Tweens and Household Chores

Dear Sharon,

Our 12-year-old daughter is being asked to do a few household chores to help out. Nothing major, but small chores that we want her to do on a regular basis to help her learn and to give her a sense of responsibility, such as helping with the dishes, putting the laundry into the dryer from the washer, etc. She is pitching a fit about this and tells us that none of her friends have to do these things. I don’t really care if that’s true or not, because I feel it’s important for her to contribute. What are your thoughts and how can we successfully handle this?

Dear Parents,

Your question is on the mind of many Moms and Dads. There is no simple answer as every child and family is different but here are some ideas that might be helpful.

12 year olds often feel pressure from peers, hormonal changes and academic demands. As stressors increase, it is not unusual for tweens and teens to become emotional and “pitch fits” about many things. The refrain of “none of my friends have to do what you are telling me to do” is common and sometimes but rarely true.

Some parents make shared chores an important part of family life others choose not to for a variety of legitimate reasons. But as you mentioned in your question, chores can be one of many ways to help children learn important life skills and develop a sense of responsibility that can be useful.

As children this age can be drawn to declare their maturity and independence through waging “power battles” with adults it can be challenging to have discussions about chores go well. General proclamations from Mom or Dad such as “You need to help out more around here.” “I am tired of doing everything.” or “I am not here to serve or clean up after you.” are common phrases that can easily fall on young one’s deaf ears. Such statements, although often true and /or coming from justified parental exasperation, are rarely effective.

Talks can go more smoothly if Mom or Dad begins by assigning one or two tasks at a time rather than starting with a list of many things that need to be accomplished. It can also lower the chance of a “fit” and increase cooperation if parents explain several possible options and have the child choose which one or two they would like to try. Ongoing stress-free discussions over time can provide the opportunity to alter one or more responsibilities increasing the chances of having things go well for parent and child. Sometimes setting up a brief family meeting when everyone gets a turn to discuss how chores are going can help.

Although chores seem like simple accomplishments, they often are, it can still be important to offer positive feedback and appreciation for tasks that are completed well. As one reason to assign chores is to build self-esteem such adult response can be useful. A simple thank you with an explanation of how a child’s contribution was helpful can mean a lot.

People who have read this column before know that I believe a calm and caring relationship between parent and child is the foundation for a healthy and happy adulthood. If tension increases at home because of undone chores and over time interferes with the closeness of relationships at home I suggest postponing the distribution of chores until there is time and space to reconnect and talk anew.