Wednesday, February 29, 2012

School Volunteer

I am volunteering in a local elementary school this year.  Each week I work with several kids who need extra help in math.  I usually do one on one sessions with first, second and third graders.

All works really well, except… 2nd grade group of 3 or 4 kids.  The group changes week to week depending on who most needs help.  And frankly, after the first couple weeks of being polite, they pretty much stopped listening to me.  The kids liked this half hour of special time out of the classroom and took it as an opportunity to squirm, wiggle and giggle.  I could not control them for the short 30 minutes I had with them!

I normally get to their classroom about 5 minutes early and could easily see how well behaved the entire classroom was.  The teacher is pleasant but firm and a lot of work is getting done.  My dilemma was that I had absolutely no authority or consequence over these little people that could inspire them to follow my directions.  Hmmm….what to do???

A few weeks ago at the end of our session, I asked the kids what happens in their class if they talk and giggle and wiggle when they should be working.  With big eyes and complete seriousness, they told me the teacher takes one of their 3 sticks.  They carefully explained that losing 1 stick is a warning, losing 2 sticks loses 5 minutes of recess and losing 3 sticks means losing all of recess.  BINGO!  With a serious look on my face, I calmly announced that from now on, when they misbehaved with me, I would ask their teacher to remove a stick.  Problem absolutely, completely solved.  They do not want to lose a stick!!!

Now each week I remind them of the rule at the beginning of the session (because the kids in the group often changes, I need to make sure they all know it).  But then I do not remind, threaten or give second chances.  So far, I haven’t needed to take a stick. They are really delightful and we get our work done!  I may need to take a stick in the next couple weeks but I am betting it will only be once.  So, kudos to a great teacher who knows how to be a leader in her classroom and make it easy for volunteers like me to actually accomplish something!

That’s it parents – figure out the consequence that matters to your kids and let them know that misbehavior will “earn” them that consequence.  While you will have to levy the penalty a few times, they will likely soon be following your directions!

Monday, February 6, 2012

Parenting Takes Energy!

A friend described nightly battles getting their 4 year old to stay in bed.  They put him down at 8PM and then the fun begins.  He gets up to ask for all the usual things –  water, one more hug, a bathroom trip, something he forgot to tell them, more water, more hugs and on it goes.

I suggested a simple strategy – tie a ribbon on his bedroom door.  If after he goes to bed, he wants something, tell him he may bring you the ribbon and you will cheerfully fulfill his request. However, if he gets up again, his bedtime will be an hour earlier the next night.  Each night starts fresh with 1 ribbon on his door (even if he has the earlier bedtime).

The parents correctly pointed out that he will still likely get up over and over again.  I responded yes, he probably will, but just calmly lead him back to bed each time – without fulfilling any of the additional requests.  It is the early bedtime over a series of days or weeks that is going to help him choose to stay in bed in the future.

In the meantime, the parents are going to be spending some energy in repeatedly taking him back to bed.  And they need to do this calmly and without yelling – which takes additional energy when you are tired after a long day.  And this strategy may not get immediate results – he may improve for a bit and then try testing to see if his parents really mean it.  So more getting up and leading him back to bed……  But in 2 or 3 weeks of parental consistency, bedtime problems should be a thing of the past.

The parents looked at me in exasperation and said “But I want him to mind me right now!"  Realistically if what they have been doing so far isn’t working, isn’t it time to try something new?  Currently they are using just as much energy meeting his requests as they will when leading him back to bed.  The big difference is the first approach is likely to continue – for years!  And the second can solve the problem in a few weeks.

It is important to understand that a child has free will.  Parents are not going to tie him in bed, so the only way he is going to stay there is IF HE CHOOSES TO.   Parents need to make the consequence big enough to help him choose the behavior they want.  

Certainly when a problem behavior is long standing, it takes some time to correct it and it does take energy.  So, up off the couch, to attend to your child’s misdeeds – but comfort yourself that this new leadership strategy is going to get your child’s attention – not just over bedtime issues, but all the issues that come up as a child learns to take his proper place in his family – as a disciple of parents he chooses to follow!