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Ask The Expert: Parents Disagree About how to Enforce Chores For Teens

Dear Your Teen:

My wife and I are having an disagreement about how to get our kids (ages 11 and 13) to routinely do their chores and pick up after themselves. Their chores are to keep their rooms and shared bathroom clean. Also, one has to pick up the dog poop in the yard and the other has to load the dishwasher.

Here is where my wife and I disagree. I believe that the only way to affect change is for both parents to enforce 100 percent of the time. (Though the honest truth is that we end up cutting our kids some slack and are probably picking up after them 20 percent of the time — without saying anything about it — and getting on them the other 80 percent of the time.) But recently, my wife has started saying that I am “hounding the kids” all the time about their chores or picking up after themselves and they practically “won’t want to live here anymore” if I keep it up. We both feel frustrated and hope you can help.

EXPERT | Mandi Silverman, PsyD

You’re raising a common concern and one that often comes up with regard to consistency and parenting. Enforcing structure and rules at home can sometimes seem more complicated and confusing than you once thought.

It’s smart to work out a plan with your wife ahead of time regarding how you will enforce chores. This can be tricky for some parents since every couple is different. I recommend finding a mutually agreed upon time to sit down uninterrupted to discuss your parenting goals. Life gets busy — especially with children in the mix — but it’s really important to find this time and come up with a plan.

Enforcing Rules: Talking About Teenagers Doing Chores

When speaking about your parenting goals, be sure to keep the tone respectful and neutral and to make sure you stay focused on the child. Work together to find three common goals that you agree on and then further discuss how you want to make those goals happen. For example, you could agree to have a set time each day when you prompt your children to do their chores. Then agree on how to provide positive reinforcement rather than getting caught up in nagging. In the event that you are unable to agree, I suggest seeking a professional counselor or therapist who can help you work together to find a compromise you are both happy with.

Once these goals are in place and explained to your children, remember that it might take your kids some time to adjust to the new plan. You should expect a learning curve and maybe even a little bit of resistance from your kids. Here are some tips that may help you better communicate with them about chores:

Clear and effective prompting/commands

When we prompt children to do something, it is important that prompts are specific, given with a calm and neutral tone, and given in close proximity to the child. For example, “Please go clean the bathroom.” With that, instead of giving a long chain of commands or questions, we give short, more palatable prompts that are easier for the child to follow through on, while removing any opportunity for conflict, argument, or negotiation.

Positive and frequent feedback

As soon as one of your children follows through on the prompts (even if he or she is unable to complete the entire sequence of them), we encourage you to give ample amounts of specific praise so that your child knows what he or she is doing right. For example, “Thank you for tidying up your room without my asking. I appreciate your teamwork.” This is especially applicable in instances when they do what they’re supposed to do without any prompting or reminders. When we reinforce a behavior, we are increasing the likelihood that it will happen again.

Giving mild and appropriate consequences when necessary

When your children are not engaging in the desired behavior, we encourage you to prompt no more than twice. After two prompts, research tells us that the third and additional prompts have a very low likelihood of compliance. If there is no compliance, then you are encouraged to implement a mild, appropriate, and fair consequence, each and every time your child does not follow through.

This sends a clear and concise message that these are the expectations, they were not met this time, these are the consequences, and the situation can be better next time. It reminds your children about the structure in your household, what happens if they do not follow it, and that there is always next time to try harder or do a better job. This will replace having to “hound” your children while still instilling the notion that this is a non-negotiable house rule that requires their follow-through. Remember, consistency is key here.

It takes a village to raise a child

If you find that these techniques still won’t work, you may want to consider seeking the help of a professional who can assist with the application and consistency of these techniques. Good luck as you navigate these challenges. I hope you and your family can use these tips to have a positive and happy fall season!

Mandi Silverman, PsyD

Dr. Mandi Silverman, PsyD, MBA, is a clinical and school psychologist at the Child Mind Institute.