Does your kid struggle with their responsibilities? Do they just not seem to want to do anything? In this episode of Have a New Kid by Friday, Dr. Leman lays out how to deal with an unmotivated child.


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Doug Terpening: You’re tired. You feel like you’re always doing everything. You feel like no matter what you try, the kid knows how to squirt out and not do his chores. Homework is a continual battle. Attitudes reign supreme and you’re sitting there going, “How in the world do I motivate this unmotivated child?” That’s the question we get to ask Dr. Leman How do I get a kid that actually care?

Doug Terpening: Hi, I’m Doug Terpening.

Andrea: And I’m Andrea.

Doug Terpening: We are really glad that you are here and we are so thankful that you get to be with us and if this is your first time, we want to let you know what this is for your education and entertainment purposes only. If the subject matter raises any concerns for you or your child, please go seek a local professional for help.

Doug Terpening: Well, Dr. Leman, Thanksgiving is like next week on the calendar from when this podcast will be released. Do you guys, I don’t know if I know this, do you guys do anything for Thanksgiving around the Leman clan?

Dr. Leman: Well, we always do. And you know, this I hope is an encouragement to all you parents who have young kids. Our youngest now is 27 years of age, okay? You know, all those kids, they want to be together at Thanksgiving time and every holiday they want to be together, and they really knocked themselves out to make that happen. I think we’re five for five this Thanksgiving. Sometimes we’re four for five, because those that are married have to go to the in-laws, you know, they do the every other year thing, but we’re five for five this year. But you know, it’s a testimony to all the hard work, you parents are pouring into your kids every day.

Dr. Leman: And you know, here we’ve got a situation where Doug has said, “Hey, what do you do? You get homework as a continual battle in your home, getting kids to do chores. I mean, you’re just tired. You’re sick of battling.” If that’s what we’re talking about Doug, I think we can help people have a more joyous Thanksgiving by simply giving them some ways of getting them out of the warfare between themselves and their kids.

Dr. Leman: For example, homework battle happens in a lot of homes. I could give you a lot of tips about when to do homework. Do you do it right after school? Do you do it after dinner? Give them a place to do it and all that kind of stuff. But to me, if it’s a constant hassle just to get the kid to do his homework, I think the smart call is go talk to teacher, say, “Hey, could you spend a few moments with me? I’d like to tell you where I am with this. Homework is a battle in our home. I’m sick of it. I don’t want to just pass the buck to you, but I’m asking for your help. If I’m not on him, he’s not going to have his homework done. And if you could build in some accountability in the classroom, that would really help.”

Dr. Leman: Even the assistant principal is capable of pulling little James out in the fourth grade, and bringing them down in the office and saying, “Hey, your teacher tells me you’re not handing in homework. That’s not how we operate here. I want that homework done, do you understand me?” I mean, you have that straight talk with the kid, but let somebody else do it. Get yourself out of the battlefield, okay?

Dr. Leman: And with chores, when you’ve got a kid who’s just non-cooperative and you have to tell him every minute, and when he finally does something, he doesn’t do it right, and then you try to correct him all at. Hey, stop doing that. Go back to the bread and water treatment, and without going into great deal, all of a sudden the answer’s no to everything he asked for. You don’t give him money, you don’t give him rides, you don’t give him special treats, nothing.

Dr. Leman: And he, sooner or later, is going to say, “What’s going on. Okay, you’re on now mom.” And now you say, “I’ll tell you what’s going on. I’m sick of having you as a guest in our home. This is not a hotel. I’m sick of catering to you, doing your wash. You do your own wash from now on. You make your own bed from now on. I’m not doing this. I’ve got to see something coming back from you. When I see something coming back from you, you and I will sit down and we’ll have a real conversation about how things are going to be in this house because you need to know I am very unhappy.”

