Making Homework S.I.M.P.L.E.

 

Homework may be a fact of life, but it doesn’t have to be an endless source of tears and frustration.

You can prevent homework battles and set your child up for a lifetime of success by taking simple steps to develop great habits from the beginning.

 

Here’s How to Make Homework S.I.M.P.L.E.

SUPPORT YOUR CHILD WITH THE BASICS

  1. After school, offer a healthy (low sugar, protein/carb combo) snack for refueling. Cheese sticks and whole wheat crackers, a banana with peanut butter, smoothies, and sandwich meat rolled in a tortilla are some of our favorites. 
  2. Allow 20-30 minutes of individualized “unwind time” before hitting the books. This can look different for each child. While Julie may escape to a quiet spot alone, Jake may race off to climb trees and shout at neighbors. When in doubt, look to their behavior to tell you what they need.
  3. Create a study environment that matches personal learning styles. Some kinesthetic (hands on) learners need a snack while they are working, some think better while chewing gum. Some kids work better alone in a quiet room, while others prefer listening to music in the busy kitchen. Play Goldilocks with different options until you get the right fit.

IDENTIFY THE WORK TO BE TACKLED

  • Ask your child to read and explain each assignment to you.
  • Are the directions clear?
  • Did the necessary books and papers make it home?
  • Does your child need help writing down and organizing assignments?

If there are too many missing pieces, a teacher conference may be just the remedy.

MOTIVATE WITH A NATURAL REWARD

Inspired by Love and Logic, here’s my go-to, empowering statement: “Feel free to (insert favorite after-school activity here) as soon as your homework is finished.” If an argument ensues, “I’ll be happy to discuss that after you do your homework,” can be helpful too.

PRIORITIZE

Teach your child to prioritize multiple tasks by asking leading questions.

Would you like to tackle the hardest subject first or warm up with an easier one?”

This book report is too complicated to complete in one night. How can you break it down into smaller pieces?” Create a calendar with due dates and milestones and post in a prominent location (like the bathroom mirror) as a visual reminder.

LOVE YOUR CHILD ALWAYS, BUT REJECT INAPPROPRIATE BEHAVIOR

If study frustrations lead to a flaring temper, show empathy while setting clear boundaries.

I can see how frustrated you are about that tough math problem. I’ll be glad to help you as soon as you lower your voice and sit back down.”

Invite them to walk around or sip on a glass of water to reset their mental state. One thing is guaranteed: little to no homework will get done until the brain willingly re-engages in the process. 

ENCOURAGE

Be genuine and praise specific behaviors. “Good Job!” is not nearly as encouraging as, “I noticed you kept trying even when that problem seemed impossible earlier. I’m proud of you for sticking with it and finishing the assignment!”

An ounce of prevention …

Taking time now to establish good habits and a positive attitude will pay off in buckets down the road. Just keep it SIMPLE.

Question: Do you have a favorite homework strategy? We’d love to hear about it! You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Beware of Labels, Even Good Ones

When people ask me if I’m a runner, I’m reluctant to say, “Yes,” even though I do run at least three times a week, and I’m usually training for a half marathon or a triathlon. I’m comfortable telling people I run, but I’m intimidated by the thought of being labeled a “runner.”

In my mind, runners run far and fast and look like they’ve just stepped off the cover of Women’s Running Magazine. If people perceive me as a  runner, I fear they’ll think less of me if they know my average run is four miles and I barely break 10 minute miles. But if they simply know I sometimes run, there is less pressure to live up to. Labels, both good and bad, come with expectations. And, while those expectations can be beneficial at times, they can also create unnecessary stress. This same phenomenon is true when we label kids.

Take a “positive” label for instance, like such a smart girl. A bright, straight A student may enjoy the admiration that’s attached to a characterization like this, but what happens when she gets a D on her first test or when schoolwork starts to feel challenging? For kids who feel even partially defined by their performance based labels, setbacks can knock them completely off their rockers. It’s not uncommon to hear huge doubt setting with comments like, “I made a D: I must be Dumb.” or “School isn’t as easy for me this year…maybe I wasn’t so smart after all.”

But imagine what might happen if that same child is raised to believe she is incredibly special, not for what she does but for who she is. And that she is full of potential. And that she is loved– not just by her parents but also by her Heavenly Father who created her. What if that same child was taught that none of us are perfect (nope, not even Mom or Dad), but through the unique strengths and gifts that God gives us, we are able to overcome our mistakes and our weaknesses?

