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How to Train Your Dragon... I Mean Children

Training is the difference between cooperation and chaos, between discipline and punishment. Training gets results when everything else doesn't.

An overwhelmed mother emailed me seeking advice (weeks before the coronavirus outbreak but even more applicable now with the 'corona-crazies'). My first two responses are here:

In this post I'll address her next concern:

[I have tried to train the kids.] Kids are not doing their chores without circus acts by me. Half of the kids are teens and are both wonderful and terrible. The girls are self-motivated but resentful of the help I need from them.
The teen boy is wasting away, struggling with a lack of focus, lack of interests, and giving into distractions.  Last year he failed all his [online] classes. He’s no longer in an online school. I signed him up for your [husaband's] class. He enjoyed your lectures but wouldn’t stay up with the readings.  
He’s improved a tiny bit but still not doing anything, including chores, consistently. He fights and refuses to get into good habits or follow a schedule or routine. Early morning [religion class] gets him up but then he comes home and sleeps all day and stays up all night. 

You're doing the best you can. We all are.

[Especially during times of crisis.]

But sometimes we 'don't know what we don't know.'

And often the things we 'don't know' can improve our life (once we know about them).

There are skills and strategies that will help us be better parents, we just don't (yet) know about them, that's why we're struggling.

The good news?

This is NOT 'just the way things are'.

There ARE things you can do to make family life easier and more enjoyable (and to have more cooperation from your kids with less nagging and circus acts).

But first off, there is no try. Do or do not.

The wise words of Yoda. ^^^^^^

You can't TRY to train your children. You either train them or you don't train them. In fact, you are ALWAYS training them whether you are conscious of it or not.

Their behavior -- 'good' or 'bad', desirable or not -- IS actually 'training'.

They have been trained to behave that way. The training has just been unintentional or a by-product of reactive parenting (versus proactive parenting).

If you make an attempt to train them to do a certain thing and it doesn't work (which it's not likely to do on the first few attempts), then you have to attempt again, and again, and again, until you figure out what works.

It is a process of trial and error. And training them in any one way of thinking, acting, or behaving can take up to six months of repetition and instruction.

If you stop making attempts or instructing, then (I say this with all the love possible) you did NOT train them. You gave up.

The kids won't do chores and are resentful

"You don't rise to the level of your expectations. You fall to the level of your training."

Wise words by the Greek poet Archilochus.

This applies 200% to your children. They will NOT do what you expect them to do. They will ONLY do what you train them to do... so we go back to TRAINING (discussed above).

You've either trained them or you haven't. Once you train them then they will do the jobs without 'circus acts'.

Often that requires charts and accountability sessions and incentives (allowance, payment, screen time, etc.) and discussions and teaching and...

It also requires MAKING IT REAL.

Kids know when something REALLY matters and when you just say it matters.

One of the BEST things I ever did to help my kids mature was to pick a passion to pursue that FORCED me to train them to take over my job(s) as maid/cook/house cleaner/dishwasher.

Before I did this I was so busy being a mom -- cooking, preparing meals, cleaning up, etc. -- that I had NO time for personal pursuits.

But once I got serious about pursuing something I loved (for me that meant building a business), there came a point where I had no option but to get help. (This is actually a good thing).

I either had to give up my business, hire someone to help or have my kids do the work. When their help became a real 'need', my children rose to the challenge.

Once I stopped doing those chores and trained my children to do them -- and made the consequences real (if YOU don't cook dinner tonight than the family doesn't eat) -- then things got real. My kids grew up.

They started acting more adult-like because they had real responsibilities.

That doesn't mean they aren't sometimes resentful. It's tough to 'grow up' and be responsible!

I'm understanding of their feelings, but I gently remind them of all the benefits they are receiving (food, clothing, internet, devices to use) and all they have to do to 'pay' for them is to help out and 'add value' by doing their assigned jobs.

It's a win/win. :) And part of growing up.

This 'reality check' (done the right way) tends to quell any resentment.

My teen boy struggles with distraction and a lack of focus and interests. He fights and refuses to follow good habits.

This is not so uncommon. My husband, a family and teen coach, is regularly asked about this by parents.

The great news is that you can have an influence on him to help him change and 'grow up' so he's prepared for adulthood.

It starts by helping him to get into a good routine and to create good habits. Most teens won't do this unless they are trained to do it. It's his choice, of course, but there are benefits and/or consequences for not 'complying', just like in the 'real world'.

You can ask him to create a routine, or you can create one for him (I often do this until my teens are older).

In order for him to receive the full benefit of the privileges you provide, he will need to follow the schedule.

We often remind our children that the only 'rights' they receive from us are food, basic clothing, and shelter.

Everything else is a privilege -- internet, device usage, etc. -- privileges that need to be earned.

Using the internet (or any device) is NOT an automatic privilege. It is earned by:

  • Doing their personal morning routine (grooming, room cleaned, pray/read, breakfast and clean up)

  • If they do that ^^ then they are allowed to use the internet to do their studies (which I clearly lay out -- math, grammar, writing, literature, science or social studies).

  • If they do that ^^^ then they are allowed to use the internet for personal projects (art, music, science, etc.)

  • If they use that time wisely ^^^ AND do their daily chores, then they are allowed to use the internet for free time (chatting with friends, etc.)

  • If at any time they do NOT comply with any of the above, their internet is turned off (I am able to do this with an app from my internet provider, but Disney Circle and other devices also have this option).

  • You can see this on my example 'Internet Access Checklist'

  • You can see our sample daily routine here.

The most often reason teens won't 'do anything' to be productive or responsible and fight you about it is because they are receiving the benefits without doing the work. This is NOT how the world works.

Set up a 'mini world' in your own home that mirrors the real world. If your teen wants to do something while living with you (play video games, use the internet or device, or sometimes, eat) then they have to earn that privilege by adding value.

If he decides NOT to do the work or follow the routine, that's fine. But he does not receive the benefits if he doesn't do the work. After a few days of going without the things he wants he will be more willing to cooperate.

This is NOT manipulation. This is 'real-life'. If you wanted these things you would be expected to pay for them or trade for them. We should expect the same from our children. This is how we prepare them to be adults.

There's nothing to mature a person like real adult responsibility or expectations. And most kids won't take it on unless they HAVE to.

Better that they HAVE TO while living at home with you than when they get out on their own and have to flounder around figuring it out without your guidance.

Questions? Leave a comment below.


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