Friday, January 27, 2012

6 Rules for Parenting Success

Rule #1:  Mean what you say and say what you mean.  
     It’s very easy to get caught up in the heat of the moment and say, “Do your homework or you won’t play video games for a year!”  Now we all know that you will crack before the year is up . . .
     In a paper presented at the annual convention of the Council for Exceptional Children in Minneapolis back in 1998, the author suggested the use of Gossen’s Restitution Model when all else fails.  A child who is easily bored or has highly oppositional behaviors and refuses to change needs to take more responsibility for his or her actions.  This model switches the loci of responsibility for change TO the child rather than trying to instill a sense of responsibility ON the child.
Rule #2:  If a child is struggling, but capable, do not lower expectations.  
     Lowering your expectations may silently communicate a vote of no confidence in the child.  Instead, keep your high expectations (if the child is capable of meeting them) and offer lots of empathy, support, and encouragement.  Instead, say things such as:
  • “I can see that this is tough for you.  I’m proud of the effort you are making.”
  • “I know this is a difficult time, and I’m confident you can do it.”
  • “This is hard and we’ll get through it.  We’ll help you all we can.” (from Neihart, Peak Performance for Smart Kids) 
Real-life story:
“Our 11-year-old son, Jonathan, came home in a near panic over a complicated assignment that was due in 3 weeks.  He wanted to do very well on it and was frantic about how much he would need to do to complete it.  We had him sit down with a calendar and break the project down into specific, doable daily goals.  When he finished, he seemed genuinely surprised that each of the daily goals was easy, and even more surprised that the assignment could actually get done ahead of schedule.  He has a chapter test coming up in math in a few weeks and we saw him attack this in the same way, filling out his planner with daily goals to prepare.  This helped us realize that he needs to learn how to break things down into smaller tasks; otherwise, he gets overwhelmed and avoids doing anything because the projects seem too huge.  (from Neihart, Peak Performance for Smart Kids)
Rule #3:  Establish goals that can be quantified.  
     Rather than saying that Johnny needs to get his homework done, tell him he needs to get his Reading done by 4:00, his Math done by 5:00, his Spelling done by 6:00 . . . and actually let him check them off as he completes them.
     Instead of saying that your child needs to be more responsible, be specific about what you consider responsibility to be:  Sally needs to put her toys away after playing with them or Johnny needs to write Spelling words 10 times each day in order to be ready for the test on Friday.
     Instead of saying that your child needs to work harder, tell him what that means to you: only take a 30 minute break when you get home from school and then get to work on your homework – not stopping until you are finished, at which time you may play a video game for 30 minutes.  Work first, reward later.
Rule #4:  Provide your child with the tools for self-management.
     If you want your child to improve his or her self-management ability, make sure that he or she has the tools needed (both physical and emotional).
Physical Tools: 
  • Planner of his or her choosing
  • A cool pen or pencil to use just for the planner
  • Highlighters or colored pens or pencils
  • Post-it Notes
  • Bulletin Board
  • Binder with sections for each subject
  • Specific place to do schoolwork that works for the whole family
  • Reward system devised either by your child or together as a family
  • Written contract to accomplish specific goals by a certain time
  • Clock with a timer or alarm
Emotional Tools:
  • Give him reason to believe that he is capable of self-management.  Allow him to make certain decisions for himself.  Have faith in him.
  • Allow her to set up her own schedule so long as she accomplishes what she needs to accomplish.  Maybe Sally NEEDS to unwind when she comes home from school before she can crack the books.  Maybe Johnny NEEDS to get his homework done immediately because he WANTS to watch his favorite television shows at night and unwind then.  Children need to unwind as much as adults do – and each of them does it in as many different ways as adults do. 
  • Try to set an example of the self-management style you wish your child to exhibit.  Discuss why you are doing things the way you are in a way that makes sense to your child.  For example:
    • When you take out your Blackberry to enter an appointment, make the connection that by writing down where and when you need to be somewhere, you will be there.  Discuss how your child’s planner fills the same purpose.
    • When you put the dishes away, talk about the benefits of having a place for everything so that you know exactly where it is.  The next time you need a dish, you know where to look.  Similarly, the next time your child needs his Math book, he should know where to find it because it is always in the same place.
    • When you apologize to your child because you can’t make a soccer game because of a commitment at work, help your child to see how his or her commitments at school are equally important. Watching television has to wait until homework is done, for example.
Rule #5: Establish routines. 
     Establishing routines allows your child to know what to expect and when to expect it.  How can you expect him to be disciplined and manage his time well if he is constantly surprised by inconsistent routines?  On the other hand, if he always knows that he has from 6:00 – 8:00 pm to work on his homework, that is an established routine.  If he always knows that he has to get his math done in the car while he waits for his sister’s gymnastics to be over, that is an established routine.  Routines don’t have to be June Cleaver pretty.  They just need to be reliable.
Rule #6:  Celebrate minor victories!  
     Rather than expecting your child to improve all bad habits overnight, talk about one aspect that the child is capable of improving and agree to not nag about anything else so long as the child is working on improving that one thing.  For example:
Johnny is doing poorly in school not because he doesn’t know the material, but because he simply forgets to hand in the homework.  Make a deal with Johnny that you will not say anything about time spent playing video games, teasing his sister, or not taking out the trash if he will remember to turn in his homework every day for a week (or two weeks or a month).  During that time, praise him every time he remembers to turn in his homework and help him to set up a system to remember – perhaps placing it by the back door, putting it in a bright red folder in his backpack, or attaching a feather or a long straw or a long piece of yarn to it before putting it in his binder.  Once that problem is solved, focus on another (if necessary).