Calm/Assertive Procedures like this one give kids two choices and two choices only. Kids can either:
Suffer the consequences of not being cooperative
Either way, we can be calm and empathetic because we do not allow this third option to exist:
Do whatever you want, develop bad behaviors, and become a person people don’t want to be around
The possibility of allowing choice C is what makes us angry, excitable, and sometimes irate because we love our kids and we know where kids who get to use choice C often end up.
Calm/Assertive Parenting Procedures like this one take into account all possible ways that kids will try to get to choice C. We stop those channels to C and reroute back to either choice A or B. We do this all without ever trying to control that which we cannot control.
Here We Go…
It seems like an impossible situation: you are trying to get yourself and your family ready to go somewhere and your kid can’t find her shoes, socks, or some other necessary item. You know that finding it for her will reinforce her lack of responsibility and her very ability to keep tabs on and find her own stuff. And yet you have to get to the _______! What to do?!??
What Not to Do
Find the thing that they are looking for (without a consequence).
Warn them of what will happen if they don’t find the thing.
Lecture them of the importance of finding the thing.
Threaten them with punishment if they don’t find the thing.
What to Do: Setting the Limit
Apologize for the warnings, lectures, and threats that you have used in the past. Let your kid know that you won’t be doing those things anymore. Let them know that you will, instead, allow them to be responsible for themselves and gather all necessary items before going places. Reiterate that you will not be lecturing, warning, or threatening about these things, nor will you be helping them to find items. Then tell them that for some destinations, you will simply not take them to the destination until all items are found (these destinations are called Self-Motivating Destinations (SMD)). In other situations, you will be finding lost items for them (for Non-Self-Motivating Destinations (NSMD)), but you will be giving a consequence for having to find items. See “NSMD Consequences” for how to set the stage for a consequence for situations that involve NSMDs.
Give your kid minimal but appropriate notification of the time at which they need to be ready. Younger kids need more support. Err on the side of too little support. Struggling builds responsibility.
What to Do: Intervention #1
When asked for help finding items, say “Oh, man. I only find my own stuff. Where have you looked?” After that, only ask the questions “What stuff do I find?” and “Where have you looked?” REMEMBER: Finding the item(s) is not your job!
What to Do: Intervention #2
When your kid is unprepared to leave at the pre-determined time to go to an NSMD, use your thumb and forefinger to rub your eyes. Breathe deeply. Get the lost item(s). Let your kid know that she is struggling with finding her own stuff, that it stresses you out, and that you will talk to her about it later. If they ask what is going to happen, simply say “You’ll see.” Repeat this answer as many times as the questions are asked. Take your kid to the NSMD without any mention of these struggles. Do not show anger or frustration. Enjoy your kid while knowing that she is going to learn a valuable lesson about responsibility through solid logical consequences… later.
What to Do: Consequences
One of two sets of consequences will be used, depending upon whether you are trying to get to a Self-Motivating Destination (SMD), or Non-Self-Motivating Destination (NSMD). An SMD is simply a destination that the kid wants to get to, and an NSMD is a destination that the kid is either indifferent about or does not want to go to.
An SMD can be a birthday party, a playdate, a sleepover, a date for an older child, a movie theatre, or going to a fun relative’s house. The natural consequence for not having the necessary provisions for these destinations is incredibly simple: the kid can’t go until she finds her stuff.
This is very easy if you as the parent have the correct paradigm in your head about your relationship with your kid’s appointments:
It is not your job to get your kid to your kid’s appointments. That is your kid’s job.
If your kid sees it as your job to ferry her to her various appointments, she will be quite happy to watch you work very hard at this occupation. If you are warning, lecturing, and threatening your kid about her appointments, you are implicitly telling her that this is your responsibility. If you are doing that, stop it.
Instead, simply allow your kid to fail at finding her stuff. This is a natural consequence in that it happens without you doing anything. Allow her to be angry and frustrated. These are the appropriate emotions for a person who is missing a movie or bat mitzvah because of her own irresponsibility. These emotions are a sign that your kid is learning.
