I frequently work with families where academic performance is deteriorating, and parents are tired of battling and arguing with their child over homework.  Often, these same families are struggling with behavioral issues and simple daily routines, such as getting their son or daughter out of bed and into their schoolwork in the morning.  The changes schools have made in response to COVID has improved some of the struggles when children are learning from home, but not completely.  

In many of these families, other household responsibilities have long been abandoned due to the futile battles only ending in horrible emotions and wasted energy.  Depending upon the age of the child, this situation now requires considerable effort to turn the negative momentum around.  For many parents, they wonder where they went wrong and are confused about what to do next.  Some become hopeless and simply stop trying.  Please don’t give up!

Teaching Irresponsible Traits, When We Don’t Mean To

If we focus on this child, who is now failing, and ‘diagnose’ the end result of years of poor choices, we can get lost and overwhelmed.  We might see only the end result:  ‘apathy toward school’ or ‘negativity’ or ‘sadness.’  All of these are almost inevitable if not predictable when months or years of poor choices have accumulated to the point of a crisis.  

However, looking back over time, we can see the obvious failure to instill self-discipline.  Self-discipline is the ultimate buffer or protector of your child’s future!  The current culture has supported the view that parents should be the ones pushing the homework and daily routines.  Mom and Dad should endlessly keep prodding and encouraging, doing more as time goes on and children doing less and less.  This is a tragic mistake because this instills the opposite of self-discipline.  

Just this week, one of my coaching clients made this comment now that her 20-year-old son has returned home from college due to a COVID outbreak; “I do everything for him.  Yet, he will do nothing I ask him to do.  Why shouldn’t I yell at him?  He is so irresponsible!”

That situation is a perfect example of what happens when we, as parents, do all the heavy lifting of responsibilities in life.  Children grow up learning that ‘it’s your job, Mom…to figure this stuff out…to remind me endlessly…and to save me when I fail.  It’s certainly not my job to pick up my mess or keep my room clean!’   Such comments are common and the inevitable consequence of over-functioning as a parent.  Words don’t matter here.  Our actions have taught them to be irresponsible. 

With self-discipline comes the reward of that discipline and good effort.  With those very rewards of good effort, life creates a self-pleasing cycle that generates more and more positive results.  How could we possibly ignore the importance of this critical trait?  I believe we are simply missing the important early cues.

What Poisonous Patterns (Cues) Are We Missing?

Many of us are lucky.  Our children are bright, talented, and capable.  With these wonderful traits also come certain tendencies, which will undermine their long term success.  These are poison to the growth of self-discipline!  Here are a few of those patterns we must look for:

  • Little effort is put into homework; we push and push daily.
  • Disdain for school or academics or chores or any responsibility
  • Procrastination of homework or projects, yet mom makes it happen
  • Everywhere we turn, Mom or Dad works harder at their success than they do
  • Offering excuses (that we believe or allow), but we step up to get it done
  • Letting them ‘off the hook’ when they complain or resist their ‘responsibilities.’
  • Putting sports, play, video games or TV BEFORE homework or responsibilities
  • Expecting them to get it done because they said they would.  Then only yell at them. 
  • Believing that it is the teacher’s job to educate about discipline
  • Great grades come easy, so little effort is practiced.   
  • Sleeping in or waiting till the last moment on everything.
  • Lies and deception over work assignments & we fail to get a good correction plan in place.
  • Great kids and great relationships but poor efforts, which we accept.

What Can We Do If We See These Patterns?

First, we must recognize that self-discipline usually needs to be taught.  And the first way that we teach is through what we model.  When we teach our children, young or old, that we will overlook their irresponsible habits and then step in to push, prod, yell and even do it for them, then we are creating an inevitable system that is designed to fail.  We must change this if we want to teach our children self-discipline. 

Secondly, self-discipline is predictable if we have a clear system of parenting.  It is not predictable if we rely upon lectures or discussions or ‘good relationships’ with our children.  It is almost guaranteed that your children will become the opposite of disciplined when we end up doing the heavy lifting for them.

The system must not be complex, but instead, the system should reflect how the real world works.  In other words, the system should reflect reality.  In the world of reality, we are rewarded not for our IQ.  Not for our talent.  Not for our charm.  Yes, these are all huge advantages, but ONLY when combined with sustained effort.

Therefore, the system we adopt must hold our children accountable for their best effort!   Not provide rewards for little or no effort.  If we do so, we will sow the seeds of thinking that I deserve it all, even though I give very little.  

While more is required to lay out the full system, start today with realizing that prodding, pushing, and yelling are not parenting systems.  These are relationship and self-esteem destroyers.  So please keep reading in the weeks ahead, or explore the articles on TerrificParenting.com, so you can adopt a system that brings results while preserving relationships and your child’s self-esteem.