Teen Chaos

Q: I have a 17 year old, a 15 year old and a 13 year old all whom believe life completely and utterly revolves around them. The oldest (boy) refuses to look for work and has let his learners license expire, so he could not finish his driver’s education class nor ask us to allow him to drive. We even offered and he refused. Has to be reminded to do his laundry and his chores on a daily basis. He gets angry over anything especially when he is corrected.

The 15 year old does not want to come out of her room unless she is made to, only puts partial effort into doing her chores or does very little. The 13 year old is starting to show disrespect as well as only half an effort in the chores.

We are not the parents that run our kids to all kind of extracurricular activities, so they are not involved in any. I don’t let friends come over very often (I have 3 teenagers I don’t like at times—why would I want to add someone else’s teenager??).

For restrictions, I’ve kicked them out of the garden (for an explanation of how this works, visit the discipline methods section of my website). However, short of clothes, none of these kids have anything to take away. We have even gave them a limited personal supply of towel (2) and wash cloth (3) with the kids having their own color so I know who has left the mess in the bathroom. I’m not sure what to do from here. These kids don’t have cell phones, tablets, video games etc. I threw the last video game in the trash a year ago. And no electronics. Any advice is welcome!

A: Ah, teenagers! They can be vexing creatures, can’t they? I see a couple of things to address in your question.

First, why on earth would you not want to have your teen’s friends over? To me, this is a golden opportunity to gauge just who your teen is hanging out with and also to see how your teen interacts with his or her friends. Is she a leader? A follower? Is he trying too hard to be liked? these interactions viewed from afar can provide a parent with important clues as to your teen’s emotional and mental health. Yes, I know that’s more teens in your house, but you have them such a short time as teens that I think you’ll miss them when they’ve flown the coop. So I implore you to reconsider your stance and start encouraging your teens to have friends over.

Second, by your description, I see that you’ve basically stripped down their lives to the bare minimum…and it sounds like this has been going on for a while. Since you haven’t seen a corresponding lift in attitude, I’m going to surmise that your teens have given up on pleasing you. My gut reaction is that you’re expecting too much from them and they can’t deliver, so they’ve stopped trying.

We never want our kids to feel like they have no hope, no way to get better. If we nitpick on their attitude all the time, then we can create an atmosphere of hopelessness that leads to despair and not caring. That’s the most likely reason for them not “improving” despite your restrictions.

While I applaud your not giving them electronics/screen time, I think things have gone too far in the other direction. I also sense from your tone that you’ve lost a connection with your teens, that you’re so focused on correcting their attitude/behavior, you’ve let slide your relationship with them as their mom.

We have to love our kids, show that love in tangible ways that speak to their particular love language. When we skip that and focus only on the correction, our kids start to not care about straightening up. So here’s what I think you should do.

Return all their stuff. Have a family meeting. Tell them you’ve been too focused on outward compliance and you want to hit the restart button. Ask them to come up with a chore chart for the family, for example. Then start showing them love. Cook their favorite meals. listen more than you talk to them. Show up with a smile at their events or games or concerts. Ask about their friends. Rebuild that connection.

And if they’re doing their chores, let their attitude slide for now. You have some repair work to do, but I think you’ll find it worth it.

Should a Preschooler Have Chores?

Q: What chores are appropriate for a four-year-old to start doing on a regular basis?

A: This is a great question because it shows that you realize your four-year-old can—and should—contribute to the family’s upkeep. Too many times, we adults forget that young children, even toddlers, can do chores and help out around the house. Sure, a preschooler isn’t going to cook a four-course meal for us, but there’s lots he or she can do to contribute to the household and learn essential skills to boot.

Chores are as essential to a child as regular sleep and food because it solidifies his place in your home. A child who doesn’t help out around the house on a regular basis can acquire a sort of “guest” mentality. Chores, both daily, weekly and occasionally, ground a child in his proper place in the family.

