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November 28, 2013

Apply ‘hang in there principle’ to help son stop cutting corners

NORMAN — Q: My 11-year-old son cuts corners on everything. If he does a chore, he’ll 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 doesn’t bother studying for tests (figuring he gets A’s anyway). We’re now seeing this in his soccer practices, where he’s started literally cutting corners. How can we get a handle on this bad habit?

 

A: Because it’s not “blatant,” as in blatant disrespect or disobedience, this sort of problem can be difficult to get a handle on. Today’s parents believe in “parenting technology” — that for every behavior problem, there’s a solution.

The fact is parents cannot solve all of the possible problems a child may develop. They can’t solve any of those problems, in fact. It doesn’t matter what the problem is, 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 don’t. Sometimes, a child doesn’t solve a problem until he’s in a state of crisis because of it, and the crisis in question may not occur until he’s well into adulthood.

When parents use consequences in the mistaken belief that there is a magic consequence that will solve the problem in question, they miss the point and are possibly setting themselves up to fail.

The purpose of consequences is simply 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 doesn’t solve the problem, that doesn’t necessarily mean the consequence was not the right one to use. That belief often causes parents to try one consequence after another in a rather chaotic attempt to find the one that will turn the proverbial wheel.

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