I am often asked for the ‘bottom line’ approach to bring things under control and get on track for a better life at home. The answer is in the action steps, and, as is often true, ‘much easier said than done.’ Nonetheless, let’s get to the doing part.
We began these lessons in the last article, as I covered many of the mistakes that undermine success at home. Today, we explore the Terrific Parenting Formula is a starting point for many common behavioral struggles. Please consider these suggestions if your kids…
- Complain and whine excessively
- Constantly push limits and seek more
- Can’t accept ‘no’ without a battle or tantrum
- Expect the world to always give them what they want
- Don’t cooperate with chores and/or homework
- React with HUGE drama, even for small events
- Can’t seem to find happiness in a good life
- Will not get their head out of their phones!
In each of these situations, it is likely that corrections can be made quickly, with a few adjustments.
How do you eat an elephant?
The answer, of course, is one bite at a time. Too often, we try to shoot for massive change, which rarely works as research proves. Thus, let’s start with one target only and focus on that for 30 days. Trust me on this. Get some momentum, and then enjoy the power that comes from laser-focused attention on one change at a time.
Also, you can only eat the elephant with action steps. Be done with talking (as previously discussed), and focus on these as action steps. This is key.
Don’t focus on what you don’t want.
If you do, you get more of what you don’t want, which is the mistake most of us make. We feel the pain of what we don’t want, and we put our attention there. That’s a law of life; thus, we mistakenly keep re-creating the same bad outcomes. We do this over and over because our brains keep focusing on the ‘don’t wants.’ It’s important to get this lesson and shift the focus. It is foundational in the Terrific Parenting Formula.
What do you want? Focus there instead!
Here’s what you do: When you pick your first ‘bite of the elephant, ’ be sure to get clarity on what you want. This defines what you are moving toward as a family (NOT what you are moving away from). And with this, life can now begin to expand upon what you seek more of at home.
For example, let’s say your number one concern is lengthy, argumentative morning routines about getting up and ready for school. The kids just battle to stay in bed, or play too long before getting dressed, or perhaps linger excessively in the bathroom. All these are ‘don’t wants.’
You must, if you are going to be successful, identify the ‘do want’ the target you are moving toward. In this situation, the goal could be to have the kids up by 7:30 am, dressed and ready for school by 8:00, whether in-home schooling or with the bus arriving at 8 am. It doesn’t matter which is true in your home at the moment. We have a clear ‘move toward’ target. Write it down.
Let life pull, rather than have you push. (Leverage is the secret.)
Here’s how we try to push things along: we remind, prod, argue, raise our voices, and ultimately yell. Our words flow abundantly and loudly and repeatedly.
Yet, essential to a happier, stress-free home is the drastic reduction of words to manage behavior. More talking about behavior (in the form of daily reminders, prodding, pushing, and forcing the kids along) results in Mom or Dad just working harder and harder each day, not to mention the exhausting frustration that results from this approach. Give up using words to push kids into better behavior. The effort is relentless and futile.
Instead of words, use leverage. This will ultimately pull children into better behavior. If used regularly, leverage will predictably create a pull upon your kids because they want what you are offering. You must use that leverage in a systematic way to create that daily pull.
In our example above, leverage could be used to create ‘pull’ in several ways. First, don’t serve breakfast until everyone is dressed, ready for school, and sitting at the table. (In the interim, as your son is wasting time doing nothing, you are going to stay calm and quiet. The key is to let the leverage start to work, as habits are taught over time.)
Breakfast then is from 7:15 to 7:30. If they don’t make it, just relax and see what happens. Let the leverage start to teach. After breakfast, they brush their teeth and are ready for school, leaving time to play for 15-20 minutes before the bus arrives. For your teen, simply let them know their phone is available only if they get through breakfast and are ready for the bus on time. If they miss the bus, you will take them only if you can (and without a phone). None of this needs to change during these COVID times, as the structure is going to be your friend regardless.
Can you see the two easy leverage points in our example? Breakfast is the first one if Mom and Dad keep their attention on the breakfast table. The second is a “goodie” – a video game, IPad, cell phone, TV, or toys – provided everything is done early. Please keep in mind: this will not work if you keep reminding, prodding, and pushing them with your words or if you fail to plan ahead to create ample time for some play before departure.
In next week’s article, I will cover several additional pieces that allow the Terrific Parenting Formula to make a real difference. In the interim, identify your first bite and make sure the direction is a ‘move toward’ outcome. Then, relax as you determine how to create leverage that will PULL rather than push your kids into a healthy routine.