Friday, July 25, 2008

Lazy Child or Normal Child?


Dear Jane,

I am an American living in Germany and have been buying your books. They are great books with wonderful ideas, and I have had some success using the suggestions. Unfortunately real life cannot be completely covered in a book, and so I have a question. I have browsed through the previous questions but have not found anything to help.

I have two boys. My older son Jason is seven and has just completed first grade. We should have named him Calvin after the Calvin and Hobbes comics because Jason also has a very active imagination. After reading my first book of yours when he was about four, I agreed that discipline is not the best way (it just doesn't work on Jason), and wanted to try natural and logical consequences, but it just isn't working.

Jason is basically a very good child and doesn't "misbehave", but due to his energy and imagination we sometimes need to keep his activities in check. Whereas most children are glad to help when asked, or are eager to learn how to do something "correctly" like the adults, Jason is only interested in having fun, being creative and trying things out. Therefore our attempts at involving him by having him vacuum (for example) did not work because he would vacuum the sofa for half an hour because he likes the little nozzle attachment, and then quit, or at the most do a swipe or two across the floor.

The current problems are that he throws his clothes on the floor, or even hides them in corners or under the bed, and that he constantly "forgets" to flush the toilet. I have tried gathering his clothes and storing them in the laundry room until he doesn't have anything more to wear. When that time came he asked me to give him a chance and promised to be better. That lasted a week. Now we do the only thing that works - we say he can't watch TV until his room is picked up. TV is the only leverage that really works. He is only allowed half an hour each evening because he is so obsessed and would like to watch all day.

As for the toilet, we tried locking the door for 24 hours with the key up high so that only my husband and I could reach it. That meant that Jason had to use our bathroom in the basement, which was an inconvenience. That also helped for about a week, and after the second time it helped longer, but he keeps slipping back into old habits. My husband and I are tired of constantly having to remind Jason of things which should be routine by now. Either we must check each time he leaves the bathroom, or we get a nasty surprise later.

Do you have any suggestions on how we can encourage and empower our "lazy" child?

Thanks and best regards,



Hi Evelyn--all the way in Germany. Isn't the Internet amazing!!!

I'm going to skip way to the bottom and start by saying that your son sounds normal to me--not lazy. I have not encountered many (if any) of what you say: "most children are glad to help when asked, or are eager to learn how to do something "correctly" like the adults." This is why we need many different tools to encourage children over and over. This is called "parenting."

You are correct in saying that "real life" can't be covered in a book, but a basic philosophy and principles can. I often tell people to "hear" the principles behind the "Positive Discipline parenting tools." Otherwise, the tools will seem techniquey and they won't work. And, principles can be applied in many different ways when you take them into your heart and your own wisdom.

I'm not sure which version of the Positive Discipline books you have, but the latest versions avoid logical consequences in favor of focusing on solutions, because most parents try to disguise punishment by calling it a logical consequence. Please go to and read the article No More Logical Consequences--At Least Hardly Ever. This article is now incorporated into the lastest edition of Positive Discipline, but you can read it here in case you don't have that edition. While you are on the website, go to the free podcasts and listen to  "Focus on Solutions". You'll enjoy hearing how Marianne solved her problem. However, I must warn you that some people have tried Marianne's suggestion in a techniquey way and found it did not work. Kids smell techniques and resist them. And, you'll note that Marianne incorporated many of the other Positive Discipline suggestions to create an atmosphere of the family working together to focus on solutions. "Focusing on Solutions" is now a huge theme of Positive Discipline--as is "Connection before Correction."

