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Encouraging Help Around the Home

Home life with teenagers can be a challenge for adults as well as the teenagers themselves. The dynamics of the family are subject to change and you need to be somewhat prepared to prevent things going off the rails. Here are some tips to help:

1. Talk about plans.

It’s not like when the children were younger and you simply decided what was going to happen (though even then, involving the children to some degree in planning would have been a good idea). Now the teenagers have plans of their own, and often they are pretty sensible plans too. When you’re working out what to do as a family, or trying to coordinate things that need to be done, don’t overlook the teenager’s own desires and needs. Include them in the conversation and be prepared to compromise. Encourage teenagers to be diplomats within the family framework, willing to negotiate deals so that they get at least some of what they want in the general scheme of things. The earlier you start with this approach, the better the outcomes will be for everyone involved.

2. Provide communication channels.

Perhaps you’re not always at home when you’re needed, or maybe even when you are home you’re not always in the mood to be receptive after a long day at work. While you should make yourself available as much as possible to growing children and teenagers in your family, sometimes it’s just not practical to be ‘on call’ 24 hours a day. To compensate to some degree for this, create an atmosphere at home where communication levels are generally high so that children and teenagers can see what you regard as normal and can become attuned accordingly -and then set up channels so that they know you can always at least be informed about something. Use phones, texting, emails, social media and as many other tools as you can, including old-fashioned hand-written notes, to ensure that the younger members of the family always have a way of letting you know what’s happening and a means of getting a response from you. Set up some ground rules for answering communications and try to stick to them -and get them to stick to them too.

3. Get agreements for helping around the house.

‘Helping around the house’ can seem such a burden and an interruption to children and teenagers who have their own ‘stuff’ to do. What happened to the days when Mum and Dad did all the housework and acted as 'servants' for them? What’s changed where they are now expected to contribute? You can turn this around by playing games with it: make the house their own and assign areas of responsibility- and freedom- within that space; set up systems of rewards for tasks done (and then stick to them); explain that contribution isn’t a burden but a way of gaining more freedom and power over their own lives. Do all of this with them when they are at their most cheerful -don’t try outlining all this in the middle of a disagreement.

4. Work out agreements for when things go wrong.

Part of getting prepared for the future is to recognise that there are times when things will get tough. While everything is still relatively calm and orderly, try to establish some agreed-upon procedures for the tough times. These can include promises on your part to listen carefully and not to over-react, as well as undertakings on their part to always communicate if they are in trouble no matter what, and so forth. Drawing up whole lists of penalties if something bad occurs tends not to be workable -rather than punishing wrongdoing, it’s far better to engage the child or teenager in repairing exact damage done and restoring trust and order. That can only really be done when the nature of what has happened is clear, so you can’t really plan in too much detail for it. What you can set up is some ground-rules along the above lines: i.e. that amends can always be done and that you and the teenager will work together to make sure that they fit the event and repair damage, rather than arbitrarily ‘punish’.

5. Listen with patience.

A fundamental which underlies almost all of the tips on this blog is being able to listen carefully and with patience to whatever a child or teenager says. ‘Listening’ can be confused with ‘waiting until you can make your point’ and that is always a mistake. Proper listening means actively contributing time and attention to another’s communication so that the other person feels that it is worthwhile communicating. Children and teenagers are particularly sensitive to this and know when someone is only ‘pretending’ to listen. Of course, this means keeping your cool as you hear what they have to say, which may be disturbing. Every minute spent genuinely listening, though, is a minute invested in a better future.

Using these basics, you can get cooperation and contribution for children and teenagers and ensure that your own life gets that bit easier while encouraging them to grow in responsibility and competence.

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