Monday, April 18, 2011

Mean What You Say...

First, apologies again for disappearing. I have still been making my posts over at 5 Minutes For Special Needs. My two most recent posts there will explain a lot of my disappearance. We had Spring Break the first week of April. I thought I was going to keep up my blogging, but we went to visit my dear Mother-in-Law. It was a harder visit than I had anticipated, and many things I had hoped to accomplish in my spare time were not achieved. When we returned home I thought I would pick up where I had left off, but realized pretty quickly that where I had left off was "Really Way too Far Behind On Everything". I spent last week trying to catch up. I think I have my act together now, but we'll see. There's a lot going on right now, and writing, though wonderfully fulfilling for me, has to fit in the down times, and there have been precious few of those. I was stunned to see how long it had been since I posted. Ah well...jumping back in with both feet...

All it took was a snap. No matter what else was happening, we would hear that snap and come to full attention. My father lead the congregational singing in the church that I grew up in. My mom was often singing in the choir or playing organ or piano. This meant that both of my parents would be on the platform during a good portion of the worship service, leaving my brother and I to sit in the pew alone. The hard wooden pew, with not much besides a church bulletin and a pencil to keep us occupied. Under these conditions it was often hard to keep from pestering each other, or finding some other amusement like dusting the pews with our Sunday best. No matter what distraction we managed to find, when my mom would see us getting out of line she would just snap her fingers. We knew then that she had seen us, and that if we continued in our current activity we would likely be embarrassed in front of God and everyone by her marching down off the platform and removing us for a "talking to" in the restroom. We got the message and straightened up...already knowing that we might get a scolding after church for misbehaving in the first place. We knew that snap, and we paid attention to it.

I don't have a very good snap yet, but I have a different signal with my kids when I really need them to pay attention. I start the countdown. Depending on what is happening I start at different numbers, but when I start counting backward they know that I really mean business, and generally they get moving.

I'm sure you've experienced this scenario:
"Honey, I need you to put your blocks back in their box." [no response...child continues playing]
"Time to clean up the blocks, buddy." [no response...not even a flicker of recognition]
There are two options at this point. Lose your cool, or show them that you know they heard you. This is when I start counting. For a "clean up your toys" situation when it really doesn't matter too much how long it takes them to do it as long as it gets done, I might start at 10. Usually by the time I get to 5 my kids will start acting on my request without me needing to even repeat it. If you really think they didn't hear you (like in a noisy environment or if they are running full tilt on a playground with their best friends) you can precede the countdown with a third request accompanied by full eye contact and gentle physical touch. If I'm in more of a hurry I start the countdown at 5. If it is urgent (like a possible safety concern) or if I sense true defiance I start the countdown at 3. The only time I don't give a countdown is if there is imminent danger, then I just intervene as calmly as possible.

There is a big caveat to this technique. You have to follow through. The first dozen or so times you countdown your child may not think you mean it. Particularly if they are used to you asking them to do something without them responding and then you end up doing it for them. Or if you often tell them to be ready to go in 5 minutes, but then get caught up in conversation with your friend and 20 minutes go by before you're really ready to go. You have to mean what you say. If you don't care enough about it to follow through, then don't even bother to make the request. So now your scenario can look like this:

"Honey, I need you to put your blocks back in their box." [no response...child continues playing]

"Time to clean up the blocks, buddy." [no response...not even a flicker of recognition]
"5...4...3...2...1" [child does not budge]
Go over to the child and touch their shoulder (gently, that's the hard part!)
"Time to clean up, now." Put your hand on their hand and guide them to pick up a block and put it in the box. Repeat as necessary. They may resist. They may argue, but the blocks are getting put away and you have shown them that you really mean it.
You may need to repeat this method many, many times, depending on how strong-willed your child is, and on how long you've let them get away with ignoring your requests. We did more countdowns than the entire history of NASA at our house last year. I still do at least a couple of countdowns daily, mostly with my twins now.

Never do a countdown without following through, and if you're asking your child to do something, always be prepared to do a countdown. It's a snap.


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