Lawrence had it with his teenaged son. The boy had a filthy room and no matter what he did, the boy refused to clean his room. It wasn’t just a little messy, no this room was so dirty that you’d think you had walked into a gym locker room. The smell from his shoes alone could scare a skunk away.

Lawrence came to see me week after week with the same complaint: he couldn’t MAKE the boy clean up his room. At first, I was at a loss to help him, but I finally realized that the boy wouldn’t clean his room because it wasn’t a problem to him. The kid LIKED his room smelling like a gym. The problem was Lawrence’s, not his sons’.  Once I helped Lawrence realize this, he told me he had a plan.

The next time I saw Lawrence, he came in beaming with a smile from ear to ear. I couldn’t wait to learn what had changed to make Lawrence so happy, and I soon found out. Lawrence purchased a floral scented room spray. He liked the scent, but his son hated it. Lawrence sprayed the boy’s room and after that he didn’t mind the scent. Lawrence no longer had a problem. However, his son now had the problem, as he detested the smell. So what happened? Lawrence promised that every day the room wasn’t cleaned, he would spray it to make it smell better. It didn’t take long for his son to clean the room. Once Lawrence stopped having a problem, and gave it to its rightful owner, his son, then his boy became motivated to clean up the room and the problem was solved.  Suppose the teenager had still refused to clean the room? It wouldn’t have mattered since Lawrence could have kept spraying the room daily, keeping the odor down and reducing the need to fight with his son. However, it typically works that when you stop taking another person’s problem as your own, and give it back to them, you will find that they solve it themselves, and usually very quickly.

This approach works in all kinds of situations. If your child won’t do his homework, you can remove his phone and other electronics until the work is done. Now, the child chooses whether or not to do his homework, but he pays the price, not you. If a child doesn’t do well in school and brings home poor grades, it’s his problem – NOT YOURS. If someone goes out in the rain and gets wet, it’s that person, not you who has to wear wet clothes or change them. Most approaches work best if you let your child (friend, spouse, relative) learn from the consequences of their own mistakes (as long as it doesn’t put them in danger). When you step-in to help, you take the problem and prevent them from learning through consequences. You also make it much harder on yourself. If it’s not your problem, then let the true owner worry about it. You can relax and do something enjoyable instead.

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