And four year olds can do a lot! Some suggestions for weekly chores:

  • Helping to collect trash
  • Sorting/matching socks after laundry
  • Changing bathroom towels
  • Washing kitchen or bathroom floor with rag/bucket
  • Dusting baseboards

Some suggestions for daily chores:

  • Setting the table for dinner
  • Clearing own dishes after meals
  • Picking up/taking care of own toys/things
  • Making bed
  • Making own breakfast or lunch

Other occasional chores could include picking up sticks, watering plants, weeding gardens, helping with mulch, etc.

For more on how to implement chores and suggestions for how to teach kids how to do chores, I recommend my ebook Chores for Kids ($2.99).

For what every child should learn while living at home, read my article, “The key life skills parents should be teaching their children” in the Washington Post.

Chores for Kids Webinar

Join Sarah online for webinars geared toward making parenting easier!

Chores for Kids
Wednesday, January 24, @ 2 p.m. Eastern Time. Webinar will be recorded for future listening.

Most parents agree that kids should do chores, but many flounder on how to implement chores into their homes on a workable, sustainable schedule. This webinar will address:

  • Why chores are important
  • The relationship between chores and allowance
  • What chores are appropriate for what ages
  • How to implement chores from scratch
  • How to increase a child’s chores
  • How to overcome resistance to chores

Based on Sarah’s popular Chores for Kids ebook, parents will leave the webinar with a plan and the confidence to implement chores in their household.

Sign up today! Attendees can ask specific questions that Sarah will try to answer during the webinar.

All registered attendees will be entered into a random drawing for one of three free, 30-minute phone consultations with Sarah to talk about chores (or anything else parenting-related!). Drawing will take place Thursday, Jan. 25, with winners notified by email.

How to get kids to do random things?

For a video answer of this question, visit https://www.facebook.com/parentcoachnova/.

If you’re a parent, you’ve experienced the frustration of asking your child to do something…and getting the fish eye, blank stare, snark, flat-out refusal, or whine “I don’t wanna.” This is doubly true when your request is random—that is, not related to the child’s regular chores or schedule.

Kids resist more frequently when the task request comes out of the blue, even if they’re doing “nothing,” the default runs from refusal to whining about it. But the fact remains, we all have to do things we didn’t put on our to-do list because things just come up.

How can you get your kids to do random things with less resistance and a more cheerful attitude? Here are a couple of things for moms and dads to keep in mind.

  1. Consider your timing. If your child has just sat down with a book, asking him to get up to help you will probably annoy him (as it would you in a similar situation!). If the task doesn’t need immediate attention, let a little time go by before voicing your directive.
  2. Avoid focusing on one child. If you have more than one kid, chances are, you default to asking one over the other for random tasks because of that particular child’s easier compliance. While you don’t need to adhere strictly to fairness in all things, this is one area you should strive to spread the, er, joy of helping you. To help you keep track of that, consider the two-then-switch rule—you ask two things of one child, then ask two of another.

Now, to help the kids be more compliant, here are three simple suggestions.

  1. Remind them of the clause “Other chores as assigned.” I actually wrote that on my kids’ chore charts and periodically tell them to be ready for “extra” tasks on occasion. Just like employees are generally expected to do things outside their written job descriptions, so should kids be prepared to execute tasks not on their chore descriptions.
  2. Try the ticket system. Have three slips of paper for each child (such as each child has a particular color), then tell the kids that each day, you might ask up to three random things of each child. When you do, you’ll give that child a slip of paper as a tangible marker that you’re “calling in a favor” or something similar. When the slips of paper are gone, so are the random tasks for the day. Some kids respond better to boundaries and this ticket system can help their hearts respond better to your directives.
  3. Use praise judiciously. When a child does complete the task without complaining, don’t always go overboard with your praise. However, if a child hasn’t been compliant in the past, but is in this instance, do tell him that you noticed. Be specific, like: “Thank you for not grumbling when you helped me carry in groceries.”

