Thursday, July 14, 2011

How to get teens to cooperate

In Anthony E. Wolf's article in the Globe and Mail: "How do I get my grumbling, lazy teen to help around the house?", he introduces the article with the statement: "Austin would you please take your dirty dishes out of the TV room and into the kitchen." There then ensues a back and forth debate between parent and teen, which I am sure is common in a lot of households. His suggestion is that, "If you simply stand there, what happens in the vast majority of times is that they will comply."

In the Calmer, Easier, Happier Parenting (CEHP) approach we have a few extra skills to add that will help a teen want to cooperate. The first is called Descriptive Praise. Parents are often in the habit of taking cooperation for granted or ignoring it. In order to help a teen want to cooperate we must show him that we are pleased with everything he is doing that is right, or heading in the right direction or nor wrong. For example, "Thanks for washing up your dirty dishes without me having to remind you."

The problem with teens, as with all of us, is that no one likes being told what to do. In the CEHP approach we also teach a skill called Preparing For Success. Preparing For Success is a group of strategies that helps parents teach and train their teens to cooperate. One of the strategies is to introduce rules, routines and consequences. In order to introduce a rule, you simply say, "The new rule is that from now on when you have finished eating, you wash up your dishes." You need to introduce this rule at a time when you are not stressed, angry or in a rush. You can then revisit this rule at various times and ask questions about the rule for example, "When you have finished eating what do you need to do with the dishes?" The fact that your teen replies makes it clear that you know he has heard you and the expectations are clear. You will also have to think about consequences, because a rule without a consequence is nothing more than a nag. One of the essential principles of the CEHP approach is that everything has to be earned apart from love, food and shelter - this includes rides, allowance and even screen time. So if your teen does not do the rule, instead of criticizing, nagging, getting angry and upset just wait until he comes to you and wants something. Then calmly say, "I am happy to drive you to your friends house - what do you need to do first?"

Suzanne Ferera
Vancouver, BC