Thursday, January 19, 2012

How to Get Your Kiddo to Do His Work: Part II

No doubt parenting is one of, if not THE, most challenging undertakings we humans experience.  Good gravy.  Just when you've got them figured out, they dive headfirst into another developmental phase, rendering you either a step behind......or simply speechless!  Max is a really good kid - sometimes crusty on the outside, but soft in the middle.  He doesn't step too far out of line usually.  Drawing that line and clearly pointing it out to him - I didn't fully appreciate how to set a solid boundary with my own child, even though I certainly should know better; in an earlier rendition of me, I had much experience working with families and children as a therapist/counselor for several years.

As mentioned in Part I of this post, we were butting heads about doing schoolwork in a timely fashion or even doing schoolwork period.  Gradually I found myself "managing" Max's day and hounding him to sit down and do his work; I was just the sort of person you wouldn't want to work for - a micro manager!  Yuck. A clear assignment of responsibility didn't exist because I was too busy rescuing him and assuming much of said responsibility for his actual learning.

I can search the ends of the earth and locate awesome materials from which to learn from, I can bring in all sorts of books and websites and clever curricula - but it's not MY job to invest the energy to engage his brain with the materials.  That's his :).  And he's just beginning to figure that out!

John Rosemond (see thoughts about his book, Ending the Homework Hassle in Part I) offered some saleable points that hit home with me.  I had to figure out a way to place the brunt of the responsibility for Max's education on his twelve-year-old shoulders; in doing so this might be the very best action I can take as his parent.  If I don't teach him about choice and consequences, who is going to?  How is he going to fare out there in the big world if he's perfected some self-sabotaging habits?  I also needed to remove the "school issue" from the center of our family.  It was getting far too much attention from all of us.  I "got it" while reading Mr. Rosemond's words and decided to act upon his suggestions.

It took two weeks to read, digest the information, and formulate a plan to apply to our situation.  I'm calling it The Wonder Plan!  Hopefully it will work wonders.  Beginning January 2nd I implemented the wonder plan, much to Max's dismay.  Things were a'changing and he was really hoping I'd relent and turn back into his old trusty Mom - the one who was predictable and permissible. Hah!  I toughened up (in a gentle but firm way) and have been practicing being calm and assertive.  Cesar Milan would be so proud of me!  I'm so proud of me!

I sat down and wrote out some daily expectations for our kiddo.  Here are some examples included in our Wonder Plan:

1.  Remarkable child is responsible for completing all schoolwork assigned to him each day.  (Novel idea!)  

2.  Wonderful child will complete all school-related work issued by his adoring mother by 5:00 p.m. each day (you pick the time that works for your family best; I'm going to wean him down to 3:00 p.m. over the next few weeks and keep it there; no more of this finishing up math over an argument just before bedtime!)

3.  Intelligent child can manage his time as he sees fit.  Breaks and fidgets and time with animals are allowed; iPod, computer time, phone conversations with friends or other electronic distractions, however, are not.

4.  Less-stressed Mom will not remind you about school stuff.

5.  If the work is obviously rushed and/or sloppy, it will be reassigned to amazing child the next day on top of all the new assignments.

6.  Grumpy child will not issue whiny noises about schoolwork.  

After nailing down the expectations in clear writing, THEN, I figured out what his preferred daily lifestyle consists of (very important!)  If your child is anything like Max, he or she probably enjoys things like:

time with friends 
computer play 
maybe an allowance 
permission to spend that allowance 
a reasonable bedtime.........

and wrote them down, labeling them as 'full privileges'.  Sounds like a place you'd want to hang out - in full-privilege land!

Let's say you present yourself to your place of work at 10 a.m. or later each morning, when you are expected at 8 a.m.  Your boss is going to pull you into his or her office eventually and probably hand you a pink slip, which would cut off your paycheck, which would in turn affect your LIFESTYLE.  Mr. Rosemond's approach is to impact the child's preferred lifestyle if certain expectations aren't met.  Brilliant.

SO.  Each night I write up the assignment sheet I expect Max to tackle the next day and put it in his folder.  He's to consult it in the morning and figure out how he's going to get the work done.  If any of the work involves me, he's to come seek me out and figure out a time when we can work together.  At 5:00 I check his work and see if it passes muster.  If yes, he's awarded an "X", a "check mark" or similar for the day - we've been using paw prints!  