How do you get your kids to more cheerfully do those ad hock tasks?

Teen Verbally Agrees, Then Doesn’t Follow Through

Q: How do we deal with passive aggressive behavior in an older teen? She will verbally comply with a request but then not follow through. It makes what should be a normal day very trying. Other times we get the classic, “Oh, you meant now?” then she flashes a fake smile. There is the response of doing something half-you-know-what like emptying the dishwasher but piling everything on the kitchen counter. When called down to complete the task, she turns the tables, accusing us of being perfectionistic. Her latest tool in the passive-aggressive kit is reading text messages that show as “read,” then waiting 90 minutes to two hours to respond even to something positive like our saying the concert sounded great and we’d love to see a picture.

Image courtesy of imagemajestic/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of imagemajestic/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

A: That’s easy: stop playing her game. She’s the one in the driver’s seat, driving you and your husband crazy with deliberate misunderstandings and misdirection. You’ve played along by allowing her to continue without consequences for her behavior.

There’s a couple of things to do. First, start being very precise when giving directions, such as “I expect the dishwasher unloaded and the dishes put away by 5 p.m.” and “take the upstairs trash to the outside trash can immediately.” If she complains about being treated like a preschooler, just smile and walk away.

Second, when she doesn’t follow through on your stated timetable, do the task yourself, with a smile and a shrug. Then you wait. When she wants something—and she will!—that’s when you tell her how sorry you are that she can’t go out with her friends tonight. When she asks why—and she will—simply say that you had to do X chore that day. Then walk away.

This is key: you have to be the one NOT to engage her in endless debates, tears, conversation. The more you talk about something she doesn’t like, the more she’ll see that as an opportunity to change your mind. Teens are like dogs with bones—they don’t want to ever let go! So you have to be the one to stop and leave the room. If she follows you, hand her a dust rag and tell her to do the baseboards. If she persists in arguing, haul out the vacuum and have her vacuum the floor.

As for the text messages, just let that go for the most part. Really, she sees how much it bothers you, and like a typical teen, she’s going to tweak you with it because it bothers you. Unless you need a response—not an acknowledgment—then I’d ignore her non-response.

However, if she doesn’t respond in time for you to go somewhere or do something as a family, then I’d go and do without her the first time. The next time she “misses” an event or makes everyone late because she didn’t respond to a text in time, I’d take away her phone (which I’m sure you’re probably paying for) for at least a month.

Remember, just because she’s nearly grown doesn’t mean you have to put up with rude behavior. She’s not going to like these changes, but parenting isn’t a popularity contest. This is why you’re the parent and she’s the child-teen.

All I want is Some Help!

Q: I have four children ages 7, 6, 4 and 2. The current chore load is emptying the dishwasher, clearing the table, making beds and vacuuming, but I want to provide more responsibility. Do you have recommendations for what chores are appropriate for what age? Do you have suggestions for how to train them in a way where Mom does not run out of patience?

A: You are off to a great start, and you may certainly put your children to more work around the house, but it will take some training on your part (think of it as investing in a clean house and self-sufficient kids of the future!). Overall, your children should be told to do the chore, then check back with you when they are finished. You will then check it, and release them from that chore (or have them correct it). This helps to keep everyone on track and shows kids that chores have a beginning, middle, and end.

Image courtesy of kdshutterman/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of kdshutterman/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Here are some specific chore suggestions for your children’s ages:

2 years old: can wipe the kitchen, bathroom floors with damp cloth; can pick up own toys and clothes. Break these down into one step, such as pick up your toy cars and put them here (indicate where) and tell me when you’re done. Repeat as necessary.

4 years old: same as younger sib, plus can help take out the trash and set the silverware around the table, dust baseboards.

5 years old: same as younger sibs, plus set the table entirely, make own lunch/breakfast, sweep inside and outside areas, weed gardens, dust, wipe windows, etc.

