Dear Kid Whisperer,
My 6-year-old pretends to be helpless and it’s driving me crazy. He wasn’t like this six months ago. I don’t know what happened. He won’t put his own clothes on his body. He won’t serve himself at dinner. Last night, he didn’t just refuse to serve himself, he refused to feed himself. He literally wanted me to feed him. I did, because I didn’t know what else to do, but I obviously don’t want to be spoon feeding a first-grader, so I am asking you what to do now. Bonnie, Cleveland, Ohio
What happened is that your kid figured out that you think it’s your job as a mother to do everything for him, so he’s letting you. You are showing him with your actions that you are on this planet to serve him and be his personal assistant. Using both scenarios that you mentioned, this is how I would show him that he is responsible for himself.
Kid Whisperer (after lovingly and fully waking Kid with hugs): Good morning! It’s a new day! I will be serving breakfast until the big hand of the clock is on the six. We will be leaving at that time. You have the choice of the two outfits sitting on your dresser. You can either go to school with your clothes on your body or in your backpack. Either is fine with me. I will be downstairs eating my breakfast.
Kid Whisperer goes downstairs, and quietly enjoys a delicious, quiet breakfast while reading the paper and contemplating life. He thinks about how he has no expectation that Kid is going to do anything besides be a lump on his bed while he waits for someone to clothe and feed him. As Kid Whisperer notices that the big hand is on the six, he goes back to Kid’s bedroom. He sees that Kid is still wearing his pajamas and is thumbing through a book while doing the lump on the bed thing.
Kid Whisperer: Oh, man. Looks like you’ve chosen to go to school with your clothes in your backpack. (Kid Whisperer puts Kid’s clothes, not including shoes and socks, which he leaves in front of Kid, in his backpack.
Kid: Wait. What is happening?
Kid Whisperer: The big hand is past the six on the clock. We are leaving for school. Would you like to walk to the car or would you like me to help you fly there?
Kid ignores Kid Whisperer and goes back to his book.
Kid Whisperer: Flying it is. (Kid Whisperer puts shoes and socks in the backpack, picks up Kid and carries him to the car while singing The Steve Miller Band’s “Fly Like an Eagle.”
Kid (as he is carried by a tray of pancakes and bacon on the table): WHAT ABOUT BREAKFAST!?
Kid Whisperer (not breaking stride): Breakfast was served until the big hand was on the six.
Kid (as he is being carried out the door): NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!
Kid Whisperer puts Kid in the car’s back seat. By the time Kid Whisperer sits in the driver’s seat, Kid has put on his pants and socks. While Kid Whisperer drives to school, Kid does a Houdini-like feat of putting his clothes on while in his booster seat with the seatbelt on. Kid Whisperer is a little disappointed that his previous talk with Kid’s teacher during which she gleefully agreed to provide a private room for him to change into his clothes will not be needed. Kid Whisperer walks Kid to the school door.
Kid Whisperer (while giving a hug): I love you. Have a great day.
Kid Whisperer walks away, knowing that he has calmly and lovingly set limits, and that he has packed a nice, big lunch that will most likely not have to be spoon fed.