Why Tweens Don't Do Their Chores
Small Tasks, Big Decisions
Parents inevitably suspect recalcitrance when they assign a very simple chore, such as putting the casserole in the oven at 4:30 p.m., and later discover that their tween didn't do it. How do you believe a ten-year-old who claims he didn't know how, when this same child single-handedly taught himself to program the computer? How do you believe he was "afraid of messing up the casserole" when he wasn't afraid of disassembling the VCR, when he obviously knew nothing about it because he never could get it to work again?
If your tween uses the computer and VCR regularly, he probably considers them to be on his turf. He may feel confident that he can manage the computer because he spends so much time on it, although of course his confidence may turn out to be vastly overblown. He doesn't worry about how somebody else might react if he messes up because he thinks of these machines as his. The kitchen, on the other hand, is somebody else's territory. Unless he's spent enough time there and been given enough free rein to consider it part of his turf too, or unless he's familiar enough with the tasks to have developed good confidence, he assumes that to mess up his parents' property is to commit a high crime.
Don't expect your tween to start chores or do a good job on them without help. Announce when it is time to begin, set limits to ensure she gets started, check her work, and have her correct any deficiencies before she resumes playing. Don't forget to issue enthusiastic kudos for any aspects of the job she did well.
Tweens can be frozen from the uncertainty about a simple decision, such as whether to leave the casserole lid on or off when putting it in the oven. Is it worse to ruin the lid because it isn't oven-safe, or to ruin dinner because it was cooked without a lid? If a tween was supposed to put the casserole in at 4:30 but he forgot until 4:35, he's already "blown it," so now the question is what will upset Mom more. Would she rather serve dinner late? Perhaps the last time he forgot to put dinner on, they had to grab a fast-food meal on the way to his soccer practice because they didn't have time to wait. A five-minute delay seems like a short time; but being five minutes late to work makes Mom crazy and his teachers mad, so a five-minute casserole delay might be a serious problem.
A tween who has been fully involved in cooking for a number of years will be able to make the obvious decision. But a tween whose mealtime contributions have been largely confined to pouring himself a bowl of cereal and setting the table won't know what to do. If parents doubt that such small doubts and uncertainties can immobilize tweens, it is because they don't realize how much information and experience people need to be able to reason their way through problems. Many young adults on their own for the first time and single men with little cooking experience find simple dilemmas about whether a particular lid can or cannot go in the oven equally daunting. To be able to use good judgment, people must first have a good grasp of the relevant facts.
If your child can't manage to keep his bedroom clean and his possessions and homework papers in order, it's probably because he lacks a natural ability to organize and/or has never received detailed instructions on where to begin and how to proceed. That's where you come in.
When told to straighten her room, study for a test, or do her homework, your tween may truly feel lost about where to begin. This feeling may arise because she doesn't know how to break a large project into a series of small steps and organize them. As a result, her approach is so random and unfocused that when she's finished straightening her very messy room, it looks as if she hasn't even started. When it comes to school projects, she may procrastinate and end up turning in work far below her capabilities.
It can be hard to comprehend that an intelligent child doesn't know how to pick up her room, but unless she's had a lot of hands-on help, guidance, and instruction, or unless she is a born organizational expert, this is often the case. Consider that if a twelve-year-old can solve algebraic equations, he didn't achieve this level of expertise without a lot of help. His natural math ability is only the tip of the iceberg. Over the years teachers have given him hundreds of arithmetic lessons. They have carefully explained basic concepts and procedures, anticipated and answered his questions, and helped him reason through problems when he got stuck. They didn't feel sorry for him and do the problems for him when he seemed overwhelmed, since that wouldn't benefit him in the least. Instead, he was given more detailed explanations and lots of practice problems. Teachers checked his work thoroughly and required him to fix errors so he learned everything correctly. By sixth grade a tween may have advanced to the point that he can handle complex mathematical problems that are beyond his parents' ability to solve.
More on: Chores
From The Everything Tween Book Copyright © 2003, F+W Publications, Inc. Used by permission of Adams Media, an F+W Publications Company. All rights reserved.
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