Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Finding Solutions

Recently, parenting has felt a bit like the ocean - continually changing and rolling.  Every week new challenges get churned up, gently pushed into the surf and ultimately coughed up onto the shore (i.e. into my awareness.)  I pray for this - a more acute awareness of what my children need - so I am thankful for the continual revelation.  But sometimes it can be a little daunting to come up with solutions.  I think we should use each other more in coming up with parenting solutions; surely we're dealing with similar issues.  So I hope Bloom can once again be a forum for sharing insight and suggestion, especially on the tricky matters of parenthood.

For my contribution this week I thought I'd share the most recent problem we've confronted as parents, and the solution we came up with.  I'd also love to hear your thoughts and suggestions on the matter.
I hope that the comment thread might be a place for you to share the challenges you're facing in your parenting and that other readers will have wisdom to share.  This is also something we'd love to hear about via e.mail - the issues that are arising as your parenting sea changes and churns.  We could post them and solicit wisdom and advice from this fertile little community of parents.  Kind of like Ann Landers, except we all get to be Ann.  

So.  This week's dilemma at our home:

Since reading Clayton Christensen's book, "How Will You Measure Your Life" **(see footnote) Nate and I have been very mindful of helping our children develop processes and skills to solve their own problems.  Henry's morning tendencies have become a glaring instance of where we've enabled bad habits and sluggish behavior.  We realized we needed to make some changes that would foster more autonomy.  For all his many talents and abilities, Henry is not much of a hustler and he is terribly distractable.  Getting ready for school in the morning was pretty much just a steady stream of my reminders/doting and Nate's frustration.  "C'mon Henry!  It's time to be downstairs eating breakfast.  Hurry up, Henry!  Where are your shoes?  Is your backpack packed?  Comb your hair please, Henry."  Every single thing that needed to get done required a prompt from us.  And every single morning, Henry and Nate were rushing out the door in a huff, usually five minutes behind schedule.  We all felt flustered and frazzled.  And poor Henry was leaving the house feeling hen-pecked and half-hearted.

A few nights ago, Nate and I had a pow wow about it.  What can we do to help him manage himself better?  What consequence can we impose if he isn't ready to walk out the door at 7:35 that will motivate him to be more mindful the next morning?  It is really hard to impose a consequence on Henry...he is so mellow and easy going, there aren't many things that ruffle his feathers.  And he doesn't have a lot of easily-revokable privileges - he doesn't play video games, doesn't watch hardly any tv, doesn't play on the computer...and if we take away a beloved plaything, he'll just choose another, or go outside and split wood or something similarly mundane and enjoy himself immensely in the process.

But he loves to be read to.  LOVES it.  It's part of our nightly ritual that both of my kids just adore.  So we decided that if Henry couldn't self-manage in the mornings, he would have to read by himself for a half hour in the afternoon (which would cut into his free time AND remove the beloved nightly ritual of reading together).  I hate to impose that as a consequence because it feels like a punishment to me, too; I love our nightly reading as much as the children...but I have a feeling we won't be missing many nights.     I have noticed that wisely-chosen consequences are extremely effective in changing behavior.  Nate is a master at choosing consequences; I am so thankful for his insight in this aspect of parenting.  

Last night we sat down with Henry and talked about the problems with our morning shuffle.  He agreed that mornings are really stressful and rushed and that he hates being nagged all the way to the door.  We talked about being a self-manager and brainstormed ways to help him be more successful and efficient in the mornings.  I bought a little whiteboard to list the things he needs to do, always helpful to have a visual reminder.  And we talked about things he could do the night before to make the morning less hectic (lay out clothes, find his shoes, pack his lunch, etc.)  And then we told him that if he had trouble staying on task in the morning, he would have to do his reading independently in the afternoon.  But if he was ready to go on time, we would read together at bedtime.  

This morning was a success.  Henry was ready to walk out the door at 7:30...it was Nate we were waiting for :)  Henry felt good about being a self-manager and his last words to me were, "do we get to read together tonight?!"
I told him that we could and he walked out the back door with a big, "Yessssss!"

Do you have any additional advice for our mornings?  How do you help your children be more efficient self-managers?
What issues are you confronting in your parenting right now?  Let's talk about strategies & solutions!

(**I cannot recommend that book heartily enough.  Seriously.  Read it.  Nate and I both read it just before Christmas - it was so enjoyable to read and discuss.  Clayton Christensen is so incredibly insightful; you will reexamine every aspect of your life).   


