Let’s face it: certain kids are wired to be more hard-working than others. Whether or not a kid is a pleaser; whether they are scared of the repercussions of not working hard; whether or not they have the foresight to see the long-term gains of working hard; whether or not they can find certain or all kinds of work to be fun; or whether or not they love the feeling of doing their best, kids are all over the spectrum on how these “settings” effect their willingness and likelihood of working hard. The way kids approach work is perhaps the single most telling indicator of how successful they will be.
Success, for our purposes here today, is simply what all healthy parents want for their children: that they are able to be happy doing what they love to do. In other words, kids are successful when they are able to do everyday things that make them happy. Successful kids become what they want to become.
With this in mind, it is important to remember that kids’ brains don’t really work. The decision-making and executive function and judgment parts of the brain aren’t done solidifying until the age of 25. So your kid is not fully able to decide for herself when to work hard. Again, the degree to which this is true depends on your kid’s settings, but it is true to one degree or another. That being said, if your kid almost always worked hard, you probably would have stopped reading a long while ago. So if this isn’t an issue, and you are still reading, you may want to use it anyway because it involves less work and talking than what you are doing now, or you may want to put this in a drawer for when things turn less rosy in a few years.
This will be review for those of you who are old-time subscribers to this newsletter, but Calm/Assertive Procedures like this one give kids two choices and two choices only. Kids can either:
- Be cooperative
- Suffer the consequences of not being cooperative
Either way, we can be calm and empathetic because this third option does not 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.
To illustrate this Calm/Assertive Parenting Procedure, we will begin from the moment a kid comes home from school. The language that we use here today will be the language to use with an eighth grader. The language can be easily adjusted depending on the age of the kid.
When the eighth grader gets home, apologize for previous attempts at lecturing about the importance of working hard, chores, etc. Then, promise to do your best to not lecture any more about these things.
Let your child know that you will replace the warning and lecturing with a simple plan for doing chores and homework. However, before you do that, find out how long of an after-school break your kid wants to have before she starts this process. Give two options. The length of these breaks is up to you. I might give a break length of 30 or 45 minutes from the time she gets home from school. Make it known that this length will remain the same for the remainder of the current grading period. At the beginning of each grading period, the kid will get two different break length choices, always given by you. Inform your kid that she can start the work procedure before the break is over, but she must begin the procedure on time every time.
Allow your kid to take the break time that she has chosen.
Once the break time is over, show your kid a dry erase board on the refrigerator. In red marker, it says the following:
Take out the garbage
Bring in 10 logs of firewood
Explain at this point that Nows can be worked on as soon as she arrives home, when break time is over, or not done at all. However, after her break time, in order to do anything not on the Nows list, the Nows list must be complete.
Then draw the kid’s attention to the words below the Laters, written in green:
One hour of television
Relax in your room
Hang out with family
Go to Crissy’s house
Talk on the phone
Explain that she can only do these activities once she is done with her Nows. She doesn’t have to do all of them, and in fact she doesn’t have to do any of them, but these are all of the activities that she is allowed to do for the night.
Next, draw her attention to the question mark and tell her that this is a “Mystery Later” that may be revealed after she is done with her Nows. It can be made known that this “Mystery Later” will only be available if there is time to do it, and it will always be a choice, just like her other Laters. “Mystery Laters” may include going to the movies, going for ice cream, or they could be simple things like “play on the iPad” or “jog with dad.” As stated previously, these are only available if there is time to do them once Nows are finished. In other words, if going to the movies was going to be the “Mystery Later” and the kid didn’t get done with her Nows until after the movie started, that “Mystery Later” is no longer an option and should not be replaced with another option.
From that moment on, there is no lecturing, or threatening, or warning about getting work done. She is free to do her work (Nows) or not do them, but she can’t do anything else until her work is done. This creates a real-world environment whereby the consequences of not working befall the kid in a very similar way to life outside of her parents’ house: when you get to done with work, you get to do things that you would rather do. This is the reason that most of us do work! Also, it teaches kids the real-life lesson that if you refuse to work, you won’t be able to do anything else. In the real world, if you don’t make money through your hard work, you can’t do much of anything!
Frequently Asked Questions
What if my kid does a Later before he finishes his Nows?
For Laters being done in or around the house, use a simple immediate consequence of removing the positive stimulus. Do this without warning or reminding. Do not have a conversation or ask questions. Simply act assertively and with empathy. If a video game is being played, simply say something empathetic (I say “Oh, man.”) and unplug and remove the gaming system. When your kid freaks out, simply say nothing, or say anything under a few syllables that shows that this is not your problem, that you aren’t going to argue, and that you are not angry (because you don’t have to be). “Okey Dokey,” “Yikes,” or “Hmmm” all work well.
For Laters that are being done away from the house, this can often be stopped by the not allowing your kid to leave the house. However, if she escapes the house without completing Nows, and you don’t know where she is, you can utilize a delayed consequence. Once she comes back, let her know that there will be a consequence later. The next day, all outdoor Laters can be removed, and you should keep a close eye on her to make sure she doesn’t try to leave the house. It can be explained that as soon as you see better responsibility being exhibited, outdoor Laters will be reinstated.
What kinds of activities should be used for Nows and Laters?
This is all up to you. I have my own set of values for what I think are appropriate activities for my kid, but your values on what you think are appropriate activities are absolutely none of my business.
The only guidelines are that Nows need to be things that you think need to be done, and that Laters need to be things that you are OK with your kid doing that are potentially fun and enjoyable. They can be as specific as “play basketball” or as general as “play inside.” You should have at least one very general activity so that your kid feels that she has lots of freedom once the Nows are completed.
What if kids refuse to do Nows and just stare at the wall all night?
This is absolutely fine. When kids do this, they are giving themselves a logical consequence! Just stay out of the way. They are making their lives worse and suffering the real-life natural consequence of not working. Don’t own their problem by addressing it. Ignore and go on living your life. Just make sure they don’t move on to Laters unless they get done with their Nows. Under these conditions, with no anger or lecturing being present, they will start working because their lives will have completely stopped and their grades will be terrible. When you totally remove anger and lecturing from the equation, this will be enough to get them to start working eventually.
Some kids are going to refuse to do work no matter what at first. The question is, would you rather respond by getting angry, owning their laziness, and allowing their behavior to hurt your life, or would you like to be able to model taking care of yourself while providing the optimal environment for them doing their work?
What about helping? Can I help with Nows?
Never help with chores that your kid is physically able to do. Period.
Let your kid know that you are available to help when and if needed. NEVER sit down with your kid and say that it is time to do homework. Only give the minimal amount of help necessary for the kid to be able to do the work. When whining or fits occur, immediately remove yourself and let the kid know that you would be happy to help as soon as there is no whining or baby talk.