7 years old: same as younger sibs, plus clear table and put away food; do breakfast dishes (or lunch dishes); vacuum, clean toilets/bathroom, etc.

The best way to handle training is two-fold. Demonstrate (will need to do this a lot in the beginning) and write down specific steps, either in a notebook or index cards. That clears up any confusion as to what you mean by clean the bathroom and also helps a child realize what steps are involved in specific chores. I made up a chore book for my four kids that listed their daily/weekly chores, plus a list of very specific steps for each chore (such as how to clean a bathroom).

Signup for my weekly parenting newsletter and receive a sample chore book with ideas for specific ages, plus step-by-step instructions for chores you can use to make your own! If you’re already a subscriber, simply email me for the book through my contact page.

The Power of Making Your Bed

By Janet Carter

I once heard Barbara Bush talk about a sign that hangs in their home in Maine that read: “Make Your Bed and Pick Up Your Towels.” Apparently, even presidential families struggle with the same things we all do, the insignificant, somewhat boring and yet so essential personal disciplines of daily living.

In this culture of achievement, teaching a child to make his or her bed seems a somewhat trivial accomplishment. And in the grand scheme of a life, I guess it is. The argument could well be made that it is a waste of effort, as that same bed, at the end of the day, gets unmade and slept in all over again. But I would suggest that learning to make a bed is a powerful, underused teaching tool that is frequently (and sadly) overlooked.

Learning to make a bed gives a young child a sense of accomplishment and self-control. Even when their performance is slightly less than a Martha Stewart standard, the process itself is a baby step towards independence and self-care. We care for the things we value, and if we want our children not to take things for granted, then we need to teach them value through simple maintenance skills.

Making a bed is a first step towards personal discipline. Children need to take those steps, one by one, little by little, towards responsibility. Responsibility and respect walk hand in hand. Responsibility says that I am not the center of the world and respect says that I recognize that my actions (or inactions) affect the people around me. In other words, if you want your child to make his bed or take his plate from the table to the sink when he is visiting friends, he will need to learn that in his own home. Respect for others begins with respect for the “others” in our family.

Lastly, making a bed lends a sense of order to a room and teaches a sense of order to a life. A mentor to me when I first began homeschooling said, “If you can teach your child to organize his room, he will later be able to organize a paper.” Making the bed can be a first step towards that skill. Develop the habit young and early and your child will not depart from it.

When I was growing up, making the bed was not a choice; making the bed was just part of my morning. Because my mother established the routine with my brother and me at a very young age, I was in college before I realized that not making the bed was even an option. I lost my mom eight years ago this month, but her influence is present in me every morning when I continue with this very simple practice; a small investment with potentially large dividends and a big reminder of her life that so hugely impacted mine.

About Janet Carter
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Janet Carter, a veteran mother of four, is a John Rosemond parent coach, speaker and teacher. In her blog “Our Childish Ways,” she shares stories from her past while speaking truth into the current parenting culture, encouraging parents in their roles. Janet works with a rehabilitation firm in Richmond, Va., where she integrates a physical component to parent coaching, offering a holistic approach to concerning behaviors that are persistent and sometimes extreme.

5 Surefire Ways to Prepare Your Child For the Future

Over the past six months, a few parents have expressed to me their concern that their elementary school age child isn’t going to be fully ready for middle school. These parents, like most of us, want their child to succeed and to have a smooth transition to seventh grade. But what struck me as odd was what these mothers said they were doing to assist their child in making that transition: Having the child “do” extra homework each evening.

For example, one mother she assigns her son 45 minutes of additional busy work to prepare him for seventh grade, in which he’ll have more homework. Another mother lamented that her sixth grader didn’t have “enough” homework now to prepare for the significant increase in workload in middle school.

As I listened, I couldn’t help but think that more homework wasn’t the right approach to that preparation. Essentially giving a child busy work that has no other purpose except to get her acclimated to longer time spent at a desk after school will not achieve the stated aim. This type of work can easily backfire and create a child with an intense dislike of school work in general.