Dr. Leman: As I’ve said many times on this podcast, kids hate it when you use those words. “Mom is very unhappy.” They don’t like it when you’re unhappy. So again, I think the take the bull by the horns approach works. Does it always work? No, not if you have a kid that’s so powerful, he’s going to show you that no matter what you do, he’s not going to do what you want, but those are kids that you know are going to give you long term problems to begin with. For most kids, 98% of the kids, they’re going to suck it up and become better citizens in their home and in school, by you just getting out of the firing line.

Doug Terpening: What causes this incredible un-motivation in the kids?

Dr. Leman: Well, if I have people doing things for me, get behind the kids’ eyes for just a day, and look at how his day goes. Does he have to work to have breakfast? Does he do anything to enjoy dinner? Does he have to do anything to enjoy the WiFi in his home or television or you name it? No. I mean, kids got a made today. They’re on the take. They’re the give-me generation. So it’s the smart parents that can convey to kids that, “Hey, no one member of the family is more important than the family, and everybody pitches in here.” When you turn that curve, kids tend to see themselves as helpers and not takers. They’re part of the solution and no longer the problem.

Dr. Leman: And Vitamin E should reign in your home and that’s encouragement. So when kids are helpful, you’re quick to say, “Honey, I can’t tell you how grateful I am for your help. That really helped mom a lot, thank you.” That’s all. You don’t have to give him a $10 bill. You don’t have to overdo it, but that’s Vitamin E. And kids, again I say parents, listen to what I’m saying. They want to please you. Give them opportunity to please you.

Doug Terpening: If we’re talking about a kid that’s at the teenage level, we’ll call him 15, 16. We’ll call him 16 years old and you haven’t been using Vitamin E and you’ve just of been an authoritarian. What would you recommend you change? You know, if dad’s the one that’s always authoritarian or mom’s kind of out to lunch, what would you say they need to change to help this kid get motivated?

Dr. Leman: Well, I would have a conversation, maybe at the dinner table some night and just say to your kid, “Could I just have three minutes of your attention?” And he’s going to look at you like, “What’s this about?” “Seriously, just put down your phone. I need to tell you something really important.” Okay, so the kid puts down his phone, and as soon as he puts it down, it rings.

Dr. Leman: You say, “Call him back. All right, turn your phone off. I want your undivided attention for three minutes. That’s all I ask for. Even an egg gets three minutes. Your dad deserves three minutes. Listen, I’ve been spending a lot of time lately just thinking about my relationship with you and to put it mildly, the relationship is sort of one-sided. I’d tell you what to do and you sometimes do it and sometimes don’t, and I don’t know about you, but I’m not real happy with this relationship, and I’m not happy about always telling you what to do. So you’re going to see a change in dad and if you’re asking yourself, am I apologizing for something? Yeah, I am, because I think I’ve done far too many things for you. I’ve made far too many decisions for you, and you’re going to see a change in my behavior.”

Dr. Leman: “Now, with that being said, in other words, you’re going to make more decisions on your own. You’re probably going to have to go and get a part-time job to do some of the things that you enjoy doing right now, because I’m sick of being just the banker who hands money out to you on demand. We’re going to have to have a much more socially equal relationship than we have now. I think you’re going to enjoy that freedom. I think you will handle things well, sure hope you do because your life’s going to be a lot better. Well, I’m looking at the clock and my three minutes are about up, but that’s really what I want to say to you. If you want to continue this conversation after dinner, I’m available. You know me, I’m a creature of habit. I sit in the same chair every night. Come down and we’ll talk. I love you.” That’s what I’d say to my kid.

Doug Terpening: Wow. What do you think, Andrea?

Andrea: I don’t know.

Doug Terpening: Andrea gave a very clear, “I don’t know.” A very strong.

Andrea: I didn’t know how to respond to that question [crosstalk 00:08:09].

Dr. Leman: It’s one of the reasons why we love this woman. She could be a politician.

Andrea: I have a really strong opinion.

Doug Terpening: A super strong opinion.

Andrea: I’m distracted because I’m thinking about somebody we know. It’s an unmotivated teenager, and the situation doesn’t always fit, so my brain is elsewhere.