Also, we now have Five Criteria for Effective Discipline as follows:

1. Helps children feel a sense of connection? (Belonging and Significance)
2. Is kind and firm at the same time. (Respectful and encouraging)
3. Is effective long-term, (Punishment works short term, but has negative long-term results.)
4. Teaches valuable social and life skills for good character? (Respect, concern for others, problem-solving, cooperation)
5. Invites children to discover how capable they are? (Encourages the constructive use of personal power and autonomy)

Punishment does not meet any of these criteria, but all of the MANY Positive Discipline parenting tools do. Now that you have some background, here are two suggestions. (Remember there are many more possibilities--but that would require a whole book. :-)

1. Have regular weekly family meetings. This is a very powerful tool the helps children feel belonging and significance while using their personal power to focus on compliments for every member of the family and then of brainstorming for solutions to problems. These are skills that will serve them throughout their lives. When children are involved in the solutions they feel more capable and are more willing to follow the guidelines they create--for awhile. That "for awhile" is very important for parents to understand. One mother shared with me that the kids came up with a plan during a family meeting to get the chores done. She said it lasted only a little longer than a week, "so that didn't work." I asked her if she had found anything else that got her kids to do their chores for a whole week. She admitted that she hadn't, so I encouraged her to keep having family meetings so the family could keep coming up with new ideas for getting chores done.

2. Stop "telling" and start "asking." I cover this much more thoroughly in the Positive Discipline books, but will give a brief overview here. How would you feel if someone was always telling you what to do and when to do it? Kids usually resent and resist so much parental control. It is much more effective to ask. Following are some examples of what "telling parents" say and what "asking parents" say. In our Positive Discipline Workshops we ask for 9 "telling parent" volunteers line up on one side of the room, and 9 "asking parent" volunteers to line up on the other side of the room. We then give each of them a statement from the lists. Then we ask for a parent to volunteer to role-play a child who first stands in front of a "telling parent" to listen to the first statement, and then walks across the room to hear the first statement from an "asking parent." The "child" continues back and forth until she has hear all 18 statements.

It is very funny and revealing to watch the body language of the person role-playing the child. The "child" becomes more and more resistant to going to the "telling" line and "interested" in going to the "asking" line. Participants watch the child thoughtfully process the messages from the "asking" parents.

Telling Parent

1. Go brush your teeth.
2. Don’t forget your coat.
3. Go to bed.
4. Do your homework.
5. Stop fighting with your brother.
6. Put your dishes in the dishwasher.
7. Hurry up and get dressed or you’ll miss the bus.
8. Stop whining.
9. Pick up your toys.

Asking Parent

1. What do you need to do if you don’t want your teeth to feel skuzzy?
2. What do you need if you don’t want to be cold outside?
3. What do you need to do to get ready for bed?
4. What is your plan for doing your homework?
5. What can you and your brother do to solve this problem?
6. What do you need to do with your dishes after you have finished eating?
7. What do you need to do so you won’t miss the bus?
8. What words can you use so I can hear you?
9. What do you need to do with your toys when you are finished playing with them?

When we process with the "child" about what she was thinking, feeling, and deciding, she shares how resentful and resistant she felt when going to the "telling" parents and how thought and more likely to feel cooperative when going to the "asking" parents.

It is important for parents to understand the "education" comes from the Latin word "educare," which means "to draw forth." Too often parents try to "stuff in" and then wonder why their "telling" goes in one ear and out the other.

I hope this helps.

Jane Nelsen


Christina B. said...

So Jane.... now after the asking parent has done all the Asking she can And still gets know what?

I believe my child is just plain lazy....
He doesnt do ANYTHING I ask him to do without a fight...
It turns into a fight because he just ignores me, then I yell
At's a vicious cycle...any suggestions ? Please help!

Frustrated asking Parent...very tired of asking...

Anonymous said...

Ha, just hope all the future employers of these children have read the necessary books on how to `ask' them and draw them forth into doing their work ( and have enough hours in the day for all the warm fuzzy meetings). Sometimes they have to learn to accept stuff just has to be done!
Sorry just a fed up teacher with a room half full of lazy children (the other half are terrific kids with down to earth commonsense parents).

Jane Nelsen said...

There is a misconception that Positive Discipline is permissive. Focusing on solutions is respectful, but not permissive. Do we really want to live in a world where people only do the right thing when they are forced to do it. The goal is to help children learn respectful, self-motivated behavior. Employers love self-motivated employees.