Who has a problem, who should have a problem?

The following is slightly modified material from my upcoming parenting book: The Loving AND Effective Parent. Pronouns are random.

1)   Who has a problem?  Who should have a problem?

That is one of the eight principles in the “Development & Discipline” section of the book.

In many families when a child misbehaves or fails to be responsible it becomes a problem for the parent, not the child.  These parents take on the responsibility of the misbehavior and make it their burden.  That is not how it should be.  

Actually, that is the opposite of how it should be.  If a child misbehaves, that should be a problem the child needs to solve, not the parent.  It should be the child’s burden.  But what happens when the child’s misbehavior is working for them? 

10 year old boy does not want to clean his room

Kevin’s room is always a mess, and he hates to clean it.  It drives both his parents crazy, but they handle it in different ways.  On room cleaning days, Kevin’s dad comes in and lets loose all his frustration about Kevin’s cleanliness habits.  

“When I was a boy, I didn’t even have my own room!  The corner of the room I did have, I had to keep clean.  My dad would wallop me if I didn’t.  You have all this stuff and you don’t even care enough to keep it picked up!  I should take it all away!”  This would go on for about three intense minutes and then Kevin’s dad would leave the room and not come back.  He did this almost every time.

Kevin’s mom would come in next and nag Kevin, but she wouldn’t leave.  She would keep after him with a nonstop lecture about how important good habits are.  As she delivered this very-compelling-in-her-own-mind oratory, she slowly picked up the room.  Kevin would pretend to be helping and listening.  This happened every time.

So, who has a problem?  

The parents have a problem.  They are both upset and frustrated with the situation, and they get into arguments with each other about it.

Who does not have a problem?  

Kevin.  He is more than willing to listen to his dad’s three minute venting instead of cleaning up his room.  The truth is Kevin almost knows that speech by heart.  Kevin also has to listen to his mom’s never-ending lecture, but she does eventually clean the room.  Kevin does wish she would talk less and work faster, but overall it is still much better than cleaning the room himself.  

As it is now, Kevin is not going to change his behavior because he has no reason to.  He does not have a problem.  Why should he change?  There needs to be a good reason for Kevin to start cleaning his room.  Having an unclean room needs to be a problem for Kevin, not his parents.  Only then will Kevin start thinking about solving that problem.  

What are the value and effectiveness of Kevin’s parents’ words?

Is the responsibility being kept where it belongs?

She won’t take no for an answer

Kara watches her dad unroll his Saturday morning newspaper and sit in the big chair.  She waits until he looks comfortable and content.

“Can I go to the mall with Tiffany?  Her brother is driving.”

“You already know the answer to that.”

“What?  No I don’t.”

“We discussed this last night.  You have to finish cleaning the bathroom first.” 

“But dad, her brother can only drive us this morning.”

“Kara, you need to learn that no means no.”

“Dad, I know that, but I have a ride so I won’t have to bother you or mom.”

“But you agreed last night you would clean the bathroom before you did anything else.”

“I know, but I can always do it when I get home.”

“You could have done it last night.”

“Dad!  I can’t clean the bathroom Friday night.  Everybody is online Friday night.  I have to be there.”

“Well, I’m sorry.  Your mom and I already told you no.”

“Dad!  This is important.  I will clean the bathroom when I get home.”

“Why do you always have to argue?”

“Dad, I will clean the bathroom when I get home.  I promise.”

“Last night you said you would clean the bathroom this morning.”

“But that was before I knew Tiffany could get a ride to the mall.  That’s not my fault!”

“Nothing is ever your fault.  Why can’t you just do what you say you will do?”

“I will, dad.  I will when I get home.  Just let me go.  I won’t bother you anymore.”

“If I say yes, will you clean the bathroom as soon as you get home?”

“Of course, daddy.”

“Then go.  But you have to do the bathroom when you get home, and I mean it!”

“I know.  You are the best!”

So, who has a problem?  

The parents have a problem.  They are tired, they are frustrated, they are upset.  They are worn out from Kara’s never-ending determination to get her own way.  “No” never means no to her.  

Who does not have a problem?  

Kara does not have a problem.  Yes, it takes effort and persistence to get her parents to change their minds, but it is definitely worth it.  She gets her way most of the time.  She wishes things were more pleasant and easy with her parents, but overall she has no real regrets.

What are the value and effectiveness of Kara’s parents’ words?

