There are times when a parent has no clue what to do. This especially happens when our innocent babies and precious toddlers become willful and defiant ‘tweens and teens. Kids capable of making choices out of laziness and disregard for their parents.
Poised, charming 23-year old Annie sat on the couch in my counseling office today and told me a brilliant parenting strategy that her dad pulled on her when she was a young teen.
As a middle-schooler, Annie used to leave her dirty dishes setting out on the kitchen counter. A very typical problem with kids – but an issue that many parents find hard to put an end to. Her single dad got on her case. He told her not to leave her dirty dishes sitting out in the kitchen.
Well, she thought she would test the limits and show him he couldn’t boss her around! She stopped leaving her dirty dishes in the kitchen. Instead, she started leaving them in her bedroom! Once he discovered her pile of dirty dishes with crusted-on food, he came up with a plan to deal with his defiant daughter. He went out and purchased the largest package of cheap paper plates that he could find.
The Effective “Opportunity to Learn”
Annie wasn’t allowed to use real plates again until she went through the entire stack of paper plates. For months, every meal she ate at home, she ate on a flimsy paper plate. Just think of your experience with cheap paper plates: the sauce soaks through, a knife cuts through the bottom, leaving little bits of paper in your food, and you surely can’t carry the thing around the house for fear it will collapse in half.
Annie hated this consequence.
By the end of the 3 months it took to use all of the paper, she was willing to (begrudgingly) scrape her plate and place it into the dishwasher.
The best thing about her dad’s delivery of this “opportunity to learn?” He never said a single word about it. Not one.
Ten years later, Annie admitted that it’s still an effort to rinse her plates and put them in the dishwasher in her little apartment, but she does it. With the consequence gift she got from her loving, patient, creative dad, she learned a lesson to last a lifetime.
Kerry Stutzman, MSW, LMFT
©2014 Kerry Stutzman, Head & Heart Parents
As author of the easy-to-read “Save Your Sanity” series, Kerry helps parents save their sanity and sense of humor while raising young children with love and laughter.