"Children learn whatever you teach them, whether you've intended for them to learn it or not. "

Challenge Miss Tardy to Beat Inspection Bell

Q. Our 6-year-old drags her feet every school morning. I end up helping her dress, brushing her hair, etc., in order to get out the door on time. I've tried everything from rewards to spanking. Nothing has worked. Help!

A. Nothing starts the day on a worse note than having to struggle with a child who drags her feet about getting ready for school or day care. As you've discovered, if it doesn't make you late for work, it's guaranteed to make you crazy before you get there.

For about $10, you can solve this in a week. Well, maybe two. If you don't already own one, purchase a kitchen timer. (Your mother probably called it an egg timer.) Then, draw up a list of the things Her Tardiness must do to get ready for school: wash face, brush teeth, comb hair, get dressed, make bed, straighten room.

Post one copy on the refrigerator and another in a conspicuous place in your daughter's room. Finally, designate some area of the home as the "inspection place'' - the kitchen, perhaps.

At a specified time every morning - at least 45 minutes before she needs to leave for school - go to your child's room and give her a wake-up call. When you're sure she's awake, go to the inspection place and set the timer for 30 minutes. (The above times are arbitrary, but the timer should be set to ring no less than 15 minutes before the child needs to leave the house.)

Using this example, your child has 30 minutes to complete everything on her list and present herself in the inspection place. If she fails to show up on time and/or pass inspection, she loses the privilege she values most after school, whether it's playing outside, having a friend over or watching television. Or she simply goes to bed an hour early that evening.

If she "beats the bell'' (shows up on time and passes inspection), do not - repeat, DO NOT - give her a reward of any sort. A low-key acknowledgment - as in, "I appreciate your cooperation this morning'' - is sufficient.

This same approach transformed our daughter Amy, when she was 7 or 8, from the Princess of Tardiness to Miss Punctuality.

Remember that with any effective approach to discipline, you always reach "symptom relief'' before you achieve "cure.'' So, for example, although Amy started beating the bell every morning after less than a week, Willie and I continued setting the timer every morning for three months. Why? For the same reason a doctor tells you to take all 10 days of a penicillin prescription, even though the symptoms of your illness disappear after three days.

One final word: Discipline amounts to helping children develop good habits. The only parents who can properly discipline, however, are those who first develop a good habit of their own. It's known as consistency, without which discipline is nothing more than wishful thinking.

Copyright 1999, John K. Rosemond

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