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Stepson Not Helping with Chores

Middle School Expert Advice from Connie Collins

Q: I am the stepmom of a wonderful but moody 11-year-old. He gets easily frustrated, especially when he is disciplined for doing something wrong, or is asked to do his fair share around the house (by his dad). While his older brother (14) and younger stepbrothers (5 and 7) do their chores, he rebels and retreats to his room, won't talk, or yells back that he is being unfairly treated. He quits games when he feels he cannot win. He primarily resides with his mom, brother, and off and on with mom's boyfriend (a married man). I've approached his dad about getting him some counseling (his grades are suffering, too) but after talking it over with his ex-wife, they felt I was overreacting. How can I help without interfering?

A: In your home, you have every right to set the boundaries and limits for your stepson. This is not interference - it's maintaining a peaceful home. Although you cannot do anything about what happens in the time he spends with his mom, you can determine the rules and consequences for the time he spends in your home. Those should include helping around the house, playing fairly, and managing his anger. It should also include the consequences for appropriate and inappropriate behavior. You can explain that it is okay if the rules are different at his mom's house -- these are the rules for your home.

You are probably right that his school work is being affected by the lack of boundaries. I don't know that counseling for him without counseling for the entire family would be effective. On the other hand, a support group for children of divorce could be especially helpful to everyone in the family. You and his father might check into whether such groups are offered at his school or through a local marriage and family counseling group.

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Connie Collins, professional school counselor, worked for 35 years in public education as a teacher and counselor at the middle school and secondary levels. Collins worked daily with the parents of the students in her various schools, and has facilitated several parenting groups.


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