Going Back to Basics

Everything comes at you so fast sometimes that you forget how to make it all work. We’re back to school, which is huge, plus constant soccer playing, plus work, plus trying to keep up with life – I can’t breathe most days.

So I’m in the mode of dealing with whatever crisis rises to the surface and needs to be dealt with NOW. This week’s was getting to school on time. It’s been a few days (OK three weeks) of forcing my kicking-and-screaming kids out the door while every day I hear the very very long list of all the reasons why they don’t like school. But when we almost missed the bus – for only the second time in our bus history – I knew something had to be done.

I had to think about what works for us. How do I get this kid moving? How have I been successful in the past? I have one kid who is motivated by nothing but doing the right thing. My other is motivated by nothing but money.

Maybe it’s my fault. When he was three years old he starting begging for his first toy that wasn’t a birthday or Christmas present. The thing he wanted was $40 and I certainly wasn’t shelling that out for no reason. So I made him earn it – every one of those dollars. I may have been a bit too harsh. But when a 3-year-old wants $40 toys… Plus at that point I was probably giving him money for peeing on the potty or not throwing his food on the floor.

We made a chart with a circle for each dollar (I thought about making them worth quarters but he would’ve been twelve by the time he earned it) and checked them off when he did something worthy. He called them “checkmarks” and since then we’ve gone through dozens of checkmark charts, whenever he wanted to buy something.

In fact as I look at my fridge there are four checkmark charts decorating the front. I shit you not. He is currently obsessed with buying himself a Nintendo game system that I already owned once, when I was 19 and in college. Really? This went out in a dumpster years ago, dude. Now I have to buy it again? Thanks alot, Angry Video Game Nerd.

So when I asked Dave for help with the getting to school problem he simply said, “Why not give him checkmarks?”

Genius. Twenty minutes before the bus comes he stops whatever he’s doing, gets dressed, brushes his teeth, checks that his backpack and binder and lunch and gym clothes and all the other details are together, puts on his shoes, and then he gets a checkmark. It seems so silly. But sometimes you just have to break it down. Back to basics.

To some people, like my best friend Michelle, this would be ridiculous. She tells her son, “Go get dressed and brush your teeth” and he does it. This is like a miracle to me. But I have that great excuse that “I run a day care.” When you have parents and children walking in your door at 8:00 and you are occupied with them, your own kids get to sit around playing video games for another half hour. Then suddenly – oh crap! We gotta GO!!! And my kids aren’t ready because we’ve been talking about the last time your kid pooped!

So do I feel bad about bribing my kid to get dressed and brush his teeth? Sorta. Do I see it as a parenting failure? No. It’s finding what motivates him and using it instead of bringing the hammer down. And guess what? Mornings have been cake since we started it.

The other day a woman was complaining to me that it took her half an hour to get her one preschooler out the door. I thought, yeah, that’s tough. I get eight kids out the door in five minutes every morning.

So I have a truly extensive skill set. It just doesn’t always extend to my own kids.

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