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Q: Our son won’t do his homework! He’s smart and capable; he’d just rather play or watch TV. I don’t want to see him fall behind in school, so I have to monitor him at every step. What can I do?
Jim: It’s hard to say for certain without knowing all the details (such as his age), but this sounds like it might be an opportune time for what Dr. Kevin Leman calls “reality discipline.”
This method is less exhausting and more successful than ranting, raving, blaming, pleading, begging or threatening. It helps children learn to think for themselves and to become more responsible through guidance and action-oriented techniques. Dr. Leman says, “Action-oriented discipline is based on the reality that there are times when you have to pull the rug out and let the little buzzards tumble. I mean disciplining your children in such a way that he/she accepts responsibility and learns accountability for his actions.”
When it comes to your son and his homework, we’d suggest that you stop “monitoring him at every step.” Let him see what happens when he turns in an assignment late, or fails to turn it in at all. He needs to discover that his actions, or in this case, inactions, have consequences. And he needs to understand that you will not always bail him out when he fails to take responsibility.
Your desire to see him not fall behind in school is admirable, but again, you’re not doing him any favors by making his homework your burden. A few missed assignments will not doom him for life. In fact, they very well may be just the motivation he needs to start doing his homework.
Q: Our daughter is out of control with her lying. It isn’t just big things; she lies about everything. We have taken privileges away and disciplined her, and nothing seems to help. Why does she do this? And is there something we can do to help her understand the deceit behind the lying?
Leon Wirth, executive director of Parenting and Youth: Virtually every child lies at some point, but some seem to make an art out of it. We’re sorry for the stress this has placed on your family.
First, it’s important to note that preschool-age children do not fully comprehend the difference between lies and the truth. Parents with young kids need to be sure they understand this difference before lowering the boom.
It sounds like your daughter is old enough to know what she’s doing, however. The question you need to ask is, “Why?” Is she lying to avoid unpleasant consequences or to gain an advantage of some sort? Or is she using lying as a means of getting your attention? Dishonesty is never justified, but sit down with her and see if you can ascertain what might be at the root of her behavior. Make sure she understands that it’s important for her to always tell you the truth, even when it hurts her to do so.
You mentioned that taking privileges away hasn’t helped. But maybe you just need to find out what’s important to her. There’s no value in barring her from the TV if she’s not really that invested in watching TV. When determining consequences for misbehavior, it’s important to identify those things that will truly motivate a child to do better.
Finally, be aware of the example you’re setting in this regard. The best way to teach honesty is to be honest. If you find yourself taking liberties with the truth, you’ll have little authority in preventing your daughter from doing the same.
Jim Daly is a husband and father, an author, and president of Focus on the Family and host of the Focus on the Family radio program. Catch up with him at www.jimdalyblog.com or at www.facebook.com/DalyFocus.
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