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Q. How much should I expect my high schoolers to help during their Pesach vacation? I understand that this is their time off from school and they want to shop or go places with their friends. I also know that I can use the extra help and that it is good for them to learn to be responsible and helpful. How do I maintain a balance so they don’t feel burned out and I feel supported?

A. I can just hear it; “I finally have time off and now you want me to watch the baby/clean the basement (pick any thing that comes to mind )?”  You want her to clean her room, run errands, or babysit. She wants to sleep in, go out with friends, and chill. There may be only one thing you are both sure of: “You are making my life so hard!”

Yes, we need things to get done and we need their help. They feel that they deserve a break. Ok. Hear them out. Then work together to figure out a plan in which they can get their needs met but also do what you need them to do.

It is not helpful to call them lazy, to criticize the way they do things, or to yell at them to wake up earlier. Create a system that works for you. Give them a list of possible things they can do for you, such as unloading groceries, watching siblings, organizing parts of the house, or going shopping for you.  Let them choose their jobs, and when they are done, they can do their own activities. 

Helping your teen to be responsible takes consistent, loving involvement.  You can’t blame them if your expectations are unclear.  Set clear guidelines for your teenager about your expectations, ideally before their break begins. I’ve found that effecting change in teenagers means sometimes effecting change in me. 

While we are on the topic of getting kids to help out, let’s discuss the benefits of giving them responsibilities. If you want your kids to become responsible adults, think about what that means: learning to be accountable, be dependable, do their best, contribute to the team, and allow for mistakes. These traits are all key in becoming responsible adults. Assigning chores is an excellent way of helping them get there.

Let’s not forget the best part: your gratitude. When your child does a job for you, even if it is not perfect, and you let them know how much you appreciate their effort with kind words and a smile, you will do loads for their self-esteem. It feels good to help! They will be pleased with their ability to give to others and contribute to the family’s success. They are also learning new life skills, such as how to follow detailed instructions and how to have strong work ethic. These are all beneficial to becoming a responsible adult. 

Assigning chores can get sticky. When you do, be sure to impart a sense of responsibility, as opposed to expecting perfect performance.

Age-appropriate explanations go a long way toward cooperation. If you want your child to babysit, explain how it will be helpful to you. Avoid sticking to the “because I said so” model because it’s important for kids to know that their contribution has value, no matter how small or big it is.

Take a few minutes to set your kids up for success by explaining each task and teach them how to do it properly. Be specific when delegating the housework. Don’t just tell them to clean their rooms. Clarify what you want done and be specific. Tell them, for example, to place the toys into the correct bins, sweep all the floors, and move all the books and games to the basement. Help them prioritize how to get it done. 

Start assigning responsibility early. Let them know what you expect from them as early as possible. Don’t wait until they are trying to sleep in and start yelling, “Why aren’t you up yet? Its 11:30 am and I need help!”

No one, including adults, enjoys endless hours of labor with no reward. Remind them that after they help out they can go out with friends and you will be glad to give them money for pizza and ice cream. But most importantly don’t be stingy with praise. Make sure they know that they are appreciated.

Have a wonderful and meaningful Pesach!

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