Is the responsibility being kept where it belongs?

Late for work, again

Cindy loves to get attention from her mom, especially on workday mornings.  Cindy is four and knows how to dress herself, but she cannot resist the crazy, fun attention she gets when her mom is running late for work.

“You had better be dressed in five minutes or we are going to be late, again,” her mom yells as she looks into Cindy’s room, “and I mean it this time!”  Cindy’s mom has already laid the clothes out on the bed in an attempt to move things along.  

Cindy knows this is just the beginning.  Slowly she reaches for her other sock.  The first sock took three minutes to put on.  Mornings with mom are so much fun.

“Cindy, what are you doing?  What is taking you so long?  Don’t you remember what happened yesterday?”  Cindy’s mom rushes into her room, grabs the other sock and quickly puts it on.  “Now hurry up with your pants and top!”  Cindy’s mom runs out of the room to go put on her makeup.

Cindy wonders, “Mom put my sock on.  Maybe she’ll put my pants on too.”

“Mommy, help me with the pants.  It’s too hard!”

“Cindy, you know how to put your pants on.  You have done it a hundred times!  Why are you doing this to me?” Cindy’s mom yells down the hall.

“Help me, mommy!”  Cindy sits on the floor near the bed.

As Cindy’s mom walks quickly by Cindy’s door, she sees Cindy just sitting there on the floor.  “What are you doing?  Put your pants on right now!”

“Help me.” Cindy shows no signs of moving.

Cindy’s mom looks at her watch, rushes into the room and grabs the pants and pulls Cindy up onto her lap and starts helping with the pants.  Cindy is so happy.  Cindy’s mom is not.  

I am going to stop the story here, but you should not be surprised to know that Cindy’s mom was late for work again.

So, who has a problem?  

Cindy’s mom has a real problem.  She is frustrated and overwhelmed.  She is late for work.  Her workday mornings are a source of great stress.  

Who does not have a problem?

Cindy does not have a problem.  Cindy loves the intensity of the attention she is getting.  She loves the control she has over her morning’s entertainment.  Cindy has no intention of changing her behavior.  She has no reason to.  Until the problem of not getting dressed on time becomes Cindy’s problem, nothing will change.  

What are the value and effectiveness of Cindy’s mom’s words?

Is the responsibility being kept where it belongs?

*If Cindy not getting dressed on time is because she is not getting enough healthy attention or that is the only way she knows how to get attention, those issues need to be dealt with.  Until they are successfully resolved, getting Cindy’s cooperation in the mornings will always be a struggle.   We need to meet our children’s natural and legitimate need for love and attention.  Our heart connection needs to be strong and dependable.  Our development & discipline efforts rest on that foundation.

Can you think of any situations with your own children that follow these patterns?  Can you think of discipline situations that do not seem to resolve themselves - those “battles” you seem to fight over and over again?  If so, we should ask ourselves these two questions, “Who has a problem?  Who should have a problem?”  

Many times we will realize we are the only ones who really have a problem.  We are the only ones who are truly upset.  We are the ones putting in all the energy and effort.  Our children, on the other hand, have somehow made their peace with the situation.  They might not be happy about it, but they are not upset like we are.  They also have no intention of changing their behavior because they do not have a good enough reason to.  

That is the missing piece for many of us.  That is what we need to see and understand.  We are so focused on trying to “make” our children behave, we are blind to the fact that our children’s behavior actually makes sense under the circumstances.  They have logical and practical reasons for what they are doing.  Consciously or subconsciously, they are simply doing what is working for them.  Think about it from their point of view for a moment.  The situation might be a big nuisance or aggravation (Kevin), it might require effort and persistence (Kara), it might even be fun (Cindy), but as far as they are concerned, they do not have any kind of a problem that needs to be solved.      

That is what needs to change!  If that does not change, these situations will keep repeating themselves forever.  Until our children’s misbehavior becomes a problem for them, they won’t try to solve it.  Why should they?  If we want our children’s behavior to change, we have to give them a good enough reason to change it.  And I am not talking about punishment.  We can do much better than that as you will see.   Our children’s behavior is their responsibility.  It is their “problem” to solve.  Luckily for us, there are many loving AND effective ways we can help guide them through that wonderful challenge and adventure.   

In the “Methods and techniques” section under Consequences, we will learn more about making our children’s responsibilities their problem instead of ours through the wise, creative, and effective use of consequences.