Bedtime Motivation Q&A

Question:

This happens occasionally, before bed especially. If we give our kids something to do like clean up their room, brush their teeth, etc., they go to do it, but then I think they get distracted or off focus and start playing with something else.

 

For example, our 7-year old son seems very focused on things like baseball cards to the point that he doesn’t respond when we speak, and our 5-year old daughter seems to have a hard time making herself do things she doesn’t want to do or isn’t good at. What is frustrating is when we tell them, “I see you are playing with your baseball cards and not brushing your teeth,” and it is still hard to get them off of what they are doing and focused on getting ready for bed. It is mainly frustrating because they didn’t listen to what we asked them to do. How do you suggest we approach this?

Answer:

You tried to meet the children where they are by SAYing WHAT YOU SEE, but it didn’t seem to be enough. You are right on both counts. SAYing WHAT YOU SEE is the first thing to do, and you need to do more.

Focusing on what children are not doing is very frustrating, so the most important thing to shift in what you are saying is to focus on what the child is doing, and drop what he is not. It’s an odd thing to realize at first, but SAYing WHAT YOU SEE will keep you on track if you remember one thing: you can’t see something that’s not happening.

In this case, the child is sorting baseball cards after you said it’s time to brush your teeth. Since you can see sorting and cannot see “not brushing teeth,” that’s where you enter the child’s world and connect with understanding as in, “You are sorting those cards after I said it’s time to brush your teeth.”

Shifting that one statement allows you to think, “Why would a good kid do that? The answer will disclose a STRENGTH that you can add like, “You must be really focused on getting that done.” One acknowledgment like that can provide the connection needed for the child to respond like, “Yea. I want to finish sorting these, but if I stop, I’ll lose my place.”

Now you understand and can help him come up with respectful CAN DOs like, “Must be something you can do to keep your place until you’ve gotten ready for bed. You’ll have ten minutes after that you can use to read with me, or we can read some of these cards while you finish sorting them.” Basically, you approach this by SAYing WHAT YOU SEE is happening then saying more until you can point out a STRENGTH and offer a CAN DO.

One more thing that you might like in working with your focused son is the phrase, "Find a stopping place." You can hear how respectful that is in the way it at once acknowledges the child's intensity of focus and sets a boundary. Any discussion that follows would then be about which stopping place is OK with you or when, instead of about "not stopping." Then when he does stop himself, you can say, “You stopped yourself,” to reinforce the STRENGTH of self-control. Or better yet, since he already seems to be in touch with the STRENGTH of focus, you can build on that by using language to acknowledge his success like, "You shifted your focus to stopping, and look at that. You stopped yourself in a record 2 minutes!"

For your daughter, since she is motivated to do things she is good at, if you start from where she is by first showing her how she's good at something, it will give her a way to get going. Using the example of teeth brushing, if that's hard for her to do on her own, you can try sitting with her as she brushes and "calling the shots" like a radio announcer pointing out everything she does right like, "Look at you putting your own toothpaste on your brush. You know you wet it first, and there! You got it into your mouth without the toothpaste falling off. Now you're brushing the top teeth, now the bottom. You even got those way back there. No tooth can escape that tooth brush while you’re in charge!" If you do this a couple times with her, it will establish a "success" soundtrack in her head. And, because she likes to do things she is good at, she might even start reminding you when it’s teeth time.

If at some point you decide you don’t want to sit with her anymore, and she has a hard time letting you go, you can come up with CAN DOs like making a recording of you calling the shots for her to play during teeth brushing as a kind of 2-min. timer. You can also try moving away in steps that keep her in touch with her success; for example, call less and less of the "shots" when you are with her, or start calling them from further out the door, then occasionally call one or two as you walk by doing other things.

Of course after she’s done brushing, be sure to name the STRENGTHs you saw that would allow her to start and complete the task all by herself like, "You always know when it’s time for teeth brushing. You like getting each and every tooth clean, and you keep brushing until they are all smooth and shiny. You know how to take care of your teeth!" We all have soundtracks that play in our heads; why not make them positive for our kids whenever we can?

One last thing to validate for kids who like doing things they are good at, is exactly that, "You like doing things you are good at!" Hearing that it's OK to have that kind of motivation is music to a child's ears, and will allow her to focus on becoming good at things, which is what she's already inclined to do, especially with your presence. It's way more productive for kids to spend their energy on becoming good at things than to spin their wheels trying to learn to motivate themselves to do things they’re not good at, when that's not how they work.

Coaching always starts from where your kids are. SAY WHAT YOU SEE and keep saying more.

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