Kids who know that they are loved and valued are better equipped to defeat challenges in their lives and are less susceptible to the influence of labels. As parents, we can help our children through tough situations by reassuring them of our love and our confidence in them simply by active listening.

For Example

Here’s how that might sound between a parent and third grader who brings a failed spelling test home from school. Listen to how Mom connects with her daughter and helps her feel supported while guiding her to a solution.

Sally (close to tears): “I’m so dumb! I can’t believe I failed my spelling test today!”

Mom (showing empathy): “Oh, Sally! It hurts to do poorly on a test. And you studied hard for that one… no wonder you sound so disappointed.”

Sally (wrinkling her face in frustration): “I just don’t get it!”

Mom (gently): “It really surprised you, huh? I’m surprised, too. You usually do great on spelling tests. How would you like to take a look at it together and figure out what went wrong?

Sally (relaxing a bit): “Yeah, ok.”

Mom: “Let’s get a snack first and recharge that brain of yours. The good news is that there is lots to learn from making mistakes, and what you learn can help you even more on future tests!”

Recap

Sally tried to label herself as dumb because she did poorly on her test. Instead of trying to convince her daughter that she isn’t dumb, Mom connected at a deeper level to help her feel valued and loved. Sally moved from feeling defeated to empowered, and she left the labels in the dust.

As you go through your day, I challenge you to listen for labels that are placed on people, and then watch closely. Their reactions may surprise you.

When I need a little reassurance that God’s impression of me is all that matters, I love to listen to Francesca Batastelli’s He Knows My Name. What an awesome reminder of God’s love for us!

Screaming in the Car

Here’s a great question I was recently asked by a parent whose child thinks the car is the place to test vocal chord capacity.

 

What’s a way to discipline an action that is annoying (like screaming in the car)? What is a natural and/or logical consequence for these kinds of actions? Should I view any action that just bothers me personally as something I just need to get over?

Ah, the piercing sounds of shrill voices permeating the tiny space inside a car. Few things rattle the ear drums and test the nerves as much as these. And, while some bothersome actions can be ignored, this is an annoyance that needs our attention. Not only is screaming in the car irritating, it can be dangerous, too.

When dealing with an annoying or inappropriate behavior, parents often search for the ideal consequence to get it to stop.  But before I share a consequence,  I want to suggest that if we focus specifically on providing a consequence after the action has occurred, we’ll likely miss the underlying need that is causing the behavior. And if that underlying need does not get met, the behavior will pop up again in one form or another. Therefore, before I suggest consequences, let’s take a look at possible root causes of the annoying behavior and see if we can prevent it altogether.

Could it be that the screaming occurs because your child has lots of energy and needs to let it out?
You may want to try to get the wiggles out by having a running, dancing, jumping, singing/speaking loudly session before getting into the car.

Could it be that the screaming is in response to siblings squabbling in the backseat?
Perhaps reducing the tension with distractions could help. Offering to have your child take a favorite toy into the car, or enlisting them to choose a healthy snack for the ride are two popular ideas. And when my sons were younger, our family’s favorite car distraction was listening to music or books on tape.

          Music: Up through early elementary school, CDs by Raffi, Cedarmont Kids and Joe McDermott were a must in my car. Sing-a-longs came naturally to us, and we all chimed in. Local children’s musicians also drew our attention, and if we were lucky enough to see them performing live, we’d purchase their CD for extra special encores. As my kids got older, clean radio stations like KLOVE and AIR1 replaced the CDs, but the singing continued.

          Books on Tape: Focus on the Family has a terrific series of children’s stories called Adventures in Odyssey and Whit’s End. My kids would listen for hours on end. We borrowed copies from the library, where we’d stock up each week. The kids knew they had to be buckled in their seats with no bickering before I’d play the CD. And sometimes we’d do a brief recap of what had already happened in the adventure and what we thought might happen next before resuming our listening. As they got older, we listened to books on tape from their favorite authors. Or sometimes they’d prefer to simply read a great book to kill the time in the boring car.

