Should I make my teens with mental health issues do chores?


Meghan Leahy, a parenting coach, author, mother of three, who writes the parenting advice column for The Post takes your questions about the all-encompassing job we call parenting.

Every other Wednesday at 11 a.m. ET, Meghan hosts this Q&A to answer questions from parents trying to raise kids of any age. Send us your question or dilemma and try to provide as much context as possible. Meghan will write back to as many submissions as she can over the hour-long chat. Some questions may turn into columns for The Post.

Q: Due to COVID, our only child (6yo boy) has spent A LOT of time with my husband and I. Like so many Gen X parents, we wanted to be as “present” as possible with him because our parents practically ignored us as kids. As a result, our son has grown so attached to us, he would rather play with us than friends his age. He is fine at school, he talks about his group of friends, and I hear them all should out goodbye to him at pick up, but he ignores them and just wants to get home to “be with family.” I was worried about the typical “only child” issues, now I fear we have multiplied them by giving him so much constant attention. How do we teach him to be more independent?

A: Like most things that happen incrementally, the way out is the same way in.

Bit by bit.

You do not need to rip the band-aid off and send him out on his own, you need to make small plans that give him a taste of independence, friendship, and fun.

This is best done with his cooperation.

If you are not already, please start having family meetings. Congratulate him and the whole family for doing as well in covid as you have, and start to make a list of fun things he could do with you AND his friends. Amusement parks, short little trips, gaming, whatever. This way, you are creating a path of both you AND his friends.

Little by little, you will ease him back into a sort of balance.

Time and effort need to do their magic, please do not force, push, or pull. It will only increase his neediness and insecurity.

If you believe that he is veering a full-blown anxiety disorder, please talk to your pediatrician about referring you to a good play therapist. PLAY THERAPIST. And peruse my favorite site about children and anxiety.

Q: We have a 3 year old who had been sleeping in her own room without issues since she was 2. Three months ago, we had another baby, whom the toddler seems to love during the day. She rarely shows jealousy toward her new sister and is eager to help with baby tasks, like washing bottles.

Recently, however, we’ve also transitioned the toddler from her beloved pacifier at her dentist’s recommendation. That started the 3 am wakeups, where she first asks for our help going pee (she is potty trained but needs our help getting on the toilet), then she needs a parent to go in the room with her.

Once one of us is in her room, she is too energized to sleep and only wants to play. So my husband or I now tell her we can’t stay in her room. That causes her to cry and scream, following us to our room. She then wakes up our infant doing this, since we live in a small condo. And of course then she can’t go back to sleep, because she’s too stressed we’re abandoning her.

This has gotten very stressful for all of us. The toddler has gotten a cold last week and now acts delirious during the day, which we attribute to lack of sleep. We believe that all of these changes – a new sister and weaning from her pacifier – are causing this, and she’s looking for another sleep association to replace her pacifier, but we’re at a loss for a solution. Sleeping with her initially was a huge mistake as that created another dependency and didn’t lead to sleep anyway.

Any ideas or tips? We’re desperate for sleep.

A: Honestly, give her back her pacifier.

I am not kidding.

Otherwise, do what you need to do to get the sleep you need.

Put aside the sleep training and just bring her into bed. People may balk at this advice, but it is okay. Sleep is the most important thing here.

Q: My 11 year old decided during the pandemic that sports aren’t his thing, which is fine. All of his friends play sports. I’m encouraging him to sign up for classes and camps aligned with his interests – music & engineering – but he’ll only try them if his friends do. And they’re too busy with sports. This means my son is continually complaining “there’s nobody to play with” because his friends are at games and practices. Feeling stuck in a loop and not sure how to get him to try new things on his own. Ideas?

A: You need to problem-solve WITH your son. Being 11 means you are almost addicted to friends, so it may feel like a true threat to him that he is not with them. But being in the sport is misery, and it is easy for many 11 year old’s to feel miserable.

I would come up with some mini-solutions with your son (there has got to be ONE friend who is into engineering or music) and, other than that, I would simply listen to him complain and be a source of comfort. It isn’t easy to feel on the “outside” and helping him feel that pain is how humans build resilience.

Q: While the rest of the nation has moved on, I’ve been waiting to return to “normal” until my under 5 child is vaccinated. With vaccines (supposedly) so close, is it worth continuing to hold out, even though it might deprive my kids of another half of a summer since the government is apparently okay with dawdling on the approval of Moderna (not: they said they would not delay it to wait until Pfizer, but they set their meeting in June, whereas previous vaccines were approved much fast so it still appears that they are dawdling). Should I hold off a little bit longer or throw in the towel? It’s hard when EVERYONE around me, including other parents of small children, have stopped precautions and the daycare my child attends has dropped precautions and my child is the only one masking.

A: While I love you have asked me this question, I want you to print this out and bring it straight to your pediatrician.

If you love and trust your pediatrician, they will do their level best to give the most up to date guidance.

It is a maddening time, please be patient with yourself and others as you navigate it.

Q: My two teens with mental health conditions say no when asked to do chores. I do them. Dad disagrees.

A: And…this is a problem between you and Dad?

Everything depends…on how much the kids are suffering, when it is time to pivot into something new, and what the kids are up to.

Despite the fragility that many people place onto those suffering with mental health conditions, good work can be a tremendous asset in healing. We are trying to strike a balance between the work engaging and bringing purpose to the tween vs the work causing undue frustration to the tween.

For instance, if your tween loves to organize, that could be a wonderful chore…for another it could overwhelm. Some tweens may like the rhythm of folding laundry or loading dishes.

Problem-solve with your tweens. Small decisions can have big ripple effects.

Q: Tips for giving chores to teens who have a mental illness, without adding pressure.

A: I am wondering if this is related to the other question I just answered.

You are going to give them real work, bit by bit.

And while I am not a huge rewards girl, I do love a good celebration. This means that you CELEBRATE small wins wherever you see them.

And choice and tweens go together, so please let up a system where the tween can choose what they want to do.

Stay away from lectures, too much bossiness, and oversight. This will undermine the tween and keep them resentful.

Use one on one time or family meetings to check in with how they are feeling, instead.

Comment from a guest: Remember: a human is much more than the sum total of their mental illness, and your tweens deserve to be like full humans, capable of growth and change.

You need to work with a family therapist (in addition to your teens individual therapist). We are in this situation and its hard, with lots of different answers depending on your child’s diagnosis, stability, etc. Good luck, its very very hard.

Meghan: YES! Everything always depends. There needs to be some forward momentum, but what that is completely depends on the severity of the illness.

The only guarantee is that nothing stays the same, so doing the work of helping your child heal IS the chore…IS the work.

And then you move on to the next thing.

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The post Should I make my teens with mental health issues do chores? appeared first on Meghan Leahy Parent Coach.

Should I make my teens with mental health issues do chores?