Anonymous said...

Hello! This is my first time commenting and I can totally relate. I think what you are doing sounds really great. How do we feel about rewards? I feel like they are very motivating, yet I also worry that my children will not do anything unless they get something for it. At the moment I feel like I'm bearly surviving motherhood. I want to give my children so much, but what do you do when you lack the energy to do it? I am basically just doing the essentials here, meals, baths, laundry, keeping up on the house, etc...and it makes me sad. I'm just exhausted after all is said and done caring for 3 small children and a household day after day. Does anyone else feel like they are drowning??? Sorry so depressing, I would love some advice or tips from all you amazing mothers!

Rachael said...

We've really been focusing on independence and autonomy lately. Like you, Em, I have one child (my kindergardener) who totally drags her feet in the morning and it's awful sending her out feeling like I've been hounding her all day. And with a new baby coming to join our home in another few weeks, I REALLY need everyone to be doing things on their own rather than being nagged by me.

So my husband and I sat down and brainstormed some goals for our oldest 3 children (our two-year-old escaped this one). All were focused on fostering autonomous good habits, and all were things that we could easily measure, like completing homework, getting dressed before breakfast, or packing one's own lunch (i.e. I'd love for my three-year-old to stop blinking at me in his complicated code whenever I ask him a question, because he thinks it's hilarious, and it drives me insane, BUT it's not something that I can easily check off a list, because it's happening multiple times a day). Anyway.

We implemented a star chart where each child is responsible for awarding him/herself their own star after a task is completed, and then instituted "Sunday Sundaes," where each level of star completion correlated to a ice-cream goody...so 50% of your stars earned ice cream, 65% earned syrups, 80% earned sprinkles, and 95% earned candy/nuts. Totally exciting because we NEVER do this, and such a hit for the kids. It's been going really well, and the kids have really stepped up in terms of completing their tasks without being constantly reminded.

What I like most about this is that a) the kids are much more self-motivated b) we don't have to reward them every single day (they put stickers on each day for the completed items, but the sundaes are only once a week) and c) I'm distributing positive rewards rather than punishments. And rather than saying 100 times "Please go practice the piano NOW!" all I have to say is, "Please go practice the piano so you can put a star on your chart" and then the kid scampers off because it will earn them some peanuts on their ice cream at the end of the week.

Rachael said...

And Anonymous--I am still a pretty young mother (my oldest is 8), so I'm not speaking with the voice of a wealth of experience here, but one thing I've found is incredibly important for me is to do things for myself too. It's so easy to drown when you ARE doing the same things every day...is there anything that you do just because you love it, and you get to do it by yourself?

Some things that I find are really energizing for me are exercise (I love to run so I train for a lot of long-distance races, especially with my husband; I also like to do yoga), taking a class or learning a new skill (knitting, quilting, canning food, gardening, etc.), or something as simple as going to the library or Target by myself and just wandering around. I've also found it really energizing to get together with other women; I don't do it as much as I used to during the day just because I'm busier, but occasionally I'll invite a good friend over for lunch and we talk while our kids play, or I go to a book club meeting or meet a friend at a restaurant for dessert after our kids are in bed. I find that when I do things like this, I can come back and be supercharged and enthusiastic and exciting about tackling my mothering life, because I have more energy, ideas, creativity, etc.--I feel like ME again.

(This is totally tooting my own horn, but I wrote a post that deals a bit with this for Bloom a few years back...http://placetobloom.blogspot.com/2010/01/i-bet-this-crossed-your-resolution.html).

Jon and Laura said...

I love your post and the comments- thank you! I have 3 boys 5 and under, and I have done a lot of thinking about consequences and rewards. My oldest in particular is VERY motivated by any type of reward (stickers, food, etc) but I have worried about him only having good behavior because he "gets" or "doesn't get" something. However, I have come to a conclusion lately that those reward systems are to motivate the child to raise their level of functioning to appropriate behavior, and then we can work with sustaining it; I think they are most effective when they are somewhat short-term and help the child realize that they are capable of that behavior, and then the next step is keeping the expectation with less or no rewards attached. I have found that to be really helpful for me to look at reward systems that way.