Doug Terpening: Got it. So I think it’s amazing that you’re right, that the mom would stop and engage the kid like that, to help him get over the hump. So it would be incredible.

Doug Terpening: I’m going to come back and ask that same question for an elementary kid here, but before we do that, I better make sure I do the ebook promotion, and you have a little bit more time to get the one we have right now, which is, Have a New Sex Life by Friday, November 19 to 30th, of 2019 for a $1.99.

Doug Terpening: Dr Leman, who is this book written for?

Dr. Leman: It’s written for everyone, from newlyweds to people who’ve been married a long time. You know, there’s seasons in life, certainly in marriage, emotionally, spiritually, and certainly physically and sexually. And so it’s just such a good basic book that you can’t miss. I mean, it’s a great wedding gift for somebody, a couple who’s struggled, who’s really trying to find their way and it found the stresses of job and kids a little too much and their marriage is a little shaky. It’d be a great book for them to read, because it reminds you of how important the core relationship is, and all these other things that surround us are not. So, it’s well worth it.

Dr. Leman: Any of these books that we offer, I mean Leman books across the board are built to help you in a practical way, try not to use a lot of psychological jargon. They’re very practical and you should be laughing as you read some of these books. The printed word is not always easy to put humor in. It’s much easier to speak humor than it is to put it in writing, but trust me, I try. I know some firstborn children just don’t get my humor. I read my mail. They don’t realize I said something tongue in cheek, but there they’re good books and they’re just built to help you live a better life, and those you love to build live a better life as well.

Doug Terpening: Yep. It’s practical advice that you can apply and use now. So Have a New Sex Life by Friday, between now and November 30th of 2019, you can get it for a $1.99, wherever eBooks are sold.

Doug Terpening: Now, a no nonsense moment with Dr. Kevin Leman.

Dr. Leman: You know, you don’t have to walk very far to find a smart mouth kid these days. You’ll find them in schools, you’ll find them on a playground. This is so difficult to say to you parents. You may even find them in your home. You know, kids today view themselves as social equals. They don’t really see authority in a proper manner, and parents quite frankly don’t act in authority. They tend to be permissive and then they swing to authoritarian. We’ll discuss that one at another time, but the point is that these kids know where you are, how you operate, and I’ll tell you, they can pull your chain.

Dr. Leman: The question is, when your child is really a smart mouth to you, ask yourself this question, what was the purpose of nature of that? Was it to show you that he or she is the boss? That they want to simply just diss your authority? It could be, but the point is, words hurt and you don’t have to just come back immediately. If you do, you engage in fighting, and remember fighting’s an act of what? Cooperation. So after the hurtful words, go about your business, okay? And I’m telling you, I don’t care if your kid is six or 16, it’s going to be a very short period of time, when they come to you and say, “Mommy, would you get me this?” Or, “Mom, can I go over to John’s house?” Maybe they’re driving the car, “Hey dad, can I take the car?” Well, a simple dosage of Vitamin N will get your son or daughter’s attention, but what does that mean? A simple no. “I don’t feel like getting you anything right now. Honey, no, you can’t take the car.” Turn your back, walk away.

Dr. Leman: Now again, do not engage in battle. You have gold in your back pocket parents, okay? I call this parental poker. You have four aces in your back pocket as well. You don’t have to always play those cards, you just have to have the assurance that those cards are there. Quite frankly, your kid wouldn’t have underwear on right now, if you didn’t buy it for him. So who’s kidding who? You are in full authority over your children.

Dr. Leman: Now here’s the fun part, I think. They’re going to dig. They’re going to say, “Mom, what’s wrong with you? You always let me go to John’s house. You always let me do this.” Let them really squirm and figure out that maybe what they said, an hour and a half earlier was very inappropriate. Don’t tell them right off the bat. Again, let them sort of guess and figure it out. And finally he or she will figure it out, “Oh, I’m sorry about what I said this morning.” “Well honey, I’m glad you can say you’re sorry. That’s really important.” “Well, could I take the car now?” “No, but we’ll revisit that another day.”

