Part of my job as a family therapist and counselor for teens is helping deal with conflict. One argument that shows up over and over? Chores.
When we get frustrated with our teenagers, our first instincts might be to yell, threaten punishment, or even call them names. But these responses only go so far in getting what we want.
When your teenager refuses to do chores
When our teens don’t follow directions, we often get exasperated, frustrated, or angry - and it shows.
How many times do I need to tell you to take out the trash?
Why didn’t you do your laundry?
You’re so selfish - you can’t do this one thing I asked.
This might move our teens to action in the short term - but the cycle quickly begins anew. It can feel like there’s no hope in getting getting chores done without a fight.
Getting stuck in the “lazy teenager” cycle
Ideally, everyone would love to do chores! Sweeping, doing laundry, washing dishes - these tasks are not necessarily fun, but they help take care of our homes. They make our spaces more pleasant and enjoyable to live in.
When we ask our kids to do chores, we want them to participate in this upkeep. Even if they don’t personally feel like they’re making the home nicer, we’d like them to at least feel like they’re helping us feel more at ease.
Chores teach teens how to take care of their space and how to respect other’s. Unfortunately, when we resort to yelling, these messages get lost.
When we yell, blame, or call names, we end up shifting the focus from the task at hand to ourselves.
These reactions aren’t as much deterrents as they are distractions.
Why are you blowing up at me? I just forgot to put the dishes away.
Mom is so unreasonable. She took away my phone for the smallest thing.
So, what can we do? Instead of putting our teens on the defensive, we can concentrate on the behavior we want to see. This keeps the short-term focus on the chores (and, long-term, on the life skills and lessons we’re trying to impart.)
Set expectations for picking up after themselves - and teach them responsibility
When our teens have failed to complete a task set out for them, our best bet is to help them refocus on achieving it.
There are two steps in this process.
First, we want to reaffirm the expectation. We can let our teens know what they need to do, how often they need to do it, and if there are any parts that need special care.
Next, we can give them options on how to get it done. When we let teens make the final choice, it provides them a chance to build autonomy and feel more ownership over the task.
I expect the trash to be taken out every day. You can do it before dinner, before you brush your teeth at night, or in the morning before school. What time should I expect it done each day?
…and follow up with consequences for not doing chores
If the consistency starts to slide, you can address it early on. Again, the most effective approach is helping your teen own the problem and supporting them through problem-solving.
The trash hasn’t been emptied every day. What’s been getting in the way? (I forgot) How can you fix it? (I can put an alarm on my phone, you can keep my phone charger until I get it done, I can put a reminder on my door…)
When we give them a chance, teens are often able to find their own solutions.
If we rush in to give them the answers, teens can feel dis-empowered. If we let them know that this problem is theirs to solve, teens often feel more responsibility and pride in the task.
They aren’t just doing something their mom told them to do. They’re following through on their own plan! And how cool is that?
Want more support? Read more about our teen counseling services, for things like anxiety, depression PTSD, and body image issues. Or, check out our counseling for transgender teens. If you’want to find out more about starting therapy, feel free to reach out.