Also- I have to say that this winter I have felt just like the mother in the first anonymous post- I had a baby in July and had post partum bleeding- very severe- then while I was healing up from that, winter set in, and we have been sick 90% of the winter- I think there are some seasons of life where it's ok to just survive! I have to remind myself that I don't have to be constant wonder woman- God expects the best we can give TODAY- not our best on our best possible day! That brings me a lot of comfort.

When I feel really low, I read this quote which reminds me of that idea:
"Nature doesn't work with on-off switches, or a continuous motor. Nature is organic. It cycles. It flows. There is an ebb for every tide, a time of retreat and gathering of strength for every time of flowering. This continuous ebb and flow is vital in order to renew the energy required for a continuing cycle of life...I have trouble accepting the need for down time. I want to be a continuous switch, a peak producer with no valleys. I want relationships that get better continuously. I want to make continuous improvement myself with no temporary backsliding. I want to be able to jump up the minute after I am kicked in the stomach. I just don't want to allow time to recover and take in strength. I want to be a non-stop flowering wonder...could we allow time for our children to learn the lessons of life? Could we allow ourselves time to recover from periods of difficulty- time to grieve, time to heal, time to gather strength? Could we allow individuals to change and grow, relationships time to change and grow?...~Virginia Hinckley Pearce

There's much to teach, but much time to do it as well. Many of us don't give ourselves enough credit for what we are doing. I love bloom- thank you for what I learn from all of you!!

Anonymous said...

Well, I haven't read the book. And it sounds like you've come up with a solution that works for you. I'm just going to chime in here and say, things flow a little easier when we reward the good more than punishing the bad. (ie my kids get privileges for getting done on time in the morning). I don't know why it works better, there's just less frustration.
But like I said, what works for one maybe totally different than what works for another! good for you for searching for solutions! :)

Anonymous said...


I just want you to know that you're not alone. I too feel like I'm drowning in the daily tasks of motherhood. I feel like my entire life is spent taking care of my children, my husband, our house, my church responsibilities, etc. The essentials feel overwhelming, and adding more to that list almost brings me to tears. I too want to devote more of my time and energy to more than survival. I just don't feel like I have the energy. The saddest part for me is watching the years slip away and feeling so overwhelmed at all I still need to teach my children. Maybe I'm just too much of a perfectionist. Maybe I just need to let go of whatever image I have in my head of what a perfect mom should be and just be me and see where that gets me...
I just wanted you to know that you're not alone.

Sandra Carson said...

Great post....i appreciate you...No one can take an mothers place...:)

Anonymous said...

Good food for thought. A couple things I'm wondering- if the goal is to help him solve his own problems, could he be more involved in brainstorming solutions together with you? Or perhaps feel the natural consequences of arriving late to his class? (Some kids might not care but many hate to miss out or naturally feel bad walking in late, etc). Sometimes we have to let go of what people think of us as parents because we don't want them to think we are irresponsible and not getting them places on time! Just an idea. It sounds like what you're doing worked great. I just wonder how our kids will become more competent at solving their own problems if we're the ones sitting down with our spouses to decide on a consequence (that may or may not be related at all to the problem). I hope that makes sense. This is something I think about a lot because I have the same questions. Thanks for sharing!

Sally said...

Speaking from experience as not only a person that tends to be slow in getting out the door and easily distracted and also having a child just like me, the worst thing you can ever do is to say hurry up. It only causes more stress and problems. The best approach I've found with my daughter is to periodically say " you have this many minutes left, what do you need to do to make it to the bus on time?" It's a simple reminder that gets her back on task and doesn't cause her to get tense and frustrated. And I usually only have to say it once if at all these days.

Emily Anne said...

I really appreciate the feedback you guys have offered. Especially been thinking about Anonymous #4's comment. Great points. We did involve Henry in the brainstorming process when we were trying to find solutions - we wanted to him to come up with ideas and suggestions. It wasn't just my husband and I saying, "here's what we're going to do..." it was more of "here's the problem we see, what do you think we can do...?"
As far as natural consequences...yes. And no.
He has been tardy plenty of times! Doesn't seem to bother him a bit :) So we've kind of had to impose some artificial/contrived incentive for punctuality.

But I'm admittedly too much of a marshmallow on certain natural consequences -- like if he's running behind, I should probably just send him out the door hungry...but I haven't been able to do that! I feel like he'll be so distracted and uncomfortable all morning in class...and that makes me sad. I guess I'm kind of a waffler when it comes to natural consequences -- sometimes I have too strong of an instinct to protect my kids from pain, I think. When, in reality, maybe it would be good for them to suffer a little? I don't know...

