Learn how to ward odd chore battles

  • Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Dear Liz,

Help. Nothing is working - that is legal (kidding). My darling elementary school children have become sullen and silly middle schoolers and a freshman in high school. We’ve never been very strict or consistent with chores and overall family rules. They used to help as asked. Now, you’d think I was asking them to literally build the darned house. They are too busy, too tired, too sick, too something. I don’t want to nag, yell, threaten, take away all their fun, their first-born (Heaven’s no). But something has to be done. My husband is not on the same page with me, busy working himself, he seems to want to stay on their good side. I feel I am all alone in this.


Dear “Help”

You are not alone. You beautifully and humorously described the plight of many families - especially when the kids move into teen years. I do like that you have a sense of humor about it. I’m sorry you and your husband can’t seem (yet) to be the unified front the kids need you to be. They need to experience the modeling of parents (although different people) to come together with compromise and consistent standards. It creates a healthy boundaries, conflict resolution skills and will raise the bar in their own future relationships and families. Here are a few bottom line ideas:

1. The rules, chore requirements with natural and logical consequences/rewards (in writing) should be the same no matter who is in charge. Period. Nobody is the bad guy. The child quickly learns that life is good if they cooperate and not as much fun even boring, if they don’t.

2. Simplify rules into clear expectations (I always put courtesy and define it at the top of the list). Give kids leeway in choosing chores and/or rotating making them “fair” based on time it takes to get the chore done. Always have a deadline (the dishwasher will be unloaded by “x” o’clock or YOU have chosen “x” consequence.)

3. Clearly indicate the consequence /reward in writing, and if they don’t make a good choice, calmly say, “I’m sorry you chose not to do your responsibility, thereby, choosing the consequence. This builds in kids the awareness that they do have power, always to “choose the right” or “choose the unpleasant.”

4. Consequences need to be immediate, reasonable and sensible - for example, “if you choose not to be ready to catch the bus (“x” o clock) then you are choosing a 20 minute earlier bedtime. No yelling needed. Always have a loving goodbye even if they just “grunt.”

5. Rewards of a special activity (especially with a parent) or even cash is okay. I’d need more space to explain that.

6. Follow through. Follow through. Follow through. Don’t let it slip, kids will know, then, they can slide. Consistency is the key to sanity.

7. Deal with your own issues about your child’s disappointment, etc. if there has been a divorce or other loss, we tend to try to compensate by letting things go here and there. Compassion and special circumstances is always appropriate but kids who have other issues especially need loving consistency. It builds security, trust, self discipline, healthy esteem and personal responsibility.

Finally, if your kids tell you they hate you, you are probably doing a good job. It’s part of the separation process. Ongoing conflict or acting out is not. Please, everyone, don’t wait to find good support from licensed professionals. There is a lot of help online, to help you formulate your plan. Way to go.

Contact Liz via asksharpliz@gmail.com. Liz Brisacher Sharp is a Master degree level Licensed Professional Counselor in private practice with 35 years experience in mental health.

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