Could it be that they have trouble with volume control?
Depending upon their developmental age or possible sensory issues, kiddos may need to learn how to modulate their voices (speak in soft and loud tones). Try making a game of this by having them copy your tone of voice and what you are saying. Then you can talk about when and where those volumes are appropriate. Here’s an example:

  1. (You whisper) “This is my quiet voice. I use it when the baby is sleeping and when I’m at the library or in the car.”
  2. (Then using a conversational voice) “This is my inside voice. I can use it in the house, in the car, and when I’m talking to grandma on the telephone.
  3. (Finally, using a raised voice) “This is my loud voice. I use it outside or when I call to you across the house.”

At the first sound of loud voices being used in the car, remind them (in your whispering voice) “Only quiet and inside voices are allowed in the car. Loud voices are for outside.” You can even go further by making funny noises in your quiet and inside voices to get the point across. Try growling, squeaking, speaking in a deep voice, or even in an accent and invite your kids to mimic you.

Could it be that they feel alone and are trying to connect with you?
Create conversation: Kids get bored sitting in the car and that can feel lonely even though you are sitting inches away. Driving is a great time to engage them in conversation. Try connecting with a story, by asking questions about their new friend or toy, or by making up a story together.

Setting the Rule:
It’s important for our kids to learn to follow rules, particularly when safety is involved. It’s also important to set a clear rule about voices in the car. Try to avoid using the word NO, as in “NO screaming in the car,” as this tends to invite a challenge to the rule. Instead, declare in a soft voice that, “The inside of the car is a quiet zone. Only quiet and inside voices are allowed.”

Consequences:
If screams occur while driving, gently remind and redirect. If the rule is broken again and you are headed to your a place your child is looking forward to (like a play date), try saying, “This car will go to Johnny’s house if everyone is using quiet voices while we drive. Screaming voices will make the car go home.” This sets a clear boundary but also puts the power to choose in your child’s hands. Be prepared to follow through if the rule is indeed broken.

It does pay to choose your battles wisely, and there are situations when “just getting over” the annoyance can be helpful. But behaviors that involve safety or are ongoing should not be overlooked. Look to prevention to not only address the problem today but to keep it from coming back in the future. You can find more about effectively handling annoying behaviors in these posts too: A Real Solution for Annoying Behaviors Part 1 and Part 2.

Question: Please share! What activities do you use in the car to keep your kids occupied and make the drive easier? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Showing Love by Backing off

I’ve got to stop trying to be helpful! Lately, I find the more I jump in to lend a hand, the more confusion, frustration and chaos I cause. How sad. But true.

I’m a do-er and a helper. Combine that with my waves of high energy or over-caffeinated brain, and you’ve got a Super Servant ready for action. But often I forget that people don’t need (or sometimes even want) my assistance, and it can be rude for me to jump in without asking first. Sometimes I take a helpful leap only to find I’ve done it wrong. Talk about embarrassing! This holds true for my friends, family and even strangers. But I think it’s most significant when dealing with my teenagers.

Just as plants need plenty of fertile soil and room to grow, teens need their space and opportunities to be independent. I tend to forget this, and I inadvertently box my kids in with advice and reminders. My intentions are loving and my desire is to be helpful. But more and more, my two cents is perceived as nagging and intrusive, and it’s disrupting relationships more than strengthening them. So, I’m learning to back off a bit and show more respect for their quest for independence.

Ironically, I often talk about how to help kids STOP their annoying behaviors. I talk about how to look for the underlying need that is contributing to the behavior, and I suggest providing an appropriate alternative to replace the annoying behavior. (This alternative helps fill the unmet need that is underlying and causing the behavior). Well, it seems I’m engaging in an annoying behavior (intrusively helping), and I need an appropriate alternative to help me stop.

In order to show love and be true to my helpful heart while respecting my teens’ space and capabilities, here is the intervention strategy I’ve come up with:

  1.  Share what I see: “Looks like you’ve got a busy week of school ahead of you- big math and science tests and a history project due! How are you feeling about that?”
  2.  Show confidence in my teen. “You’ve done a great job of keeping your grades up all year, and I know you can handle the load next week. I’m going to do my best to not nag you, but I also want you to know I’m here for you. If you happen to need me, just ask.”
  3. Continue to show love in other ways, like making a favorite meal, surprising them by making their bed, putting an extra treat in their lunch box, or writing a note of encouragement and leaving it on their pillow. These gentle reminders tell them that I’m thinking of them and provide a non-intrusive pick-me-up to keep them motivated.