Dr. Leman: That’s straight talk from good old Dr. Leman. I’m telling you this stuff works.

Doug Terpening: So Dr. Leman, back to the unmotivated kid, if I have an elementary kid, we’ll put them in fourth grade that were already, so he’s nine, 10, 11 years old and he’s already an unmotivated kid. Would it be any different for that age group?

Dr. Leman: Yes. Unmotivated 10 year olds, a fourth grader is usually 10 or 11, maybe you picked it on purpose, but the fourth grade’s always interesting because in most school systems, the curriculum ramps up a little bit. It begins to change. And if your kid is not motivated and not a reader, I think you need to really get some intervention for your kid. I know our schools now, I have seven charter schools, we’re breaking ground actually tonight on our seventh school. A parent pointed out to me the other day, that our third graders are doing algebraic equations, okay? Third grade, and I was using my fingers in sixth grade.

Dr. Leman: In a good school, education is moving at warp speed and you don’t want your kid left behind, do you parent? If your kid’s a reader, for all you parents who have kids who just love to read, don’t worry about your kids’ education, okay? That kid is going to be okay, and then some. The one I worried about as a kid who doesn’t read, because that just leads to a lot of discouragement. Or the kid who can read, but he can’t comprehend what he’s read, he can’t hold that thought and translate it and put it on paper. Tutoring is a great gift I think to your kids. Yes, there’s a lot of professional tutors out there, there’s a lot of teachers who moonlight, so to speak, tutoring kids, but you know with a fourth grade kid, you’ve got a college kid that lives two doors down that you know, be a great tutor for your fourth grader.

Andrea: Is it necessarily true that this forest grader that can’t read just has fallen through the cracks, or could they have a learning disability, if they’re not reading at that point?

Dr. Leman: Oh, a lot of kids do have learning disabilities and they fall through the cracks, and the professionals don’t see them for whatever reason. But this gets back to the conscientious nature of the teacher, and how many of you as parents are always at school with those visits, when you have opportunity to talk with your teacher. Are you there or do you blow it off? So the engaged parent, who’s engaged with a teacher, ought to know what’s going on in their kid’s life. There’s test scores, you know, we have an idea where kids are. We had a kid in our school, who’s an eighth grader and he reads at the first grade level. How does that happen? Well he came into our school from a public school, but how does a kid in eighth grade, and it really doesn’t look like the kid has learning disabilities per se. He just never really learned to read, for whatever reason.

Dr. Leman: It’s easy to correct things, in the early years. In eighth grade, it’s really tough. You talk to any educator about how do you turn a kid around in eighth grade. It’s like the ship has sailed and I missed it.

Andrea: So you would say a fourth grader that’s unmotivated, the first thing you would look for is whether or not they’re having trouble reading or in school.

Dr. Leman: Yeah, but I’d get down to that teacher, at teacher conference and I’d take a look and listen to what she sees. I’d look at his work, and if you’re suspect of a need for special services, go talk to the system principal in the school. Talk further with a teacher and try to get that kid special attention. I know at our schools, I walk through the hallways all the time, and we have professional people who are sitting one on one with kids, with headphones and computers and sometimes pencil and paper in hand, and they’re always working on things. And what we’re trying to do is to bring kids up to a level, because you know we’re a public school in essence and we take what walks in our door. What walks in the door are kids who are way above average and way below average, so we have to deal with them.

Doug Terpening: So Dr. Leman, I must admit, I’m slightly surprised. I thought on the fourth grader, you would tell me, a kid is unmotivated in fourth grade, and we need to look at the parents, that they have discouraged the kids. Is that not true with a fourth grader?

Dr. Leman: No. You’d find that in most of those cases, you would find situations where the parents made excuses for the kid, snowplowed the roads of life for him, just did far too many things for this kid, and the kid feels like he’s the center of the universe. So he just slides by. Well how do some kids slide by? Because they have a great sense of humor for example, or he might have some musical ability or whatever. He’s got something, you know he’s well liked by his peers. He got a lot of friends or he’s a good athlete and all those things can mask fundamental deficiencies in what the kid’s really learning.

