Trying to conserve on electricity, you ask the family to turn off lights when leaving a room that they don’t plan to return to soon. But most of the time your son/daughter forgets to do this simple thing. You remind them and they agree to try harder. But when you walk into an empty room, the lights are on. They don’t seem to be trying.

A situation like this can be irritating – sometimes even infuriating. Because it makes sense to save energy and the money you spend on it and it’s such a simple thing to do. If you can do it, why can’t they? Don’t they care about wasting resources? Don’t they care about honoring your reasonable wishes? The next time they walk out of a room without turning out the lights, you might feel like screaming.  Or worse.

This is an example of the hundreds of frustrations that can be a part of raising a child. Eighteen years of small disappointments can add up. Actually, in this example the child’s behavior may not be carelessness, a lack of respect, passive-aggressiveness, or rebellion. It could be that you’ve asked them to change a behavior pattern, one that has been wired into their brain over a period of years. By now, failing to turn out the lights is a part of who they are. They can change the pattern, yes, if they make an effort; but it will involve rewiring their brain. Even with good intentions and an honest effort, the old habit will sometimes kick in, especially in the beginning. It will take time, and maybe some coaching.

Think about how hard it is to change a long-held behavior pattern, such as quitting smoking or buckling your seat belt before backing out of the driveway. You can do it, but along the way you have to forgive yourself and recommit to trying harder. With enough repetition, though, a new pattern can start to feel natural.

My point is, winning the war means raising a happy, successful, independent adult – a person with life skills, strong character, good values, a work ethic, and goals.  Getting into a shouting match about the lights is not a battle you want to choose. On the other hand, you want them to try harder to conserve electricity. Instead of an emotional confrontation, I recommend an interaction that looks a lot like love. It would begin with a smile, a hug, and empathy:

“Sweetheart, I know it’s hard to remember to turn off the lights. It’s a good thing for us to do, but it hasn’t been our habit. I forget sometimes, too.”

“You do?”

“Yes. And it’s okay. I understand that you have good intentions and sometimes forget. It’s only natural, because it’s not what you used to do. If you commit to keep trying, it’ll get easier. You’ll remember more often. Shall we start over fresh and give it a try?”

“Okay, mom.”

“Thank you, Sweetie. You can help me remember, and I’ll help you. Deal?”


Someday you’ll need to come on strong when their well-being or life is at risk. For your own peace of mind, you need to ask yourself if today’s disappointment is a big deal or something small in the grand scheme of things. Something like turning out the lights is worth the effort, but maybe it’s not a battle you want to choose.