Question:

I am having issues with my nine year old son.  He has such a bad and lazy attitude about school, school work, and homework (and most things he is told to do).  He has the ability to do the work, but he seems to don’t care.  He has been like this since kindergarten; so I know it’s not the teachers.  The teachers complain about him not using his time wisely, or just playing around.  I have the same thing at home when I have him do his homework.  I have tried behavior charts, spanking, grounding, taking away privileges, giving rewards.  Sometimes they work and then it gets ‘old’ to him and it stops working (mostly after a day or two).  I get him to work best, when the ‘pressure’ is on him and I get almost ‘hateful’, then he does it.  But then I feel so worn out and hateful, that I almost can’t stand it.  I have to do this almost every night.

Please help me. Do you have any suggestions?


Answer:

I think you touched on the answer without realizing it. When you gave consequences to his actions, they worked for a while, but when he relapsed, you gave up. Thus over the last several years you taught him that if he just waits long enough, mom is going to get tired of this new fad and he can go back to doing as he wishes.

Whenever you learn a new thing, there are going to be times when you don't do so well. When you first learned to ride a bicycle, you probably fell more than you rode, I know I did. But once you mastered it, it didn't mean you never fell again, it just meant the falls were less frequent. But each and every time you fell it hurt and that encouraged you to try harder not to fall again.

It is absolutely critical that you subdue this laziness now because the adolescent years are rapidly approaching and all your problems are going to be magnified. So, let's work on it while it is easier. Not that it is going to be totally easy, you have roughly four years of bad training to undo. Since this is a long term project, you need a strategy that you can keep in place that doesn't wear you out.

"It is good for a man to bear the yoke in his youth" (Lamentations 3:27).

A yoke is the harness used to on oxen to pull a plow. Farmers knew that if you waited until adulthood to put a yoke on an ox, the ox will do everything in its power to remove it -- and adult oxen are powerful. You won't get much out of that ox. But if you put a light yoke on a young ox, then it gets used to the weight and by the time it is an adult it doesn't think anything about carrying a yoke. The same goes for people. The time to expect some light responsibilities is when they are young so that when they get to be adults they are ready to shoulder the responsibilities.

"For even when we were with you, we commanded you this: If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat" (II Thessalonians 3:10).

If an adult won't work, he shouldn't expect to eat. Now children need to be feed to grow properly, but we can use the same principle. Your child enjoys a lot of privileges that you might not think about, you ought to make a list:

  • Deserts, treats, and candy.
  • Video games, movies, television, computers.
  • Toys
  • Outings with friends

What you are looking for are things with multiple benefits. For instance, since your son is naturally lazy I would target those things which keep him inactive and fat. He'll adapt and find his own toys, such as sticks in the yard. That is fine. Your goal isn't to keep him from doing anything. You want him using his creativity and be active. He just can't use the fun things he is accustomed to using.

The second thing is that you are going to stop rescuing him from his own laziness. Remind him that homework must be done, after all, he is only nine, but don't stand over him to make him do it. That is his responsibility and not yours. Talk with his teacher and ask if you might check with him or her each Friday to see if he has turned in his assignments for the week and that they were reasonably done (though perhaps not completely accurate). If the answer that week is "no," your boy loses a good chunk of privileges for the next week. You'll have to make sure that he can't break the rules when you're not there, so physically take the "no-no"s out of the house or put them under lock (hint: a great way to lock up a computer is to lock up the power cord).

He'll complain about being bored and having nothing to do, but just shrug your shoulders and say, "That's your responsibility, not mine; but if you need some activity, the toilet needs scrubbing." And continue to sweetly remind him when it's time to work on his homework.

Depending on how stubborn he is, it might take several weeks for it to sink in that he isn't getting the extras in life until he puts some work into it.

Treat home chores in the same way. Tell him in advance what needs to be done and when it needs to be completed. But make sure the deadline is just before something that is important to him, such as dinner. For example, "Johnny, you need to have your room picked up before dinner." Come dinner time, look in Johnny's room and if it still looks like a cyclone hit it, put out one less plate for dinner. When Johnny comes wandering in wanting to know where his dinner is, just sweetly remind him that dinner comes after his room is picked up. When he comes back in five minutes announcing it is done, then you say, "Oh, good! Let's go see!" You can then point you that stuffing everything under the bed and in the closet doesn't count as cleaning the room. But when it is actually clean, dinner will be waiting for him.

In all of this you are not shouldering any of his burdens. He either takes them up, or he does without. Even once he starts to improve, the rules don't change. You check for the rest of the year with the teacher (you can't get lazy either). You don't make exceptions to your rules about when a chore needs to be done. And in all of this you are sweet but firm.

It is possible that this new way of life might bring out the worse in your son. He might get it in his head that he will force things back to the way things were. When that happens, you bring out the more severe punishments, such as spankings in response to violent or willful misbehavior, or sending him to his room in response to tantrums. Since he is naturally lazy I doubt such will last long anyway, but once again you must have a consistent response to each misbehavior.