The Stupid Tax

I let my son use my car for an extended period. The agreement was he was responsible for all things related to that car while in his care. He chose to not think about parking restrictions and a ticket ensued, he ignored it, and sometime later I got a letter from the city because my name was on the title. In the meantime, another ticket was awarded, and the car was impounded. This was my son whom I thought I had raised to be responsible. It seems he hadn’t quite connected his behavior with the consequences of disregarding local parking laws. Apparently I had missed helping him learn this lesson when he was younger and now he was to get a really expensive lesson on the subject.

Yes, it was/is my job to help him learn to connect his behavior with real consequences. But here is an opportunity for him to learn this lesson even if it seemed a bit late. I called him up and told him the city had me on the hook for these tickets and impound fees.

His response warmed my heart. He apologized and said he would take care of it. Later I was to find out that taking responsibility at that time cost him around $1500.00. If he had taken responsibility before the tickets it would have cost him very little, maybe some time and little effort to park it out of the way. But he didn’t and got a$1500 lesson on linking his behavior with their consequences. He called it a “Stupid Tax”, hard to argue with that assessment. I also learned a lesson. Consequences act like inflation, as time goes by the costs go up.

So when do you start and how do you help them link their behavior with natural consequences while the consequences are still cheap? Let’s say for example your child doesn’t want to eat dinner. You know what’s going to happen, so you could try to force him to eat. But getting into food fights with your child is a lose-lose for everybody involved. So don’t. If he doesn’t want to eat let it be. Even though you have connected that decision with the logical consequences he hasn’t. What he has learned (because you have taught him) is that you will absolve him of the consequences by assuming the consequences yourself. You will stop whatever you are doing to attend to his self-induced and totally avoidable hunger. All the while likely grousing, feeling taken advantage of and thinking if he had eaten the dinner you had already prepared, you wouldn’t be in the kitchen now and knowing something isn’t right about this.

This is what is called a lose-win, a clear “lose” for you and a “win” for him because the only consequence to him is an annoyed and grousing parent which he has learned he can ignore.

Here is how to turn this into a win-win. When he does come to you asking you to fix his totally avoidable and self-induced hunger, use a two-pronged approach. In your sincere empathic voice say something like, ” That’s terrible, I am sorry to hear that. I would be hungry to if I hadn’t eaten my dinner (I know it may be hard but resist the temptation of putting in a dig here). The good news is that in the morning I will fix you a big breakfast and you can eat all you want then. Won’t that be great? I’ll bet you will enjoy that.” This is why it is a “win-win”, a win for him because he has the opportunity to connect a natural consequence of his decision not to eat, at a really cheap price. He’s a little hungry for awhile, assuming he actually won’t die of starvation overnight, and a win for you because you are helping him to learn an important lesson. One that will serve him well for the rest of his life and possibly save him $1500.00 later, and you get to feel good about your parenting.

Many of you reading this are saying to yourself,” If I don’t get him something to eat, he will nag me until I do”. Here is a lesson for you: Kids keep nagging when they have learned from you it works. They will stop nagging when they learn from you it doesn’t work. Another lesson better learned sooner than later.

Author Leonard (Len) Paauwe, Founder of The Family Coaches. Len can be reached at 616 238 2351 or