In between two and five paw prints I worked out gradually increasing privileges as you go up in number of paw prints.  Ultimately, it's my job to enforce the level of restriction, which means I have to be on my game and be paying attention.  I even created a little cheat sheet to help me remember.  I know, pretty anal, but I have enough things packed into my head already!

Three weeks in and I am seeing definite improvement.  It certainly hasn't been without conflict, but I am much better about not reminding him about his work.  He is MUCH better about getting it done in a timely manner because he's figured out that I'm serious about that whole restriction thing. :).  It's very motivating.

This morning after waking him up, I found him at the table working on his math assignment.  I almost stopped in my tracks and let my mouth fall open, but didn't.  Just quietly smiled and went on to make breakfast.

In essence, no more rescuing, pleading, nagging, arguing.  I have felt a humongous weight peel from my shoulders and I've witnessed no less than a miracle as he begins to accept responsibility for more independent work.

We still read a lot together and play various games and do experiments together, but the bulk of his learning now rests in his lap.  I don't wish to kill the fun or put the kibosh on child-led learning, so it will be a balancing act to keep it fresh and fun.  I teach as I see he needs it, demonstrate some problems, find great materials, pay attention to what he's interested in, and encourage a broad view in his education. WHEW.  It took some reading, some thinking, some incorporating, some planning, some typing, some informing and a healthy dose of "I can do it" pep talks, but the plan is proving itself in the pudding.  I really like this pudding.

Much less stress.  Much less grumpies.  AND HE'S LEARNING on his own!  Easily verifiable with problem checking, retells, discussion, etc.  

I HIGHLY recommend a read of John Rosemond's Ending the Homework Hassle if you find yourself in a similar stressful place where your child isn't doing his/her work.  I am so grateful for his sound advice and can-do attitude that we can in turn pass on to our kids.  Win-win.  

Sunday, January 15, 2012

How to Get Your Kiddo to do His Work: Part I

On the surface all appeared well - homeschooling was going great!!  We've been at it for over three years and have figured out much together.  It's been by far the best lifestyle change we've made as a family and if all goes as planned, we won't be heading back to regular school - ever.  Yes, good overall and I was certain we were on the right path, but lurking below it turns out we were harboring a little monster in our midst - a very clever and wily twelve-year-old who didn't want to do his work by himself.  He really didn't want to do his work, period, and he'd do just about anything to squirm out of it; it was a daily struggle to get him to complete a school-related task.  Fascinating to watch from the outside, surely.  Some would have pointed and smirked, "can't she see it??"  I could certainly sense it, but didn't yet have the wherewithal to comprehend the whole picture.    Kuddos to him for being so smart and crafty about getting his needs met, but this mama had reached her frustration limit!

Little by little I've morphed into one of those dreadful micro-manager-type moms when it comes to school work.  A recording device would be an excellent tool to tally exactly how many times a day I said phrases like these: "Max, do your work";  "get started on your math";  "put that down, buddy, and get your butt over to the table - you've got work to finish up";  "we're leaving in just over an hour; have you done your reading?";  "Dad will be home shortly - let me see how much you've finished."  Over and over and over until of course, the words became nothing more than background noise; I was wasting precious energy dollars on trying to spur him into action or keep him on task.  The words were not backed up by any consequences on my part and morbid frustration descended upon me like a heavy blanket.  Every day we woke to repeat the cycle, but not much changed.  I kept my head up and kept forging ahead.

Do you hear yourself saying these same sorts of things to your child?  Are you hanging over him urging him on to the next problem?  Can you leave the room and trust that he'll stay on task?  Does he follow you or get distracted and start playing with the dog or his Legos?  Does he stretch his school work out until bedtime?

Over the holiday break I made it my sole task to problem solve our situation.  I knew something needed to be done, but wasn't exactly sure what to do!  Help was needed to tease it all apart, and I wished to consult someone who was good at big picture stuff.  I'm notorious for swimming in the details and not looking up to see where I am, constantly bumping into things.  As luck would have it, someone mentioned an approach recommended by John Rosemond in his book, Ending the Homework Hassle.  Do you ever think that the right book is set before you just when you need it?  This one arrived with perfect timing.

I took a rational step forward and invited Mr. John Rosemond over to tea!   More or less.  "We" carried on with a lengthy one-to-one session focusing on restructuring the way school work is to be handled from here on out.  Truth is, Mr. Rosemond didn't really pop over - I downloaded his book on my Kindle and kept my nose to the grindstone until the very last word.  When I looked up again, somehow the situation had promise of a resolution, the sky looked brighter!  Nothing like a hefty dose of clarity to help a girl find her way.

