chores are, but they don’t do them unless we tell them to, and then we get,  “later, I’m busy now,” and of course they never get to it later. I end up raising my voice and they reluctantly do as they’re told only to have the same thing happen again throughout the week. This issue is taking its toll on home life. What can we do?

Al, this is a great question, so thanks for bringing it up.  I’ve had the parent-teen chore struggle come up in my counseling office several times this week alone. Let’s take a look at the subject of chores and how to support your kids in doing their chores, and make it, well, less of a chore for you.

Re-framing the Meaning

When I looked up the word “chore” in the dictionary, the first definition was “a routine task.” I like that and now if we could just get the routine tasks done in a routine way, that would be the ticket, right? It’s the second definition that’s the problem, it goes like this: “an unpleasant but necessary task.”  And this is what hangs us up. We all get hung up on the unpleasant part and unpleasant becomes a psychological theme that plays out in our minds, or at least our kid’s minds.  They think of chores as unpleasant things that can be put off, but if we think of them more as routine tasks, and less as unpleasant tasks, things just might go a little better.

Why do we want kids to do chores anyway?  I think of three important reasons, let me know if you think of other ones:

  1. Learning critical life skills.  To do well in life, we need to know how to take care of the basic infrastructure of our lives. Organize things, cook, clean, do the laundry, pay bills, yard care, car care. Kids won’t easily learn these things if they aren’t taught. Kids often go off to independent living without a clue about how to take care of their space, stay organized, or just manage the basic infrastructure of life. This affects their ability to be successful as they enter their young adult years.
  2. Learning to participate in their community. We are social animals and are always going to be living in communities. We need to see ourselves as contributors to the communities that we live in. We don’t want to raise little princes and princesses who are good at enjoying all the things that other’s do and don’t step up and roll up their sleeves. They need to know that their efforts matter, and they are confident in offering their skills.
  3. Many hands make lite work. Their participation can add real value.  We need their help because parents taking care of everything, is just too much. It leads to parental burnout and we don’t want that.
Kids often go off to independent living without a clue about how to manage the basic infrastructure of life.Click To Tweet

Common Mistakes Parents Make

I’ll hear: my kid’s job is going to school. I don’t want them to focus on house chores, I want them to focus on their schoolwork and school activities. That’s just plain wrong. Home belongs to all of us and we all need to participate in it’s upkeep. Kids need to learn to cleanup after themselves.

Kids allowance is payment for doing chores. If they don’t do their chores, they don’t get allowance. If they only do half their chores, they only get half their allowance. This is a way parents can motivate their kids. Let me be blunt. It’s not good to pay for chores. Think of chores as necessities that need to be done whether we like it or not, and they need to be done routinely. It’s great for kids to get allowance, so they can have some discretionary money and begin to learn the value of budgeting, but that’s for another discussion. Chores are simply routine things we need to do for life to go well, so we do them. If there are extra, less routine tasks beyond their chores that your kids want to do to earn extra money, that’s fine.  

Parents expect that by assigning chores, that kids should be able to do them and if they don’t, they are being uncooperative, defiant, or oppositional. Let’s not think of it that way. Just like everything else, if we want our kids to learn to manage routine tasks, we need to teach them how to do both the task, and how to maintain the routine. That’s our job.

If your kid is being defiant or oppositional, then you and your kid have developed a control battle-based relationship (at least around chores) and you are going to need to employ some control battle ending strategies. More on that in a bit.  

Getting You And Your Teen In A Good Place

Start Early! If we start when our kids are toddlers and keep it going through childhood and adolescence, it will be a lot easier. Say for instance, when your kid is four, you and they organize, straighten and clean their rooms once a week together. Little by little they do more and more of it on their own, then by the time they are teenagers, they have the skill and the routine down. The way to build independence with room straightening is to start by doing it together, and over time invite them to take over. For instance, ask the question, “where does this go?”  and when they say where it goes, you reinforce their response with “excellent, go ahead and put it there.”  When things are straight and it’s time to clean, you say, “what do we do next?” and when they say dust, you could say, “perfect, I’ll get the high parts and you get the lower ones.”

In this case you’re making it fun and routine and finding lots of opportunities to reinforce their knowledge and skill. Instead of plopping an unfamiliar task in front of them, they are simply continuing a familiar routine. The same is true for cleaning a bathroom or planning a menu and cooking a meal. When we start early, independence from parents doesn’t mean avoiding responsibilities, it means doing responsibilities independently. Adolescence is a game changer with kids pushing away from parents, there will still need to be some reinforcement of the chore routines, but by starting early and keeping it up, life will go a lot easier.  