The bottom line is that by respecting my teen’s space and need for independence, I AM showing love and support. It feels counterintuitive, but if I can remember this, I’m sure it will make backing off a bit easier. Showing love by backing off… now that’s going to be a tough one to master!

Teaching Self Discipline

I love Oreo cookies. And ice cream. And rich milk chocolate- or extra dark… Ok, let’s face it. I have a gigantic sweet tooth. And if I don’t keep it under control, it will devour every fitness goal I have. But completely depriving myself of sweets is up there with my chances of climbing Mt. Everest. It ain’t gonna happen. So, I try to set goals that focus on Moderation and Motivation. It works for me, and it’s an incredibly effective parenting strategy, too.

What Doesn’t Work

When I try to limit my sweets intake, the Super Strict Approach almost always backfires. Here’s how. Let’s say I tell myself, “NO! You can’t have those Oreos. The sugar and fat will make you sluggish-remember you’re in training!” If I really want the cookies, a hard line approach only fuels my resolve to get them. And in my stubbornness, I’ll argue until my inner Cookie Monster is victoriously munching on chocolate wafers and smirking at my puny willpower.

A Better Approach

My sweet tooth isn’t going away any time soon, and fighting against it leaves me bitter and frustrated. So, I’ve learned to use its power to my motivational advantage. I tell myself, “YES! You CAN have 3 Oreos… as soon as you run 5 miles.” (Notice the Moderation of 3 cookies and the Motivation to run 5 miles? Specific rewards and objectives are critical in goal setting). With this approach, my determination shifts focus from arguing to earning the prize.

How this Plays Out with Kids

When we firmly tell our kids they CANNOT have something that they truly want, a switch in their brain turns ON causing them to focus with laser intensity on ways to bypass our NO. As parents, it’s easy to see this as strong-willed defiance. (“Why can’t they just OBEY?” is a question I’ve asked myself repeatedly.) But I have to remember that obedience is something that is learned…along with self discipline. It’s not something we are born with, and it takes time to shape.

Quite frankly, I don’t want squash my kids’ spirit of determination. It will serve them well in year’s ahead. Instead, I want to teach them to use it respectfully. And I want them to obey authority because it’s the right thing to do, not simply because they fear the consequences or wrath of mom. Ultimately, I want my kids to learn to make responsible, self-disciplined decisions whether I’m there to guide them or not.

Choose Your Course

When kids want something that parents don’t want them to have, a fork in the road emerges. The path we take will directly impact the short and long term shaping of our kids. Here are the 3 most common routes parents take and probable outcomes:

  1. Head down the path of least resistance: give in and give them what they want. While this may be easiest, it teaches kids that Mom has an Achilles’ heel. And they will target her weak spot every time.
  2. Barricade the road with a huge wall to try to force a change of direction. While this will block the prohibited objective, determined kids will usually try to climb the wall, and others will flop down in front of it and pout (or tantrum) in defeat.
  3. Put up a solid Road Block while directing traffic to a more appropriate Detour. This route invites a child to focus on redirecting to a healthier, wiser outcome instead of fighting back. Sure, they will still be disappointed in the underlying NO, but when those emotions are met with empathy, their ability to cope will be strengthened.

EXAMPLE

Here’s an example using a Road Block with a Detour and a sprinkle of Moderation and Motivation, too. Setting: The time is 4:30 PM. Mom is in the kitchen preparing dinner for5:30PM when six year-old Conner comes running in with a puppy dog look on his face:

Conner:  MOM, I’m huuuuungry. Can I have cookies and milk…please?

Mom:  I bet you’re hungry! You’ve been playing outside all day in the sunshine. Dinner is in one hour. Cookies are for after dinner (Road Block), but I’m happy to serve a healthy snack to tide you over (Detour). How about some yogurt or carrots with Ranch dip?

Conner:  But I want cookies. NOW.

Mom (Clarifying the Detour):  You may have 2 cookies (Moderation) after you eat a good dinner (Motivation). If you choose to argue about it, the cookies will have to wait until tomorrow. Would you like a yogurt or carrots as a snack for now?

Conner:  Yogurt, please. Can we put the cookies on a plate and set them on the counter so you don’t forget after dinner?

Mom:  I do forget sometime, huh? Sure. That’ll be a good reminder for both of us.