However, there are some ways we can assist our children in preparing for the major transition from elementary school to middle school, middle school to high school, and high school to college. Here are five alternative suggestions on how to accomplish that.

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net
  1. Assign chores–and lots of them. What are these parents attempting to teach their children with the extra work? Increased responsibility. But this character trait can be learned in other ways besides more busy seat work. Give your child daily and weekly chores with an end time, rather than a start time, such as “all Saturday chores must be finished by noon. This helps a child learn how best to manage his time to accomplish those chores, plus gets him used to doing work that has a purpose and a level of satisfaction when completed.
  2. Stop checking homework. As long as you the parent are invested in a child’s homework, the child will never take full responsibility for that work. Checking the backpack for work, riding the child to complete the work, checking the work’s accuracy and completion all rob the child of managing his own homework. Elementary school is the place for a child to make mistakes, to miss assignments and to figure out how he best works (immediately after school, after dinner, in spurts, etc.). The stakes are low, so a few missed homework pages won’t hurt an overall grade, but learning that homework is his and his alone will help him embrace the added responsibility of middle school and beyond.
  3. Expect the best, not perfection. Make sure your own expectations are reasonable in relation to your child’s grades. Praise effort overall results, and help a child see beyond the grade to the learning. Don’t fawn over A’s, but also don’t melt down over C’s. Help your child see what his potential is and how to reach for it, even with a few mistakes along the way.
  4. Allow for fun, lots of it! Don’t underestimate the power of play in a child’s development. We shouldn’t be so focused on academics that we forget that kids need time to be kids, to have free play and down time. Give them that gift in elementary school, because they will need to grow up soon enough to meet the demands of being a teenager.
  5. Applaud their passion. Some kids love baseball cards, some love dinosaurs, and some love to write or do math equations. Whatever your child enjoys, help her to feed that passion with books, imagination, and space to explore new ideas. Let the child guide the amount of time and effort spent on what strikes their heart chords. It may change and fluctuate from year to year, and that’s okay. A child should have the freedom to try on many different hats and consider many different careers from the safety of her own bedroom.

Overall, keep in mind that you are preparing your child not just for the next academic level–but for life. A child who loves to read and think and imagine will be an adult who values those things too. There is more to life than homework, so let’s be sure our kids know that and embrace it, too.

Until next time



Spoiled by Medical Issues

Q: My six-year-old sons has multiple medical issues, some of which cause learning disabilities and difficulty with executive function. However, he doesn’t have any obvious cognitive delay.

Currently, we are homeschooling him, but I want to move him to a private school soon. Right now, he’s a bit behind in reading and has trouble following multi-step directions. He’s also easily overwhelmed with simple tasks. As a result of the medical issues and being “spoiled” by nurses when he’s in the hospital (which is often), he prefers not to do things for himself. What is the best way to help him want to achieve, and to avoid needing an IEP in school?

A: Just to give you some perspective, my two sons both didn’t learn to read well (meaning reading didn’t “click” right away) until one was over 7 and the other nearly 7. So don’t assume that your son’s medical conditions are the root cause of his lack of reading skills. It could be simply that he’s not ready to read yet, as some kids aren’t at age 6.

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

That said, I think homeschooling him for the year is probably wise to give him a chance to avoid having an IEP at school if he truly doesn’t need one. IEPs are great when necessary, but if you suspect his lack of academic success stems from a lack of motivation, then you don’t want him improperly labeled in school.

On the surface, it sounds like your son has gotten used to being lazy and feeling like he can’t do things himself. Frankly, all kids, if given the chance, would avoid any kind of hard work, like school and chores.

Overall, he sounds pretty typical for his age! How to give him a push in the right direction to becoming self-sufficient? Start by making sure he has plenty of chores around the house, some on a daily basis, some on a weekly basis. Then stop doing things for him. For example, he’s old enough to get his own breakfast, clean his room, set and clear the table, sweep, take out the trash, make his own lunch, help with dinner preparation, pick up sticks/weed the garden, etc.

