In their e-mail to me, his parents called him “The Laziest Kid in America” (TLKIA). The child in question, a third-grader, hides his clothes rather than putting them away properly, would sometimes rather poop in his britches than stop what he’s doing and go to the bathroom, forgets to bring work to or from school almost daily, and is nasty to his parents when they don’t give him his way. He’s bright, but his grades suffer because he doesn’t do his work.
His mother says that he would love being confined to his room with books only, because then he could be lazy all day, every day. He’s currently on restriction with no after-school activities, but he doesn’t seem to care at all about that.
This little guy is proof of the fact that proper consequences do not always produce proper behavior. Thus, the battle cry of many a teenager: “I don’t care what you do to me!”
Obviously, these parents are not in denial about their son’s problems. They are not enablers. They have punished him appropriately for his irresponsibility. Under the circumstances, his stubborn laziness can be regarded as a clever form of defiance. Without being assertive, TLKIA is nonetheless asserting that no one has authority over him, that no one can tell “the almighty him” what to do. The fact that his defiance is not outwardly defiant is what makes it so slippery and therefore so frustrating.
Most definitely, only an equally clever and slippery response will do, one that transfers the frustration from the parents to the child. At the present time, the monkey is on the parents’ backs. This child will not learn to tame this monkey until it’s riding on his back.
I advised the parents to sit down with TLKIA and tell him they have spoken to a doctor about his problems, and he advised them to create a list of all the unacceptable behaviors and affix it to the door of the refrigerator. Tell him that the doctor says his problems are all symptoms of sleep deprivation. Some children need more sleep than others, and some children have a very, very difficult time getting enough sleep. These sleepy children do things like poop in their pants and forget school work. The doctor says that sleep-deprived children often talk back at their parents, back talk being the sort of thing sleepy people do without thinking. Also tell TLKIA that sleep-deprived kids are usually smart kids. The better the brain works, the more sleep a person needs.
I further advised the parents to tell TLKIA that the doctor has said he must go to bed every night, seven days a week, lights out, at 6:30 until everything on the list posted on the refrigerator has completely disappeared for one month, including homework. During this time, he cannot watch television, use a computer, read books other than school textbooks, or participate in any after-school activity. If every symptom of sleep-deprivation disappears for three weeks and then TLKIA hides his clothes instead of putting them away, the month starts over again.
The perceptive reader may correctly surmise that this could take quite some time. That’s true, but then this problem didn’t develop overnight. I sense, furthermore, that these parents are just the people for the job.
Family psychologist John Rosemond is the director of the Center for Affirmative Parenting in Gastonia, North Carolina. For information about his talks and workshops, contact Tracy Owens-Jahn at firstname.lastname@example.org or (817) 295-1751.