What this Teaches:

The bottom line is this: Mom successfully sets unpopular but necessary boundaries by:

  • helping Conner stay focused on coping with the disappointment instead of fueling his desire to argue with her,
  • setting clear limits with Moderation and Motivation: 2 cookies, after dinner, and as long as there is no arguing, and
  • offering an appropriate alternative to curb Conner’s hunger before dinner.

IF Conner continues to argue for cookies, Mom can calmly but firmly remind him, “I know you are disappointed, but I was clear that there would be no cookies tonight if the arguing continued. I’m going to remove cookie privileges tonight, and you can try again tomorrow.” This will, no doubt, be met with greater disappointment. A helpful approach in shaping coping skills at this point is to continue to show empathy for the disappointment, while instilling hope and believing in the child’s ability to be successful next time.

For instance, Mom might say, “It’s tough to lose privileges. It’s hard for me to take them away, too. Tomorrow will be a fresh start. Would you like to aim to have your 2 cookies with lunch?”

If Conner is incredibly tired from his big day, he may not have what it takes to hold it together at this point. If he begins to melt down, redirecting him to a quiet activity in his room or a nice warm bath can help him reset before dinner.

Teaching our kids to obey and eventually master self discipline is one of the toughest tasks we face as parents. But when kids are given the tools to learn to cope with boundaries and disappointment, and shown how to make wise and healthy decisions, they can acquire skills that will benefit them for a lifetime.

I challenge you today to face limit setting with a fresh approach. Provide appropriate detours along with those road blocks and watch your kids respond more cooperatively. And the next time you break out a package of Oreo cookies, please be sure to eat one for me!

Question: What limits are most difficult for you to set with your kids? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

A Real Solution for Annoying Behaviors (Part 2)

At the heart of a child’s misbehavior is a need that is begging to be addressed. If the need goes unanswered, the unwanted behavior will continue. Think of it this way, a whining child is like a pulled hamstring, ignoring or trying to muscle through the pain will only make matters worse. But take time to figure out and calmly treat the underlying issue, and you’re on the way to real results with long term effects.

Yes, that’s right. Calmly treating the underlying issue is critical to success. And that holds true for the emotions of both parent and child. I’ll be writing about techniques to master this incredibly difficult practice in later posts, but here’s something to know for now. Recent brain research actually shows that when a child’s brain is bombarded with negative emotion, it’s not able to receive logical direction and information. Therefore, in order to turn the thinking side of your child’s brain ON, loving connection must be made first. Please try to keep this in mind as you read this intervention for whining.

As I wrote about in Part 1 of this series, the first step to finding a lasting solution is to answer the question: What is this behavior trying to tell me? Like interrupting, whining is an attention seeking behavior. It’s basically saying, “Look at me. Give me what I want…pleeeeease!”

The second step involves looking for the need behind the behavior, and this can be tricky. But like a detective, the more clues you uncover, the easier it is to solve the mystery. In parenting presentations over the years, I’ve shared 6 Key Questions that have helped parents get to the root of the problem.

  1. When did the behavior begin?
  2. Where does it occur?
  3. When does it occur?
  4. With whom does the behavior occur?
  5. What are the common factors in the environment?
  6. Are there certain foods or medicines that may be triggering the behavior?

It’s always a good idea to seek the professional opinion of a pediatrician, counselor or specialist if problems persist, get worse or are causing significant problems for your child or family. And if your gut instinct says, “Something isn’t right,” listen to it. The Momma Instinct is wise and should not be ignored. When in doubt, ask. Early detection and intervention are worth their weight in gold!

Let’s look at an imaginary example of a mom and her 4 year old daughter who whines.

Sally Sue is a bright, persistent preschooler who is masterful at getting her way. Her big blue eyes typically melt her mom and dad into giving her what she wants, and when that doesn’t work, she resorts to whining. Whining sends a jolt of electricity down the spines of her parents, causing them to either yell at Sally Sue or crater to her demands. The whining is getting more piercing, and little Sally Sue’s parents are frazzled.

