Tuesday Topic: How Do We Encourage Our Teens (and older kids) to Contribute (especially in summer)?

tuesday topics

It’s been a while since we had a Tuesday Topic – this week, we hear from an adoptive single mom of three teens:

I’m a single adoptive Mom to three – ages 17, 17 and 12.  I work full time, try to get kids to therapy, med reviews, probation, and court.  We juggle as many as seven social workers and respite providers.  Obviously we are surrounded by dedicated folks trying to help me and the kids succeed.

BUT, despite this, I have never been successful getting the kids to help around the house.  Not only will they not do dishes, take out garbage or clean the living room, but they won’t make their own beds, put clothes away, or collect laundry.  All three can do these things, I’ve taught them and have seen them do so, though usually under duress. This summer they are just hanging out, eating, sleeping and playing video games.  Won’t do even the few little things I ask.  I get frustrated and yell, they shut down even more. What provisions should I make?

 This is a challenge for so many families, especially in the summer!  How do we encourage our teens to contribute to the running of our household?
We would love to hear your ideas!  Comment below or head over to our Facebook page!
Encourage one another!

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  1. Beverly Regier
    August 2, 2016

    I don’t have an answer for the daily chores. For kids who have a trauma background, at least my family, daily chores were a challenge. But sometimes we would plan something fun out of the ordinary routine that I could not accomplish without help. We would set the leaving time a bit loosely and agree that we could leave sooner if everyone pitched in to get things done faster. I do like to come home to a reasonably clean house so that the winding down time after an event is less stressful. We did not do a full spring cleaning or anything like that, but the kitchen needed to be clean, laundry put away, beds made and floors swept before we left. I’d put out a list of jobs and the kids could choose which ones to do.

    Now, still, those who have more emotional energy also have more ability to give back and pitch in. Those who are struggling may still not be able to do very much.

    The other thing I did for myself was once in a while do something out of the blue for one or another of the kids. This was for me because somehow, surprisingly, doing this would cut my resentment way back. I would feel more in charge of my own emotions instead of a slave to the ways I felt bad because of their behaviors. It could be making their bed or doing one of their chores or it could be a candy bar on their pillow, etc. But you have to find what works for you. I somehow think you are probably already doing something like this, but are depleted from the daily struggle.

    Know you are normal and that this really is hard sometimes. You are working very hard and giving a lot of the time. I respect you too much to tell you that if you would “just try this” it will work. Sometimes the kids are just struggling too much. It sounds like you are working hard to use available resources, and I admire your commitment.

    Another thing I did to help me hold on was find daily rituals that are small but help me and do not rely on any response from my kids. For a long time it was to have a big insulated mug of diet soda when I made it to 4pm every day. For some it might be making yourself a coffee, using a favorite coffee cup and the same preparation steps every day.

    The last thing I did was to find a way to be accountable for the anger. Don’t get me wrong. The anger is normal with this, but I was yelling too much, giving too many consequences. So I found a few trusted friends and if I felt myself beginning to feel angry I would call one. No details on the phone, just “I’m getting angry and I want to be accountable to continue to treat my kids the way I want to be treated.” Our agreement was I’d call every 5 or 10 minutes until I knew I was calm. This idea came from the realization that I never lost control in public. So if I became public at home, I would not lose control. My friends had complete freedom to tell me to call someone else if it wasn’t a good time for them. My kids and my friends knew I was not sharing the details of what might be making me feel angry.

    I’m praying for you.

    1. Emily
      August 4, 2016

      I love this list. I appreciate the idea of being accountable to someone external, realizing that we tend to lose control at home and not in public. While I have noone to call, it is challenging me to think that way so I can remember how I’m coming across at all times.

  2. Janna Williams
    August 2, 2016

    We post a checklist on the fridge of things that must be done first.Ours looks like this:

    B4 playing any electronics or hanging out with friends you must
    1. Brush teeth
    2. Make bed
    3. Clean room.
    4. Put away laundry
    5. Dirty clothes in the launday room
    6. Practice instruments
    7. Exercise for 15 min.
    8. Take meds
    9. Talk Respectfully

    If you tell me things are done and they aren’t you lose one week of electronics or friends.

    My kids are twelve and fourteen year old twins. I am also a single mom to kids from trauma. It is a lot of work!!!

    It was hard for them at first, but it took the arguing away to have a list posted. All I had to say was, ” did you complete your list?”

    They now actually seem to enjoy that they can earn something.

    1. rachel
      August 17, 2016

      This list sounds so good — but how does it get enforced? No electronics until… but if they are used to access to wifi without responsibility — how does this list happen without explosions… also no friends until… how does this happen? For my girls it is such a struggle to get them to interact and follow through when they accept invitations to do things with other youth — if I require them to have their room clean or speak respectful before they can leave — they will have another reason not to go!

  3. Suzanne Ayer
    August 3, 2016

    Thanks for these comments. I like the call-a-friend idea. I could do this with the crisis line I have access to. I struggle with the idea that they are too traumatised to be productive. I guess I see obstinence and detachment. If I could use the words anxiety about life in general and struggles with authority, maybe it would help

  4. jen
    August 5, 2016

    I want to answer this gently; I hope my words sound gentle. The phrase that keeps coming to mind (from the last comment) is “too traumatized to be productive,” but really aren’t our children from hard places “too traumatized not to be productive!” What I mean by that is if we allow them to believe that they cannot do anything, then aren’t we allowing them to believe that they do not have value, that they cannot make it in the world, that they are less able than someone who has had an “easy” life? I’m not saying that there should be no room for mercy, just simply a that we need to believe more of them than they may believe of themselves.
    –Can you “rally the troops” to have a meal prep time, or clean up time, or whatever needs to be done – sort of using the idea that it is “us against the dinner/mess/dishes” instead of “us against mom.”
    –Would it work to simply explain to them that you are tired and would like help, then ask them each to do something right then. (Not an overarching, “I need you to do more all the time,” but “Will you please help with this one task at this moment?”)
    –Would it work to appeal to their sense of pride? I know that children from hard places often lack that sense of I-can-do-it that helps them do the things that need to be done (like making beds), but I know for my kiddo that struggles that catching him doing good and giving that extra high-five or hug or even just that extra smile encourages better behavior next time. (And it can be hard work to catch him doing good.)
    –Is there a way that you can gently convey to them the idea that if they work together to get these things done, your family can have more time to do the things you enjoy doing. (We recently spent a week deep cleaning our house, and a beach trip – we don’t live too far – was the reward. We obviously don’t do that often, but we have done this thing for a few years, and each year the kids are more focused on getting the work done and less focused on the reward.) You could do this on a smaller scale.
    –I have found lists to be super helpful! Ones like the list mentioned above are great! Sometimes I also will list a bunch of chores that need to be done on a whiteboard, and each of us gets to cross off whatever they complete; the kids feel empowered by the erasing! High fives all around when all the jobs are done.
    –Could you set a timer and ask for 15 minutes of help – ask the kids to get as much done as possible? (When we do this, I rely heavily on the “us against the chores” mentality that I mentioned earlier!)
    –Are your social workers on board with helping the kids do chores – would they be willing to serve as outside accountability, holding each child responsible for doing their part to help the family?
    I hope this is helpful!

    1. Lisa Qualls
      August 5, 2016

      Jen, thanks for the response – just want to say a quick hello. It’s been a long time! I hope you and your family are doing well.


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