I know that Max is more than capable of being an independent worker.  The responsibility for his school work needed to be set squarely upon his shoulders, and therein was my task - to hand the work over to him and let him manage it. It's not my job to do his work - it's his.  It's my job to look after the house, the animals, the finances, the food, and all the other myriad stuff that comes with being a mom.

Stay tuned to see how we've faired over the last two weeks...........I think we're on to something!  Certainly has taken a different sort of skill set on my part and I had to take time to organize a program, but the outcome is looking promising.  I'll share what we're doing in my next post.  In the meantime, if you are experiencing some of the same struggles as a homeschooling parent, by all means get your hands on a copy of Mr. Rosemond's book for information sake and let's share some experiences!  If you've reached critical mass in the frustration department, remain calm - there's hope!  :)

Tuesday, January 10, 2012


Does it seem to you that everyone is decluttering their spaces right now??  I've noticed the comments sprinkled about facebook, have heard the whispers floating through the breezes nearly every place I go, and have certainly entertained the urge to turn every mountain into an anthill myself.  It used to be that January was the month for turning on the exercise habit.  It seems that organizing or getting rid of excess material possessions is the new buzz!

Well, I'm on the bandwagon and am quite serious about this endeavor to get out from under the weight of STUFF.  Rather than organize everything once again, I'm getting it out of the house.  Already the kitchen has been culled by over half of its contents - it's so great!  I went ape right after Christmas and emptied out most of our plates, silverware, glasses, wine glasses, mugs, gadgets, small appliances........ we are now the proud curators of 8 dinner plates, 8 bowls, 10 glasses, 5 mugs and enough complimentary silverware to get us comfortably through our daily meals.  It is with excited relief that I tell you - I can now keep up with the dishes and the kitchen looks great!!  Not much on the counters, room to move, room to cook, room to breathe.  It's divine.

Accordingly, there is a ginormous pile of donateables and saleables in the "other" room, one that I don't frequently have to visit, thank goodness.  The plan is to continue to pile things in there and then determine what goes where in the lineup of non-profits, charities, Freecycle, Craigslist.  Just tackling the contents of the kitchen has had a tremendous impact on my idea of what's important.  An ice cream maker is not important to us (because we have not used said ice cream maker in well over a year and it is just taking up precious space; perhaps someone else will place more value upon the ice cream maker, use it weekly and love it); I'm fairly certain that one needs only one vegetable peeler, after all, and twenty five potholders are just plain too many.  It was rather shocking to dump out the drawers and empty the cupboards of all the items crammed into each one.  How did it all accumulate??

Basically, I wasn't a very good gate keeper over the years!  All those little purchases have added up to one big psychological anchor which I feel strongly compelled to lighten.  Today while at drum lessons I sat and listened to a conversation between two teenage girls sitting on the other couch in the waiting room.  They were exclaiming over a website one of them had found that sold discounted designer dresses and how awesome it was.  I was having a very hard time relating - probably due to me trumping them by twenty five years in age and also because I've been fixated on paring down lately.  The thought of hunting for and purchasing a designer dress left me empty because I don't need it.  Yay - I'm evolving!

Here's the perfect book to read about culling your material possessions.  It's thoughtful and brimming with sound reason.  I haven't yet argued once with her in my head; she's very convincing:

The Joy of Less by Francine Jay

Not to worry.  You won't be living in a home with two pieces of furniture and nothing on any flat surface anywhere to be seen - it's not like that.  It's more about keeping things for the right reasons (and her suggested reasons are thought-provoking) and working to protect the space around you.  When you aren't distracted by the clutter around you and the maintenance that clutter demands, then, and only then, can you give most of your energy to the people who matter in your life and to your creative energies.  This makes sense to me!  Walking into our kitchen I feel GOOD.  It's a room I can handle - sounds weird, but it doesn't make me tired.  Try it!!  Just with a drawer or a small closet. 

The only materials I am not compelled to cull are all of the homeschooling books, games, objects that we've collected.  They hold a certain value and I'm not willing to part with much there yet.  We also haven't tackled the Legos or the Bionicles, but don't need to anytime soon.  They bring Max umpteen hours of creative play and fill him up.  His Power Rangers and any extraneous Duplo blocks, on the other hand, are on their way out!

Happy culling if that's what you've been up to lately!  Check out Francine Jay's book and some of her other writings - a really nice way to begin a new year.

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