Looking at the 6 Key Questions, Sally’s parents find:

  1. The whining occurs several times a week. It began about 6 months ago, right around the time her baby brother was born.
  2. Whining seems to be worse at home, but it can happen anywhere.
  3. The whining is worst when Sally is tired or really wants her way. It peaks late afternoon, just before dinner.
  4. Mom asked Sally’s preschool teachers and volunteers at Sunday School if she whines when she is in class. They all said “no” and shared that she is very cooperative and respectful. She does whine occasionally with Grandma, but the behavior is mostly with Mom and Dad.
  5. Whining is worst when baby brother has cried a lot (he has colic), or when mom or dad seem the most tired or stressed (still up during the night with the baby). It also spiked when Sally had an ear infection a few weeks ago.
  6. Sally does not seem to have any food sensitivities, and she does not take any medication, but her parents are now on the look-out for foods that may trigger a change in her mood or energy, just in case.

The Results:

Putting all the pieces together, a pattern emerges. The whining began when baby brother was born, and it’s used almost exclusively around family, particularly Mom and Dad. It’s worst at late afternoon, when Sally Sue is tired or when she is sick. (This makes sense because needy behaviors tend to flare up when kids are not feeling their best). And it’s most evident when the rest of the family is very tired or stressed. With this specific information, Mom and Dad can hone in on the need: it sounds like Sally Sue’s whines are an expression of the stress and insecurity she may be feeling about sharing her world and her parents with a baby. (Particularly a baby who’s fussy and needs extra attention for his sensitive tummy).

My Possible Solutions:

To help fill Sally’s need for attention, create a special ritual with Sally Sue that gives her one-on-one time with each parent To help her avoid Whine Country in the late afternoon, look more carefully at specific needs that may be undetected. Could she be hungry? A small healthy snack earlier in the afternoon could do wonders. Is she extra tired or wired? A quiet time of reading, snuggling with stuffed animals, or listening to soft music may be the key. And to help her get better adjusted to being a big sister and gain an appreciation for her little brother, mom and dad could get her more involved with the baby. Some ideas:

  • Ask her to help give Baby a bath.
  • Ask her to pick out Baby’s clothes.
  • Have Sally Sue select the cute little baby food jars at the grocery store.
  • Ask Sally how she would like to help. Suggest reading to Baby, gently holding up sensory toys for baby to look at, singing quietly, telling Baby made up stories. (The more positive, engaging interaction they have, the better chance for a strong connection to develop).

If Sally Sue resorts to whining, try intervening with this strategy:

Kneel down to her level and gently say, “It sounds like you really want something, and I’d like to help. Whining hurts my ears. I’m happy to talk to you when you use your regular voice.” (* If you ask her to use her “big girl words” or “grown up voice”, this could backfire if she’s trying to get attention by acting like a baby. After all, it’s working for the baby brother).

This may be enough to stop the whining. But if she continues, announce that you are in a Whine Free zone (not to be confused with a Free Wine Zone). Invite her to whine all she wants in her bedroom, and when she’s ready to come back to the room you are in, you’ll be there to give her a hug.

If She Needs Help Getting to Her Room:

  • Lead her while calmly reassuring her that she is not in trouble.
  • Remind her that you are just helping her to her room where she”s free to get all of her whines out.
  • Let her know how you’ll be waiting with a big hug when she returns to the Whine Free Zone.

Remember, by connecting patiently with her during this stressful transition, her brain can be receptive to what you are saying. Once her emotions take over, it becomes almost impossible to get a point across.  Don’t be surprised if, when you get to her room, she asks for a cuddle, falls asleep or begins to cry. This is confirmation that she did need that quiet, down time. And in her room, she’s feeling safe to” just be.” Offer to sit with her a while so that she can see you care.

P.S.

Life with a newborn can be exhausting, and it can stay that way for many months. Contending with the whining of an older sibling doesn’t make matters any easier. But taking time to recognize the need behind the whine (or other difficult behavior) and filling the need at its core will pay off solidly in the future.

Question: I encourage you to look at a challenging or annoying behavior that you may be facing with your child and try to apply the 6 Key Questions. Does that help you find the need behind the behavior? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

A Cure for Dawdling

Last week I received a question from a Mom about a challenge I think every preschool parent faces-Dawdling! I’m so glad she asked! Here’s her question and my suggestion:

My daughter is almost 5, and it is so difficult to keep her on task. If I ask her to go upstairs and go potty/get in pjs she will purposely dawdle and/or see that something else needs attending…like tucking her baby doll into bed. I almost always have to come up and scoot her along…is she too young to expect that she can stay on task and complete it in a timely manner? How can I get her to move along faster? Thanks!

