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What do to when your kid says, ‘I’ll do it later’

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Sometimes when you're a parent, it can seem like all your requests fall on deaf ears. Does the following exchange sound familiar?

Hayden's mother to her 15-year-old son:

"Hayden, would you please take the towels from the bathroom and put them in the hamper next to the washing machine?"

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"I'll do it later. I promise."

"No, Hayden, I want you to do it now."

"I said I would. Just not right now."

"I don't want to have to remind you again."

"I'm going to do it, okay?"

And then a few hours later …

"Hayden, I asked you to take the towels to the laundry room. I want you to do it now."

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"You don't have to keep bugging me. I said I'd do it."


"Later. I'm busy. I will do it."

Still later …

"Hayden, I am sick and tired of this. Take care of the towels, now."

"Mom, get off my back. You're starting to get really aggravating, you know that?"

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"I'm aggravating? I'm aggravating?"

"Yeah, you don't believe anything I say."

"I'm aggravating?"

The problem with "later" is that it usually means never.

There is little in parenting a teenager that can be more frustrating than hearing, "I'll do it later." Our requests regularly yield little action, yet often spark big fights.

But as Hayden explains:

"Everything has to be when she wants it. It always has to be her way. She has no consideration at all of what I'm doing. I am planning to do it and I will. But it's not always going to be exactly when she wants it. I will do it."

Teens really believe this. But the truth is, they so often don't follow through on their promises.

"I was going to do it. I was. I just got really tired. And I forgot. People forget, I'm human. I have a lot of things on my mind. Besides, if she wants it done right then, why can't she do it herself?"

Teens can often hear our reasonable requests as nagging.

"Yeah, and it makes me not want to do it – out of resentment."

My suggestion: If you want to let them do it later, that's fine. That's your choice. But then if later comes and it's still not done, don't waste energy on getting upset at them because they reneged on their promise. Each new time has to be dealt with as if you are starting over. But the best rule is, unless you feel that their reason for later is a good one – or you know that you can rely on them to actually do it later – have them do it now.

It's your prerogative to make them do it now – at your convenience – even if it may not be the best time for them. You are allowed to be selfish; you are, after all, running a household. They are supposed to be a help, not a hindrance. You can't always wait for their ideal time. It just doesn't work. If you want the task done, have them do it in front of you.

"Hayden, would you please take the towels from the bathroom and put them in the hamper next to the washing machine."

"I will, later. I promise."

"No, Hayden, I want you to do it now."

"I said I will. Just not now. I'll do it later."

And here you have to stand your ground.

"No, Hayden, now."

"Stop nagging me. I said I would do it. I will."

But at this point you do nothing. You just stand there – and wait.

"I'm going to do it. I told you I'm going to do it."


"I'm going to do it. I said I was going to do it."

More silence.

"You are impossible! Why did I have to get you as a mother?"

Even more silence.

"Okay, okay. I'm doing it. Look. I'm doing it."

"Thank you, Hayden."

The best time for later is now.

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