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Speak Less, Act More

Question

I'm a divorced mother of two boys, ages 7 & 9. My sons will stall unendingly with anything that isn't really fun. It makes it really hard to ever accomplish doing anything. Example: We need to leave by 11:20 for a function that's pretty boring for them, but important. I started at 9 am with a run-down of the day, with reminders every half-hour of what we are doing. Getting dressed, fed, teeth brushed, food in the crockpot and leaving is interrupted with, "I wanna show you my cartoon," "Look at my game," sword-fighting, basketball, endless "I don't know how's" and "I forgot's." Of course, we left at 11:45. Help.

Answer

First stop reminding, prodding, and nagging. The more we speak, the less we are listened to, so stop talking and start telling (only once). In a peaceful moment sit them both down and very calmly tell them something like this: "Rather than give constant reminders to both of you next time we need to go somewhere, I will tell you only once." Say no more and if they have any questions simply reply, "That's all I really have to say."

Next time you have an appointment or scheduled event to attend tell them that they need to be ready to go in say 15 minutes, i.e., meaning toys put away, teeth brushed, hair combed, etc.... My guess is they will not be ready when you are, so simply cut your losses and live with the fact that their teeth may not be brushed, hair may not be combed, and their rooms may be a mess. Take them to the scheduled event and do not mention that they failed to follow your earlier instructions. When you return home simply let them know they are confined to their rooms for the remainder the day and their bedtime will be moved to immediately following dinner.

I can assure that the whining/protests will start as soon as the words come out of you mouth. Respond with something like, remember when I told you both that I was no longer going to nag and give repeated reminders to complete chores, get ready for appointments....., well confinement to your room and early bedtime will be a consequence if you choose to disobey. The key is to remain calm and cool as they have their little meltdown.

The person or persons who become upset over a problem will be motivated to solve it, known as the "Agony Principle" (JR). You are slowly driving yourself crazy trying to solve a problem that only they can solve. They will be motivated to solve the problem when you cause them to become crazy over it. Now relax and let them see how the real world deals with those who do not fulfill their responsibilities.

Pick up a copy of "The Well Behaved Child" and give special attention to Chapter 2.
Let us know how it goes.

David Martin
Parent Coach, Pittsburgh

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