Independence from parents doesn’t mean avoiding responsibilities, it means doing responsibilities independently.Click To Tweet

Okay Al, I know what you’re thinking. This is all great Neil, I screwed up and I can’t turn back the clock, what do I do now?  

No worries Al, and all you other struggling parents out there. We will simply do a little remedial chore routine skill building with your teenagers. Here are the principles:

Make It Routine, Make It Fun, Make It Successful

Let’s start with routine. When assigning a chore, talk with your son or daughter and be clear about a time and a day. Times you can be flexible and negotiable, such as when they clean their bathroom, and at other times, you won’t be, setting the table before dinner for instance. Doing the chore or task at a certain time is a part of the chore or task. If you are assigning something such as taking the garbage out, be specific. For instance you might require, “always check right after dinner, and if it needs taking out then, do so.” If the task is to bring the garbage cans down to the curb for weekly pickup, assign a specific time that it takes place such as right after dinner and before you start anything else. That allows it to be more of a routine and doesn’t invite procrastination. Routine is good for most cleaning tasks. It would be ideal if everyone in the family did their cleaning tasks at the same time on the same day; that makes it less lonely and it’s more reinforcing. But otherwise it’s best to make sure there is a time and day for all the cleaning tasks as well.

How do we make it fun? Here are some ideas:

  • Add music
  • Have people working together so that it’s less lonely
  • Keep the tone always light and positive

There are a couple of important elements for making it successful. One is to have clear, high standards. For instance, if your son’s chore is to clean up the dog poop in the backyard, do it with him a time or two and show how to make sure he gets all of it and it’s picked up the way you want it done. Then check from time to time to make sure that the standard is being upheld.  

A second element for success: never criticize.  If a task isn’t done well enough or in a timely way, simply point out what is done well and what needs to be improved. For more complicated tasks like cleaning the bathroom, make sure that they know all the steps & products and how to use them correctly. There are even sites online for instructions and videos for how to clean bathrooms and bedrooms. Discuss the methods and standards so that everyone is clear. Be sure to check when tasks are done and give lots of recognition. Even if the work is not done as well as you would like, give recognition and praise for the part that is done, and invite them to improve either now, if necessary, or the next time they do that task.

Give recognition and appreciation for their work. Tell them how good you feel when they do their chore. For instance you might say, “I feel so good when the kitchen is all cleaned up and put back together after dinner. Thank you so much for helping.” Even when they do something that is clearly just for them such as organizing their room, avoid asking the question “doesn’t that feel good to you?” Teenagers are likely to say “no I like it messier. I’m just doing this for you.” Better to say, “excellent job, well done.”

Implement & Execute The New Standard

Al, here is a way you can put this all to work in your family, because you are trying to make a change in a negative pattern that has already developed. Creating change in family patterns is very hard to do. Here’s something that’ll work. Call a meeting of everyone in the family. Make sure that all devices are left on the kitchen counter so there’s no distractions. Have some treats to make the meeting more positive.

  • Explain the problem you’ve been having with chores
  • Take responsibility for not having explained or set up chores as well as you should have
  • Explain that the key to successfully managing chores is having routine
  • Let them know why chores are important based on the three reasons we discussed
  • Let them know what great kids they are and that successfully managing chores is now going to be an important part of the way they earn privileges. If they need any help,or clarification let them know you’re happy to provide it. But privileges will only be earned when responsibilities are embraced.
  • Repeat that you take full responsibility for the confusion and the problems that have been taking place and this is your best effort to create a positive path forward for everyone.
  • Remind them that they’re great kids and that you believe in them.   

I’m confident Al, that if you stay positive, clear and consistent, you will have a new more cooperative culture around chores in your family.

The key to successfully managing chores is having routine.Click To Tweet

If you are parents or grandparents or have regular caregiving time with kids, make chores a positive learning experience for kids of all ages. That way you are letting them know that they matter and you are giving them real skills for the adult life ahead of them.

Thanks to Al from Chattanooga for inviting this discussion.  

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  1. What a great resource your website is for families. I am also a social worker and work with teens in the Denver area. I look forward to sharing some of your resources with my clients and in an online group I run. Thanks for putting this out here for us to find.

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