If he whines that he can’t do something, just shrug and walk away. Don’t encourage him, don’t be his cheerleader. He doesn’t need an audience for his whining. If he continues whining (more than once), I’d announce after supper that it’s his bedtime. When he protests that he stays up until X time, shrug again and say that children who whine must need more sleep. Then put him to bed, lights out, and leave it at that.

You’ll have some quiet evenings as he gets used to the fact that you’re not going to do for him what he can do for himself and that whining isn’t going to get him any sympathy, but it will get him an early bedtime.

As for the reading, don’t push it. I’d move on to other things, and leave it alone for a few weeks before returning to it as part of your school day. When you sense him getting frustrated with reading, put it away (or try to keep the lessons really short). Some kids take a bit longer for reading to really connect, and it’s not good to let them get frustrated with themselves because the letters aren’t making sense.

Instead, spend more time reading to him. Visit the library often. Let him read really “easy” picture books (Moe Williams’ Elephant and Piggy books are an especial favorite of my sons). Instill in him a love of reading and that will serve him better in the long run.

A Kid With a Chip on His Shoulder

Q: My 9-year-old son constantly expresses how he feels slighted or cheated out of things. For example, he (not us) is always comparing himself to his 6-year-old brother or 3-year-old sister, talking about the things they get to do or are given by us or others. One example: he’s complained about his brother getting to go to a friend’s house. I counter that he needs to worry only about himself and remind him that he had just done X.

That doesn’t stop him from complaining about unfairness a bit later. I’m wondering if we’ve contributed to the comparison. Our kids have chores, are responsible for certain things around the house, aren’t given much money, etc. I often say to him that fair doesn’t always mean the same thing for everyone, it means that everyone gets what they need (not want!) 

He also recently started grumbling about his daily chores and told my mother that he is the “family slave” and has to do everything around the house. Which, of course, is not true at all. Help! We’re all tired of his attitude.

Image courtesy of Mister GC/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Mister GC/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

A: Nothing quite frustrates a parent than an ungrateful and complaining child, especially one to whom every action is interpreted as a slight against him. But rest assured this is quite typical, especially for a 9-year-old.

Don’t worry, that doesn’t mean you have to listen to his unfounded and unrealistic complaints! You have options and which one you pick depends on your personality and how much fun you want to have with this problem. (Seriously, if we can’t enjoy our children, even when they’re being pain in the necks, we miss out on a lot of joy in parenting!).

Option 1: Ignore. Stop reminding him of his blessings and engaging him on this subject. When he says things that compare him to others in or outside of the family, don’t comment. If he says he’s been slighted, smile and shrug and walk away–without a word. Let him stew in his own juices on this one.

Option 2: The Chair of Complaining. When he starts to complain, hold up your hand, grab a kitchen timer, and settle yourself in the chair of complaining (really, any comfortable chair). Set the timer for a minute or two, then tell him, “You’ve got two minutes to tell me your sob story” or something like that. Then listen, nod, commiserate with him as he tells his tale of woe. When the timer goes off, put your hand on his shoulder and say, “Well, sounds like you’ve had a tough time. Buck up, it’ll get better.” Then walk away, leaving behind a very bewildered boy who probably expected you to DO something about his problem.

Option 3: Designate a “Complaining” Room. Make an unused room in the house, like a powder room or guest room, into his own special complaining room. Show him the room when he hasn’t been complaining or comparing and tell him when he feels like the world has done him wrong and wants to say something about it, he needs to go here to do it. You’ll remind him if he forgets. Then simply direct him to go to the complaining room when he starts in.

All of these options have one thing in common: It moves the complaining monkey on your son’s shoulders. He’s more than capable of figuring out how to stop–with a nice push from Mom and Dad.