Dear Mr. Dad: Our 12-year-old refuses to do any chores. Anytime we ask him to help around the house, he always finds an excuse not to.
Sometimes he even says he doesn’t feel like cleaning up after himself. My husband says we should ground him. What’s your take on this?
A: I’ll confess right here that the phrase “I don’t feel like it” coming from a child absolutely infuriates me. My initial reaction has always been something like, “OK, no problem. But I don’t feel like doing your laundry or preparing your meals.”
The harsh reality for your son (and every other child out there) is that very few people are passionate about housework. We do it because we like living in a clean, comfortable environment. Your son is part of a family and family members all chip in to do what needs to be done to keep the household moving smoothly.
Chores, say the experts, help children develop valuable skills and habits, including responsibility, helpfulness, appreciation for hard work, and the satisfaction that comes from making a positive impact on the lives of others.
Your 12-year-old should be expected to make his bed, keep his room tidy and clean up after himself. If you have pets, he should take part in caring for them. And there’s no reason he can’t help you bring groceries in from the car, set the table for meals, and load/unload the dishwasher.
Is it possible that your son doesn’t actually know what his duties are? Are his chores fair and age-appropriate? Have you given him so many responsibilities that he no longer has time for a social life?
The first thing to do is have a talk with your son. Explain to him that everyone in your family pitches in and plays a role in creating a home that runs smoothly.
Next, have him help you put together a list of all the chores that need to be done on a daily/weekly/monthly basis and roughly how long each one should take.
Then let him swap some of the chores he hates for ones that take the same amount of time but that he’ll hate a little less. He won’t admit it anytime soon, but he’ll really appreciate the confidence you’re showing in him by giving him some say in all this. Plus, having made the choices himself, it’ll be harder to gripe about them later on.
One more thing: Avoid the urge to micro-manage his tasks or criticize his technique. For example, his dusting may not pass the white-glove inspection, but as long as he puts a genuine effort into it, don’t point out everything he missed.
If he lives up to his responsibilities, praise him and thank him for his help. We all want to feel needed and appreciated.
Finally, if he still refuses to do his fair share, go on strike. When he runs out of clean underwear or has to figure out how to take public transportation to meet up with his friends, he’ll have a sudden change of heart.