Dear Kid Whisperer,
As we get toward fall, I am anticipating having the same problem I had last year with my 9-year-old. He lost five coats last year. When I ask how he lost his coat he just shrugs his shoulders. The last time he lost one, he actually yelled at me, saying that he’s not meaning to lose his coats. He has to have a coat. I can’t send him outside to freeze to death. Nothing I say helps. What should I do? Jill, Springfield
You will no longer have to struggle with this. However, your son will.
The first mistake you are making is that you are making a kid’s problem your problem. As a rule, this is a mistake. You say that nothing you say helps. This is not a surprise. Kids don’t really listen to words. They do, however, pay a lot of attention to actions. Here’s how to stop talking so much and take decisive action so that you will never have to deal with this nonsense again while letting the world and its rules teach your child responsibility.
Kid Whisperer (handing Kid a brand new coat on the first chilly day in September): Here’s the one coat that I will be buying for you for this school year.
Kid: What about whe — , I mean if I lose it?
Kid Whisperer: You will just have to find out, I suppose.
That afternoon Kid gets off the bus. Instead of a coat, he is wearing a dopey look on his face.
Kid: Well, I’ve done it again. I have no idea where my coat is. I was thinking that the coat that you will buy me tonight shall have tortoise shell buttons. Something in a pea coat, perhaps?
Kid Whisperer: Oh, man. How many coats did I say I will buy you per year?
Kid: You were joking, right?
Kid Whisperer: You’ll see.
That night I tell Kid that I am happy to take him to buy a coat. We drive to the local Goodwill store. Once inside, I pull out some money.
Kid Whisperer: I took this from your bank at home. I charge five dollars to cover gas and my service fee for driving you here, so I will be pocketing this fiver. Here’s the rest. You have 10 minutes to pick out any coat you can afford. If you haven’t picked out a coat by that time, I will be picking it out for you. Thanks.
Kid: THAT’S NOT FAIR!
Kid Whisperer: I hear you. I’ll be looking at shoes.
If he selects and pays for a coat in the allotted time, great. If he doesn’t, it’s still great. I fight the urge to buy the pink “My Little Pony Jacket,” pull out some more of his money and buy a very basic coat. If Kid has no money, we first make a stop at a pawn shop to get money for the Kid by selling his toys and/or video games.
Jill, have fun with this and watch as your son’s memory and ability to be responsible for his things magically improves.