Q: My 11-year-old son cuts corners on everything. If he does a chore, hell leave the cleaning products behind. If his bed is hard to make, he hides the sheet in the closet and throws the blanket over the bed. Concerning his schoolwork, he doesnt bother studying for tests (figuring he gets As anyway). Were now seeing this in his soccer practices. How can we get a handle on this bad habit?
A: Because its not blatant, as in blatant disrespect or disobedience, this sort of problem can be difficult to get a handle on. Todays parents believe that for every behavior problem, theres a solution. Parents can only put pressure, in the form of consequences of one sort or another, on a child in hope that the pressure will motivate the child to solve it. Some children give in to the pressure, some dont. Sometimes, a child doesnt solve a problem until hes in a state of crisis because of it, and the crisis in question may not occur until hes well into adulthood.
When parents use consequences in the mistaken belief that there is a magic consequence that will solve the problem, they miss the point and are possibly setting themselves up to fail. The purpose of consequences is to demonstrate that in the real world, bad behavior causes bad things to happen, sooner or later. Hopefully, the child will get it and solve the problem.
If, however, the child doesnt solve the problem, that doesnt necessarily mean the consequence was not the right one. That belief often causes parents to try one consequence after another in a chaotic attempt to find the one that will turn the proverbial wheel. Perhaps the consequence in question was insufficient it didnt apply enough pressure. On the other hand, it may well be that the consequence was sufficient, but the child wasnt ready.
My recommendation is that you focus on one problem area at a time and one only. Start with chores. Make a list of the specific things he does to cut corners where chores are concerned. Suspend a privilege or package of privileges until hes solved the cutting corners when he does chores problem and has had no relapses for a month. Mind you, his rehabilitation may take four weeks; then again, it may take four months or four years. Be ready to hang in there and continue imposing the consequence(s) until he gets it. And be ready to accept that you are not the appointed agents of change concerning this problem. The appointed agent of change may not enter his life until hes 45 years old. Weve all seen that happen, havent we?
Heres what I call the Hang In There Principle: If a child does wrong things, and the childs parents do right things, and the child keeps on doing wrong things, then the childs parents should simply keep on doing the right things.