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Giving Orders a Teen Can Understand

Learn effective parenting methods for getting teens to follow directions.

Giving Orders a Teen Can Understand

Your teen is far more concerned about her complexion than she is about the state of your household, and you can save both time and angst by clearly communicating what is bothering you. Be specific. Just as a toddler responds better to “pick up the blocks” than to “ clean up your room,” the same is true for a teen.

You can make your expectations even more clear by creating a checklist. For example, an index card taped to the mirror in the bathroom might bear this post-shower checklist:

  • Wring out washcloth and hang on side of tub.
  • Hang towels on bar.
  • Use bathmat to dry up puddles on floor and hang over edge of tub.
  • Put shampoo back in cupboard.
Tuning In

If your teen still doesn't “get it” (picking up the family room, for example), ask what the problem is. It may turn out that his nine-year-old sister is responsible for some of the mess in the family room, and he's rebelling because he doesn't feel he should have to clean up after her. This is good for you to know. If you can instill responsibility in your nine-year-old now (a perfectly acceptable expectation), your son will be happier because you really listened to him, and your family room will be neater.

For a while, you may have to remind your child of her new responsibilities—expect to, and don't get angry. You're teaching a new behavior, one that she has been able to avoid doing for a good number of years.

If your child still doesn't comply after a time, though, you'll need to take stronger action. Establish age-appropriate consequences. It's best if the consequence has something to do with the offense: “If you don't have time to help around the house, then that means I have to devote extra time. For that reason, I won't be able to drive you to the game this weekend.”

If a new habit has been particularly difficult to develop, you might consider reward system. For example, if he remembers to clean up after himself in the kitchen for a full month (with two days off for bad days), it's worth a new CD. After a month of good behavior, chances are good that the reform will be complete. (Remember, though, that this is a reward system, not a payment. After earning the first reward, your child should be expected to do the chore on his own.)

As each new behavior becomes habit (when you're no longer tripping over his size 11 sneakers as you come in the door, because he's finally “gotten the message”), add a new one or two without making a big issue of it.

In an ideal world, no one else would have to empty someone else's pockets before throwing jeans in the wash, remove clothing from the floor, or trip over backpacks and shoes left all over the house. Though nirvana is difficult to reach, you should set “improvement” as a goal. Choose the responsibilities you want your teen to handle, and with love and patience keep reminding her of them.

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