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Aneta Pawlik from Unsplash photos

Do you ever wonder how to help your teens and tweens take the next step in growing up?

Observing kids’ healthy growth and development is what I do. And, having witnessed many kids grow up, it occurs to me that within a family, a kid’s maturation is sort of like driving a car with a standard transmission: it’s all about learning to manage the clutch, accelerator and the brake. When you’re first learning to drive a car with a clutch, there’s a fair amount of lurching. Bad coordination can even cause the car to “die.” It takes a lot of practice to learn to ease off that clutch and onto the accelerator. And under tough situations, think a steep hill in San Francisco, even the most skilled driver can get…clutched! 🙂

What we want to see as kids mature through adolescence is a gradual easing off by parents as the kid increasingly takes charge of his or her own life. While we hope that would be a smooth process, the truth is that both kid and parents are learning. There’s likely to be some “hiccoughing” along the way…we might even stall out from time to time. Part of that easing-off/easing-on process can be managed by setting expectations. While teens and parents often have expectations about privileges, sometimes we drop the ball when it comes to establishing expectations.

One psychologist put it this way. On one of those occasions when your teen is slamming around, likely angry about a limit you’ve set, he might yell something like, “I can’t WAIT to move out of this house!” Not right then, but maybe the next day, circle back and offer something like, “You mentioned wanting to move out last night. And I just want you to know that, actually, Dad and I are also looking forward to that time. BUT, what we’re hoping for is your successful moving out. In order to do that, there are things a young adult needs to know how to do for himself. We’d like to set that up to prepare us all for the time when you successfully move out.”

From there, my psychologist friend suggested, we develop a list of things a young adult needs to be able to do… like maintain a car, balance a bank account, clean the kitchen, prepare a simple meal, grocery shop, take out the trash, do laundry…make your own list. Then, counting the number of items on the list, divide them by the years you have left before your kid leaves home. Let’s say you’ve got twelve items on your list and four years before graduation; three items for each year. Every year, you’ll sit with your kid and let him decide which three items he is ready to “move to his list.” (no backsies!) Some families I know do this as an annual birthday celebration. As you can imagine, the easiest chores go first; but as the kid gets older and older, he gains confidence in being able to manage the harder ones.

A bit of clarifying on why doing chores is good for kids:

  • It helps them gain perspective on what it takes to maintain their lives
  • It can decrease their entitlement to realize how others have helped them so far
  • It gives them confidence that they CAN manage life on their own
  • On days when other things don’t go well, accomplishing a household task can give them a boost
  • Doing “real stuff”, even easy real stuff, let’s them know they’re growing up
  • Sometimes doing chores earns them praise, self-esteem

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What we can NOT expect from our kids doing chores is that chores will necessarily be done more easily or the way we’d like them done…at least not without some instruction/monitoring. Kids don’t start out doing chores because it helps us. They do them because they’re learning…learning to be adults, to be contributing members of a group, to feel competent and confident in real life skills.

For your kid’s next birthday, how about giving them and yourself a “gift” toward growing up, growing independent?