Room Cleaning and Dealing with Teen Entitlement

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    Q: How can I get my 8-year-old to clean her room?I don’t want to offer her a reward for something she should be doing already. Any ideas?

    A: First, look at what you want your child to do as a cognitive skill. When a child is learning a new skill, a good teacher breaks that skill down into manageable parts that the child can master more easily and experience success as she works toward a goal.

    Try this: Write down each thing you have decided needs to be done in order for her to meet the criteria of a clean room. Now, write each one of those things on an index card: make bed, fold clothes, organize desktop, etc. This is how many opportunities for success cleaning her room can provide.

    Now, look at this as an exercise in her emotional development in her relationship with you. Simply said, if you drop the rope, let her work on her own without your interference, and allow her to experience the full cycle of her choices, “go clean your room” will no longer trigger a power struggle. This is what it sounds like: “Each time you complete something in your room, put the card outside your door. Then I won’t bother you and I can see you are moving along. I can also see if our day will be spent cleaning or doing other things. And I won’t ask you a single question or nag you even once!” Then say, “When you are finished, let me know and we can look at your cards to see if you remembered everything. You can take as long as you need to, but do understand that nothing else will happen until it is done.”

    Now step back and watch her think, and then work.

    We tend to want our kids to operate like our computers – fast and efficient. But the task of childhood is to slowly acquire skills that will sustain them beyond our management. Three steps we parents can take toward better skill development and a healthier relationship with our children are: slowing down, encouraging rather than nagging, and dropping that rope!

    Q: Most of our son’s friends have cars, and not for very practical reasons. I want to tell the rest of the world to stop buying their teenagers cars, but I can’t. My son doesn’t need a car, and we can’t afford it anyway. What do we do with this?

    A: Your son is feeling entitled. That makes him a very normal adolescent. One of the tasks of adolescence is to be attracted to the bling of the world, and then learn how to either acquire it or do without it. One creative strategy most teens discover to get what they want is to make parents feel like it is their responsibility to acquire bling for their kids. They do this by convincing parents that in this horribly competitive world, bling gives them a competitive edge. And don’t forget this strategy: “In this dark, sad world, bling makes me happy. And you do want me to be happy, don’t you?” Teens are very good at their job – to undermine the confidence of the parent enough that the parent actually takes the adolescent’s emotional bait.

    The parent’s job is to acknowledge that the teen’s feelings, as real as they are, are innocuous and temporary. The parental task is not to try to change the feelings or mind of their teen, but allow the teen to have these feelings and manage them on his own. In other words, you focus on making confident choices for you and your family and let your teen juggle his feelings of entitlement. All put together it sounds something like this, “I don’t blame you at all for wanting a car. And I can only guess how frustrating it must be to watch all your friends get one while you must wait. That must be tough. I know I can’t make that go away, but maybe I could help you come up with a plan to buy a car yourself.”

    A confident parent is one who is so sure she is making good choices for her family that there is never any need to remark on anyone else’s parenting. The effective parent focuses only on what THIS family is doing. There is no room for self-righteousness in the home of confident, effective parents. It’s wonderfully emancipating: letting go of what anyone else is doing and focusing only on what we’re doing under the direction of a very confident leader.