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Tweens and Teens


The Procrastination Battle


Survival Tactics for the "I'm Going To" Years



March 01, 2009
If there were one more space on a parent's clock, then somewhere in between the numerals 11 and 12 would probably be a spot for "I'm going to" or "in a minute" or "soon." That way, the time when kids are planning to clean their rooms (walk the dog, set the table, do their homework, etc.) would actually arrive.

Procrastination is a favorite activity of young teens and tweens. We parents don't have to like this behavior, but understanding how it fits into a preteen's development can help us face it and deal with it.

A preteen's world is ruled by the conflicting characteristics of both the emerging adult and the waning child. Pre-adolescents feel a desire for control over their lives and are increasingly capable in many areas, but few are experts at handling responsibility or at scheduling and organizing their time. These conflicting traits help explain why a preteen might have difficulty with a parent's request to perform a chore or task.

A child who is yearning for independence and control of his own life may view any "command" from a parent as an attack on that control. A 13-year-old may feel that a simple request to empty the dishwasher is like a grenade aimed directly at his independence. He may experience a polite question ("Could you please let the dog out?") as if you have said, "I am the parent and have all the power; you are the child and have none."

There also is a basic human concept involved: It's easy to forget what we want to forget. This can be even easier for a young teen whose cognitive skills are still developing. The messages floating through her mind might include: "That Sam Engle is so cute," "I wonder if the coach thinks I'm good enough to make the team," "I need $12 for the field trip tomorrow," and (possibly) "I'm supposed to take out the garbage." Which of those statements do you think will be the first to fall through the cracks in your child's brain?

Finally, one of the main goals of giving kids chores and responsibilities is to help them learn self-discipline—a skill that is still developing in most preteens. When we see the situation as a learning process, it is easier to find more patience to deal with our child's inefficiency.

To help you and your child through the "I'm going to" years, the main goals should be to avoid power struggles and get the job done. Here are some suggestions:

Give your kids choices. Children who are involved in the decision-making process about their responsibilities generally do a better job of living up to them. When possible, let your kids help decide what they want to do and when. For example, make a list of the chores that need to be done. Let them pick which two or three each of them would like to be responsible for. Help them choose tasks they can realistically complete, given their ages, abilities and time constraints. Then give them a choice of times when they can complete each task. Give them choices that fit within your guidelines so that your needs will be met.

Give advance notice. Springing a request on a child increases the chances for conflict. No one likes unpleasant surprises and kids are more likely to balk under these circumstances. If you want the living room vacuumed by Saturday, mention it to your child on Monday. You can also combine this with a choice: "Would you like to decide now when you're going to do it, or do you want a reminder again later in the week?" You may still get a grimace or complaint, but not as much as if you tell them, "Do it now," on Saturday morning when they've just made plans to go to a movie.

Be clear and consistent. If expectations are stable, there is less room for responses like, "How should I know I was supposed to take out the garbage?" or "Last time Jordan emptied the dishwasher, so I thought it was her job." Try to keep schedule changes to a minimum.

Use visual reminders. Visual reminders can help eliminate the need for nagging and the chances that your verbal reminders will be tuned out. Some families find that a "chore chart" helps. (Include adults on the chart so kids see chores as a family effort and don't feel like you're picking on them.) Taking the vacuum cleaner out or hanging the dog's leash on the doorknob are other visuals that may eliminate nagging.

Build in motivation. Tell your preteen, "We'll go to the pool as soon as you've finished cleaning your room," or "You'll need to cut the grass before you go to the game." This type of negotiating can be quite successful, but you must be willing to have your child actually be late for, or completely miss, the activity if they haven't finished their chore.

Check your expectations. If your goal is to eliminate all whining about chores, chances are high that you will fail. It is a rare child who enjoys being told what to do, especially if the activity has seemingly no relevance or importance in his life.

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Lisa Schab is a licensed clinical social worker in Libertyville, Illinois, and the stepmother of two, ages 25 and 29. She can be reached at 847-782-1722.

Lisa M. Schab is a licensed clinical social worker in Libertyville, Illinois, and the stepmother of two, ages 20 and 24.
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