Most parents dabble in allowing this natural consequence, but they do it incorrectly and in a way that is guaranteed to make the irresponsible behavior worse. (See the above “What Not to Do.”) No matter the amount of frustration, do not help her to find her needed items. Instead, if you feel like it, use Intervention #1 if asked for help. If requests for help continue, simply use the following Calm Response and Power Statement: “Oh, man. I only look for my own things.”
An NSMD may include going to the dentist, to school, or to a boring relative’s house. The simple natural consequence of the kid missing out on arriving at the destination usually doesn’t work in this case since the kid doesn’t want to go to these places, or she is indifferent to going, and your kid may not be conscientious enough to be motivated by missing a dentist appointment, for example.
Generally, you should use both consequences 1a and 1b, though the order doesn’t matter.
NSMD Consequence #1(a)
Perhaps days –or even weeks later for an older kid –when things are going well, let your kid know that you get really stressed out when you have to do their job of finding their stuff for them. Tell them that, because of this extra chore, you are too stressed to do your normal job of ___________. It can be any household job that you usually do. Tell your kid that they need to do it instead to “de-stress” you. If they refuse to do this chore, use this procedure: CHORE REFUSAL.
NSMD Consequence #1(b)
Tell your kid that they clearly struggle with finding their things and being ready at the appropriate times. Let her know that she is going to be trained and tested to see if she can get better at finding her things and getting ready. For older kids, this may stimulate a lot of eye-rolling. Ask if they need one or two training sessions before the testing session. These numbers will be higher if this is not the first time this consequence has been used (see Notes).
Each training session should consist of your kid being given a time and being told to have certain things ready at that time. For instance, you could pretend to be going to the dentist, and tell your kid to simply be dressed appropriately to go to the dentist by a certain time. To practice going to school, your kid would have to be ready with a full backpack and a lunch. Make it authentic and real: have your kid practice being ready for whatever NSMD for which they failed to be ready. Make sure you give the same appropriate level of support detailed in Pre-Interventions and Interventions according to your kid’s developmental level.
Then, do the exact same training session, but call it a test: if your kid can be ready by the pre-determined time, with all necessary items, that shows that they are no longer struggling with getting ready for things. Ask if she is an expert at getting ready. If she says “no,” keep putting her through trainings until she says “yes.” Once she does say “yes,” give her a big hug and tell her how proud you are of her.
To supercharge this consequence, this training session can supplant going to an SMD.
SMD and NSMD Bonus Consequence
This bonus consequence can also be added if it fits into your value structure, it is age-appropriate, and if it logically makes sense. This bonus consequence simply entails having your kid pay for appointments that he or she misses. This can be an SMD or an NSMD. It could involve paying for the swimming lesson they missed, the dentist appointment no-show fee, or the pre-paid amusement park admission fee.
If a kid won’t stop asking about a consequence, delay the destressing consequence.
If you have multiple kids and you are concerned that only some will not be ready, and they are not old enough to stay home by themselves, you can make some logistical arrangements. Plan to have a friend, family member or trusted neighbor come over and stay with the kid who isn’t ready. If you would like, have that kid pay for his own babysitting.
If a kid totally loses it when told that he will not be helped (SMD), that’s great! They are learning that we are not going to coddle them for a lifetime! Better that they learn this now than learning it when they are asked to leave the house when they are 35. Tell them that there will be a consequence later, and then have them take extra time to do NSMD Consequences a and b, even if they freaked out about not being ready to go to an SMD.
Take some extra time to set younger kids up to be successful. Lay out the necessary items necessary for excursions out of the house, and slowly move away from laying everything out. For instance, for a three-year old, instead of laying out all of her clothes, show her where the sock drawer is, how to open it, and tell her that this is where her socks will be from now on. Ask, “Where are your socks?” and then watch her do it! Point to the drawer if necessary. When she gets them, squeal with glee and say “I noticed that you found your own socks!!! I am proud of you!!!”
If you have to use consequences multiple times, simply have your kid practice longer, take more time to de-stress you, and continue to pay for activities missed when applicable.