Finding the Solution

Toddlers are Kings and Queens of Dawdle. And as parents, it’s hard to not feel frustrated by their pokiness, particularly when we have places to go and things to do. Unfortunately, young children do struggle to stay focused and get the job done. But as their brains mature and develop the necessary self discipline, we can certainly help them along with a few simple steps and a whole lotta patience.

Let’s begin with the basic question about behavior.  What is the dawdling behavior trying to tell me?  See if any of these answers possibly fit:

  • “I want your attention.”  (Each time we step in to help, dawdling gets rewarded).
  • “I’m not developmentally ready to stay on task.”  (This is a challenge for most young kids).
  • “I don’t like doing these boring tasks.”  (And who does?!)

I suspect the answer may be a combination of all three, so let’s go with that for now. Here are a few suggestions that could help her pick up her pace and get the job done.

  • Stay calm! Try not to take the dawdling personally. Instead, see it as an opportunity to shape your child to become more efficient and focused.
  • Make sure the task is manageable and understood. If pottying and PJs both need to be taken care of, make the instructions bite-sized. Consider having her go potty, then race back to you for a hug. THEN have her describe the PJs she’s going to wear tonight, and send her back upstairs with a mental picture of those cozy clothes fresh in her mind.
  • Put a motivator after the task. As in the example above, a hug was the motivator for going potty. Maybe the motivator for putting on PJs is Stories at Bedtime. Try saying something like this, “We’ll have time for two of your favorite stories before bed if you go straight upstairs and put on your PJs. Yell down to me as soon as you’re dressed, and I’ll come right up to read.” Keep your attitude light and fun, so she’ll want to be back with you right away. If she doesn’t call down in a timely manner, give a warning that you are moving into the One Book Zone.
  • Use eye contact when making a request. Even better, connect by gently touching her shoulder or holding her hand as you describe the task.
  • Make the mundane fun. Sing a song, play favorite tunes in the background, make it a race, take “giant steps” to the objective. Kids are more inclined to stay focused when they are having fun.
  • Leave a little extra time to accomplish the mission. This is for Mama’s sanity. To reduce stress, add a few moments of buffer space to cushion unexpected (or expected) delays.
  • And, if the baby doll seems to be the main source of distraction, consider adding the doll to the mix and apply the Task/Motivator rule. For instance, during pajama time, direct your daughter to put on her jammies (task) THEN tuck her doll into bed (motivator). This way both will be ready to read stories (double motivator!).

Creativity, patience and extra understanding go a long way in helping kids learn to focus and put a spring in their step. Remember, we’re here to shape our kids to be more successful, and we do that best through relationship. Address the need under the behavior, and you’ll have results that all can cheer about.

Question: Do you have a fun or creative solution that has helped with dawdling? Please share! You can leave a comment by clicking here.

A Real Solution for Annoying Behaviors

Sharp knee pain, side cramps, or fatigue in the middle of a race can speak volumes to an athlete in tune with her body. And when the discomfort yells loud enough, one of three options is usually deployed: ignore the pain and hope it goes away, slap a quick fix on it, or uncover and address the deeper issue. The most successful solutions are those that find a remedy for the underlying cause. The same philosophy holds true for kids and misbehavior.

Behind every annoying, frustrating, inappropriate behavior is an unmet need that’s begging to be addressed. Parents often treat unwanted behavior (whining, back talking, biting, nose picking, crankiness, interrupting…) as an irritating pest. We try to zap it by grabbing our bug repellant and blasting it away. But ultimately, the pesky behavior is bound to return because the need behind it has not been met. Finding and filling that unmet need is not always easy, but it’s essential to a long term solution.

Let’s look at example with an imaginary mom and her son.

Five year-old Garrett’s mother is a social butterfly who’s mastered her gift of gab. But lately, every time she gets into a conversation, Garrett finds a way to interrupt. Little G’s mom has tried ignoring him, and she’s tried scolding him for being rude. But instead of learning to wait his turn, Garrett’s interrupting is getting more persistent, and his mother’s irritation is rising.

What now?

In order to teach Garrett to be more considerate, Mom is asked to think about three critical questions:

  1. “What is this behavior (interrupting) trying to say?”
  2. “What is the need at the root of the behavior?” and
  3.  “How can the need be met more appropriately?”

The answer to #1 stands out quickly. Garrett’s interrupting behavior is saying “Mom! I want your attention!” But the answer to #2, the need behind his attention seeking, is not as clear. So, his mother thinks more specifically about the last few interruptions and tries to find common threads.