And Sally, I really appreciated your comment, too. Great insight.

Thank you all for what you've shared. To you who are feeling overwhelmed...we want to talk more about this. You are not alone. And we hope we can explore this issue more to find some constructive feedback/suggestions.

Megan said...

I love all this insight. I honestly haven't thought too much about this stuff- I have a special needs son who is 6 and a fun loving son who is 4. I'm just beginning to understand some of this. For me, it is more about what I'm doing that causes problems in the home than what they are doing. It's hard to think about how to help them find solutions, when I'm struggling with solutions for myself. Ideally, I hope to become this type of mother-who can see a problem and be able to work out a solution with my husband and children. There is always hope. thanks to you brilliant women.

Melissa said...

Emily, I'm kind of late to the discussion. I keep forgetting that you guys are back! I will add you back to my blog roll so I don't miss anymore. My girls are 11 and 13, and we did many fun things to motivate them when they were little. In fact, that motivation doesn't go away, and we have altered our management style as they've gotten older and become more independent. The very first thing I ever did for my 4-year-old was to take a picture of her doing each of four tasks that were her responsibility. We laminated the photos and put them on a little ring so she could flip through the pictures as a reminder each morning. There was no motivator yet, just the introduction of chores that she thought were fun. Every child has a motivator, and the trick is to find out what that is. Even since they were young, my kids have been highly motivated by money for some reason, but we make it work. I used to use the sticker charts you find at the teacher's supply that are in a block of squares with a cute picture on it. We called it our 'busy bee' chart, and the girls would get a bee sticker for doing the little jobs they had (most were personal care items). When the chart was full, they would get two dollars. It took about a week or a little longer to fill it up, and the wait time was appropriate for their ages. On kind of a similar thread, I do want to share something I've learned about that changed the way I approach teaching some of the skills our kids need to learn. Have you heard about executive skills? They are the skills one possesses that enable them to execute a task from start to finish. We have strengths and weaknesses in our skill set. For example, my strengths are working memory and organization, and my weaknesses are task initiation and time management. It has been life-changing to understand where I am strong and where I am weak with these skills, but it was pivotal to find out where my daughter was with her skills. She struggles with organization and working memory which is why the poor thing cannot keep her room clean or remember where she puts things. Understanding where our children's weaknesses are helps us have compassion for them and operate with an extra measure of love when we are teaching them. And it has been HUGE to be able to work with her teachers to understand her limitations as they relate to the teeny tiny box public school children are required to operate in. The icing on the cake is that my daughter, who believed for a long time that she wasn't very smart because of these weaknesses, has STRENGTHS! We celebrate her flexibility, emotional control and response inhibition which means that she is super easy-going and has appropriate emotional control and responses to the world around her. I think the more we strive to be in tune with our kids and understand them, the more powerful our teaching and the more successful their learning. The book that I learned about executive skills from is called "Smart But Scattered." It might be too soon for moms with young children to use because you do need to know a little more about your child to take the initial survey, but the knowledge is powerful and has helped me with my own issues too. I'd love to chat more about this anytime. Can you tell I'm a little passionate about it? :D

Anonymous said...

Fashion women leather hobo bags in characteristic slouch design, best quality soft material hobo shoulder bags, crossbody hobo bags and hobo bags for women on http://leatherhobobag.webs.com!

Mary said...

i love this simple solution. check list to help redirect him when he gets distracted, and a consequence to motivate! seems like it's working too!! simple and clear expectation help so much......why are we always trying to complicate everything (i'm so guilty of this).

I feel like my kids are gone so much and home time is my time to build. those mornings when i'm reminding and impatiently barking at my kids leave us all feeling down. what a bummer way to start the day and usually all because of me!!

my husband and i have tried really hard to not say a thing about what they have to do in the am (they also have a check list just in case). we sit back calmly and let them choose how they will spend their time. sometimes it's no breakfast and sometimes they have a pretty skimpy lunch or messy hair. They know we have scripture study at 7:30 so that the deadline. If they are not ready they have an early bedtime that night....no reading and lights out EARLY! if they can't get up and be ready on time then they must need more sleep, right? it's working for now. when it's time to go, I say "i take boys in the car that are ready on time otherwise you are one your own." something like that! if they aren't ready they can walk or ride their bike (which is not all that bad since we live super close). i love our mornings so much more.