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It all started when little Jake was one month old. He quickly learned
that boisterous wails would cause his grandmother, Betsy, to rush to his
crib. He was well on his way to becoming a little dictator.
Betsy, being a kind-hearted and compassionate woman, felt sorry for the boy
because he had no father or mother to speak of. Betsy would perform on
command every time the child uttered a whimper. Her doctor suggested that
she let the boy cry. He further explained that, in time, the child would
get the hint that no one would be coming at his every whim.
Jake's rein of terror would have ended if his grandmother had taken her
doctor's advice, but she ignored the suggestion. The effect was
predictable: soon, Betsy was suffering from exhaustion.
Is it any surprise that, by the time Jake reached his first birthday, his
first word was "no"? "Jake, please don't throw your toys," his grandmother
would plead sweetly. "No!" was Jake's reply as he hurled a hard plastic
ball at Granny. "Eat your cereal," his Granny would say. With a sweep of
his little hand, Jake knocked the cereal bowl to the floor while he
bellowed another "No!". "All right, Jake," Granny replied, "If you don't
like the cereal, I'll fix you something else." Filled with hope, she
mistakenly thought the boy would outgrow this behavior.
By the time he was five years old, Jake did not hesitate to throw very
public tantrums. He once sprawled out on the department store floor,
kicking and screaming because he had been denied a toy he wanted.
Embarrassed by his behavior, Betsy quickly placed the toy in the shopping
cart and proceeded through the checkout line. When they arrived at home,
Betsy informed Jake that his behavior had been inappropriate. "We don't act
like that in public," she explained. I am certain that the boy was
thinking, "Why not? It works."
When Jake was ten, Granny warned him that if he did not do his homework he
would not be allowed to go camping with his friends the following month.
Jake promised to do his homework, but a phone call from the school
confirmed that he had not turned in a single homework assignment during the
entire semester. After a mild scolding, the lad made a half-hearted attempt
to finish his assignments. He complained that the work was too hard, and
that he didn't understand the material.
Grateful for the meager crumbs that Jake offered, Granny began to help him
with his homework, often doing most of it herself. Soon the time came for
the camping trip. Wearing a halo and a pasted-on smile, Jake asked in his
most angelic voice whether he could go. Granny consented. She was afraid
that the boy would revert back to zero homework performance if she
disallowed this outing.
At twelve, Jake had completed the last three years of his schooling by
attending summer school. Every morning, Granny begged him to get up for
school, but Jake lingered until he missed the school bus. Granny then
dutifully drove him to school so that he would not be late. Of course, the
cafeteria food was not good enough for him, so Jake was handed a ten dollar
bill each morning to purchase two hoagies and a large soft drink at the
local convenience store.
By the time Jake turned fourteen, he was roaming the streets with his
friends every night past curfew. Demanding to wear the latest and most
expensive fashion, he got what he wanted. Jake was denied nothing by his
grandmother. Smoking cigarettes, getting drunk, and mouthing off to Granny
in the most foul language had become a way of life for Jake.
Finally acknowledging that Jake was well on his way to becoming a
juvenile delinquent, Betsy decided to take him to a psychologist. Despite
paying thousands of dollars towards the cause, she could discern no
positive changes. The psychologist diagnosed "Attention Deficit Disorder",
which now gave Jake a handy excuse for his inappropriate behavior.
Soon, Betsy was on the phone with her oldest son, Dennis. She complained
that Jake would not listen to her. She cried, wondering where she had gone
wrong. After two years of phone calls and letters to her son and
daughter-in-law, Betsy decided that it would be in the child's best
interest if he went to live with his Uncle Dennis and Aunt Virginia.
Confident that he possessed an arsenal of finely honed psychological
skills, Jake agreed without an argument.
Welcome to boot camp! Uncle Dennis, a retired Marine, and Aunt Virginia,
who was dubbed "Drill Instructor" by her own boys, now had charge of Jake.
Having heard of all his misdeeds over a two-year period, the uncle-and-aunt
team were mentally, psychologically, and physically ready for this wayward
The first order of business was to set down the rules of the house. The
first rule was simple. "If you miss the school bus, do not wake us up to
haul your butt to school. Instead, you will move a pile of firewood from
one end of the farm to the other. When you are through moving and stacking
the firewood, you will then move it back to its original spot. You will
continue to do this until the school day is over." The threat worked: Jake
never missed the school bus.
The next rule was also made clear. "You will not wear those baggy, ragged
jeans to school. You will wear the new clothes we purchased for you." This
rule was almost immediately challenged. After Jake got off the school bus
wearing the tattered jeans, Aunt Virginia immediately stormed to his
bedroom with a fluorescent pink permanent marker in hand. She proceeded to
write the words "WORK CLOTHES" down the pant legs of the offensive denims.
The next rule was easy to understand, yet hard to accept. "If you are
given a job to perform, don't complain about it." This rule was challenged
many times, until Jake finally realized what Uncle Dennis was doing. One
spring day, Jake was asked to mow the lawn. After one hour, he complained
that the work was too hard and that he was getting tired. "Okay," said
Uncle Dennis. "Put away the lawn mower." Jake's feeling of pride over his
victory was short-lived: he was soon assigned to dig rocks out of the
stream and place them on the driveway.
It took Jake six months to discover that complaining was synonymous with
more hard work. Jake finally admitted that, in the psychology arena, he was
carrying a one-shot pistol, while his aunt and uncle were carrying
When Jake brought home his first report card, it became clear that he was
circling the bowl in the grade department. It was time for the next rule:
"Summer school is not an option. If you fail, you will repeat the grade."
Jake grumbled, "How can you do this to me?" His objections were met with
stern serenity: "We're not doing anything to you," said his uncle. "It's up
to you whether you pass or fail." Jake was beginning to learn that the
cause of his misery was his own attitude.
Six months ago, Jake found the courage to offer his grandmother a sincere
apology and ask for her forgiveness. Today, Jake is fulfilling his duties
as student body President as he prepares to graduate and attend the college
of his choice. With a 3.5 grade point average, Jake has his pick of many
colleges, yet he hopes to attend a university near his aunt and uncle. He
finally admits that he needed the discipline to find true pride in his
accomplishments and, as a bonus, he now has peace of mind.
If you are a parent who has lost control over your child, do not lose hope.
With a little assertiveness, you can turn your contrary child into a