First, she usually makes sure that Garrett is preoccupied with an activity either alone or with a friend before she dives into a chat session. And she’s observed that Garrett only interrupts after she’s been talking for about 15 minutes or longer. That may seem like an eternity to him, and even though she’s physically close to him, he may feel isolated from her and need some reassurance. She also recognizes that Garrett does not know any other way to get her attention. If he had a less intrusive method, it could be a win-win for both of them.

The Solution: a Secret Code

Mom decides to create a non-verbal code where Garrett can quietly put his hand on her leg if he needs her while she’s talking. To acknowledge him, she’ll take his hand in hers and squeeze it two times. If he squeezes back and lets go, this tells her all is well. But if he squeezes and doesn’t let go, this will be his sign that he needs to talk. At that point, she could politely excuse herself from the conversation while Garrett waits patiently holding her hand.

Next, Mom sits down with her son and offers to team up with him to solve their problem together. She listens as Garrett shares his feelings, and she apologizes for not paying better attention to what he was really saying. Then she suggests the new plan to him, and they give it a practice run over a pretend phone call. During the following weeks, they put the plan into action with great results. Garrett is empowered with a way to politely connect with his busy mom, and Mom learns to see her son’s unwanted behaviors as warning sign that there is an underlying need that’s not getting met.

Mom and son soon discover a new appreciation for each other and grow closer through this victory. Misbehavior, while still annoying, is no longer treated with a quick fix. Instead, it’s listened to as language. Because, after all, behavior really does have something important to say.

Question: What unwanted behaviors are you facing right now? I encourage you to look at them through this new lens. What could they be telling you? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

10 Creative Ways to Read Together

There a lots of great ways to make reading fun for your kids. And the more fun it is, the more often they’ll want to read!

  1. Huddle under the covers, reading with a flashlight before bedtime.
  2. Sit outside under a shady tree with a blanket and books.
  3. During potty training, distract with a book or two.
  4. Use the illustrations to play “I spy.”
  5. Use reading as motivation to eat “yucky” healthy foods. Grab a book your child loves to read and offer a deal, ” Each time you take a bite of a veggies, I’ll read a page.”
  6. Read in a whisper.
  7. Camp and read under a tent made from sheets and chairs.
  8. Create your very own in-home story time with stuffed animals and dolls sitting “quietly” in a circle.
  9. During a visit to the doctor, theatrically act out characters from a favorite book while waiting your turn in the exam room.
  10. Read the book with a foreign accent.

How to Create a Personal Summer Reading Program

Books may be turning into dinosaurs in today’s culture, but they are alive and well in my home, particularly during the summer months.  Want to spark imaginations, boost reading skills, and sharpen minds in your kids while school is out? Please read on:

When my boys were toddlers, each summer they looked forward to Wii Night- an all night Wii playing-video watching-fun food eating- celebration for completing their personal reading log goals. Based on the summer reading programs offered by many libraries, we came up with our own program filled with hand picked motivators, and the kids (still!) dive into it every year. Many have asked me to share what I do, so here is an idea of how ours works:

First, determine how many pages (and what level of difficulty) you want your child to read by a certain date at the end of the summer. (For instance, one year my boys needed to read 2500 pages by August 21 to qualify for Wii Night). Then, assign rewards to smaller sub-goals, so the kids can earn them as they go. That year we chose:

500 pages – I buy them a book of their choice from the store
1000 pages – a big candy bar and video rental with a fun movie night
1500 pages – $15 iTunes card
2000 pages – water park admission
2500 pages – Wii NIGHT

Incentives do not need to be expensive! In fact, they don’t have to cost anything at all. Just find out what will really motivate your kids the most and use that. Create a chart where they can check off their completed reading in chunks of 10 or 25 pages. It’s fun for them to check off their accomplishments as they go. (To ensure accountability:  I sign off of on their logs, as well. AND I must approve the reading level of each book before I sign. Some parents ask their kids to give a brief summary of the book , too).

The fine print: As my boys got older,  I added requirements to the list. For instance, this summer they’ll need to read a biography and a historical fiction novel as part of the their required pages. They balked at first, but this opens them up to genres they wouldn’t choose on their own. And when kids discover great books in seemingly “boring” genres, it opens them up to a whole new world!