Parenting 101: Velma

Parenting 101: Velma

Velma says her 11-year-old son, Kristopher, "goes above and beyond not doing his homework."

To help Kristopher complete his work, she'll spend hours working on it with him. But even then, her son — who was getting A's and B's two years ago — often forgets to turn it in. When she asks him why, "he tells me he either wasn't in the mood for turning it in or he left it in his locker."

"We have taken away video game privileges and television privileges, and that is not working. It's very frustrating," says Velma, who fears that her son will drop out of school when he turns 16. "I'm at the end of my rope at this point."

Dr. Phil asks, "What's your theory here? Why are you spending six hours doing his homework and why do you think he's not bought into this?"

Velma says she believes that at this point, Kristopher thinks that if he sits there long enough and just scribbles and doodles, then he won't have to do his homework.

Dr. Phil presents a rule of human nature: "People will perform less desirable behavior in order to have access to more desirable behavior." For example, Kristopher will do his homework if it means getting something he wants. The key is to make it clear that if he chooses the behavior, he choose the consequences. The results must be clear and immediate. "You can't say if you get an 'F' at the end of six weeks, you're grounded for the next six weeks. That's too remote. You've got to do something today."
Dr. Phil continues his advice, "You also want to introduce him to as many positives as you possibly can. You've got to find him doing something right and really praise him and give him rewards you know he cares about. You can stair-step him along, starting with rewarding him for doing and handing in his homework each day, to rewarding him after a week goes by of doing his homework."

Velma responds, "We've stair-stepped ... but when it gets to a point where it's too long of a period for him, he makes the decision: 'That's just way too long, let's go back a week.'"

"That's why I said it has to be immediate," Dr. Phil responds. "Sometimes it has to be lesser rewards in a shorter time frame."

He leaves Velma with this advice: "Your job is to find the lever. If you find the lever and pull it, your problems will be over."