Dr. Leman: Then you got kids who have different learning styles. You’ve got auditory learners and you got, you know, the special ed people are the ones that I shouldn’t talk on great authority in that area, because I’m not a great authority in that area. But we have people now, who can really do wonderful things with kids. But early prevention, like almost all health issues, early prevention is essential. You’ve got to jump in there and intervene quickly.

Doug Terpening: If the parent is the one who’s snowplowing the roads of life and they hear this and they’re like, “Well I don’t fully understand what that is and I don’t fully understand how to change that.” Is there a book that you would say, “Ah, this would help you get a little reality check on what you need to do to help you with your parenting?”

Dr. Leman: Yeah, I think the first one that pops into mind is, Making Children Mind Without Losing Yours. And the principle reason why I say that folks is this. It gives you a great teaching in the difference between authoritarian child rearing, which most of us grew up with, and authoritative child rearing. And of course in that book is also permissive child rearing, and both permissive and authoritarian are guaranteed to make your kids rebel. You’re sowing the seeds of rebellion, and you could do it in a lot of different ways, but a lot of it is being too, quite frankly, permissive with the kids and letting them get away with things. I’d say the Making Children Mind book is the best one to get you that understanding.

Dr. Leman: Someone asked me the other day, she said, “I’ve never had one.” This is on the internet or just a message came through to me. “I’ve never read any of your books. I’ve heard great things about your books, but could you give me a list of must reads?” And she said, “I have four children.” She gave me the ages, and they were from infancy through 12. And I had a hard time picking the four tell you the truth, but I gave her Making Children Mind Without Losing Yours, Have a New Kid by Friday. Planet Middle School, because for the middle schoolers, they’re their own unique group. And then the Birth Order Book, but there are so many others I could have in there as well. Those are good ones.

Dr. Leman: So if you’re struggling and you don’t know where to start, start with Making Children Mind Without Losing Yours, Have a New Kid by Friday. I mean they’ll equip you. You’ll have new tools in your parenting toolbox, I guarantee you. And then Have a New Teenager by Friday, Have a New You by Friday. Those Friday books are awesome. There’s a lot of material out there, parents. If you’re patient enough, take the time to download the book, read the book, highlight it, share it with your mate, and really work toward oneness in your approach to rearing your kids, you’re going to end up with a pretty good kid on your hand. That’s a guarantee.

Andrea: So Dr, Leman, what I hear you saying about an unmotivated child is, that really when we think we’re giving and loving our child, we’re actually hurting them by taking away their sense of responsibility, their sense of self, I don’t know, self worth because they don’t have to contribute anything, you’re actually saying, “Give them something to do. Make them feel like they’re part of the family, everybody chips in.” So it’s kind of counterintuitive to that, “Oh, I’m going to take care and make this child feel loved.”

Doug Terpening: Which is why, I think your book recommendations … As you were talking, Dr. Leman, you said a phrase that I thought, “You know what, if you’ll take the time to read the books yourself, it will help you.” And I thought, you know, the hours that I wasted on frustrations with my kids before I read Having a New Kid by Friday, it’s one of those, spend two hours to read the book to save yourself 150 hours down the road, and far more emotional drama and everything else.

Doug Terpening: So if you haven’t read Making Children Mind Without Losing Yours, and Have a New Kid by Friday, and the Birth Order book, read them and then come back to us and say, and I only say that just for your own sake, like I don’t get a dime for any of this, right? So it’s you, for your sake, please, please, please go get the book for your sake, to have the confidence, just with Andrea said, that you can do it. So go buy the books.

Doug Terpening: All righty. Well we look forward to the next time we get to be with you, to add more tools to that parenting toolbox, so that you just love those kids more and more.

Andrea: You have a great week.

Doug Terpening: We look forward to the next time we get to be with you. Take care.

Andrea: Bye bye.

Doug Terpening: Bye bye.