Thursday, July 29, 2010

PD Tool Card: Routines

In our most recent Family Conference, we used the problem-solving portion to create a Routine Chart for bedtime. The experience of creating and using it has been somewhat straightforward and predictable--and has also yielded some surprising (to me) information about one of my children.

Most parents are familiar with the need for routines and many of us use them outside of parenting, too. As someone who loves to know what to expect (I'm a "J" on the MBTI test, if you're into that sort of thing), I tend to enjoy routines: creating them, using them, wearing them like old fuzzy slippers. Love. 'Em.

Other people I happen to live with (coughcoughBrendancoughcough) tend not to love the formalized routines so much. But I submit that even those crazy wonderful people use and benefit from routines--they just might not know it, or care about it as much, or not get all excited to see a routine delineated on a big white chart with colorful markers.

By the way, I distinguish routine from schedule. A schedule is an activity (that could be part of a routine) that needs to occur within a fairly tight time frame. Routines are more general, and somewhat more flexible. Before I was beaten down by learned how to relax a bit let go of my perfectionism had three kids, I was a big believer in schedules-with-a-capital-S. Now I'm a lot more fun and chill, and a whole standard deviation's (or two) worth less obsessive, I leave the scheduling to people who run movie theaters. I prefer routine over schedule, especially when it comes to children (because nothing will make you learn how to not worry about what time something happens like having children, especially more than one!).

And it so happens that there is a Positive Discipline Tool Card for Routines!

The card says: "Help children create routine charts to encourage responsibility." And lists the steps to making an effective routine chart.

The first step is the most important one if you want that "encourage responsibility" portion of the program (and I'm supposing that you do): "Create routine charts WITH your child." I will speak from experience as a parent, and remembering from childhood, that nothing gets a person less interested in a chart than one that's presented to him as a done-deal. Even now, if you gave me a list of things to do--even if I knew it was my responsibility to handle those tasks (such as for the AOS or work around the house)--I'd be irritated and resentful of your bossing me around. And guess what? So are my kids!

We also created a Bedtime Chart, but this process can be used for many different types of routines. Our bedtime process was all over the place--literally and figuratively. It's still my responsibility to get Sean down to sleep, and his routine is necessarily different from the older kids. Even where the routines overlapped--they all three need teeth-brushing, for example--there was no consistency in remembering (on my part or Brendan's) and no easy way to figure out who had done what. Basically it's been too chaotic and unorganized for the likes of me. (I suspect everyone else wasn't as bothered by it as I was.)

So what we did at our Family Conference is worked together, all of us (except Sean who keeps milking that "I'm a Toddler" excuse for all it's worth). I actually got out a large easel pad, similar to the type I use in parenting workshops with Kelly, and my fancy-schmancy Mommy Markers (fascinating to the children as I selfishly reserve them for my own projects and do not lend them to others). I explained the process, and we all brainstormed the things that needed to get done before bed.

This is what they came up with (in no particular order):
  • Brush Teeth
  • Put on pajamas
  • Read a story
  • Big Hug and Kiss from Mom and Dad
  • Tuck In

We were missing what (in my opinion) is a very important step, so I suggested Use the potty. Oh yeah! Good one, Mom! And hence, one of my ulterior motives for this routine chart was addressed.

Next came my other two motives: Wash face and hands (because holy smokes, that needs to be done on occasion), and Pick up clothes and toys from bedroom floor. THIS was the Big One, as I'd spent much of the previous day arguing and negotiating helping Ryan declutter and organize his room. Now I have loudly and often proclaimed my low housekeeping standards, and I stand by them (or over them, rather--they're that low). But his room had devolved into such a ridiculous state that I couldn't stand it one more second. I knew that one way to help prevent future problems would be to have him pick up his toys and clothes at least once a day, and I suggested this as part of the bedtime routine.

Once we'd all agreed that yes indeed, these were things that could be done and should be done and would be done, I rewrote everything nice and neat, and then Morgan and Sean colored and decorated it (Ryan didn't want to help). We agreed to try it for a week and then talk about how it goes at the next Family Conference. We also agreed on a general time frame for the routine to begin--not a set-in-stone schedule, but a general thereabouts. Our household is probably much more flexible on this point than most. I'd venture to say that if the kids were in school, or were starting school soon (as in next week), then our routine might need to begin on schedule, to make sure everyone got enough sleep.

So we tried it. As expected, Ryan resisted and tested whether or not we were serious about this. One night he protested and fought for so long there was no time for a story (and no patience either). But after that, it hasn't been such a problem. We kept referring him back to the chart (see Step 4: Let the routine chart be the boss.) We also didn't hesitate to remind him that he'd agreed to use it (another great reason to get the child's involvement in the procedure). He understands the fundamental nature of contractual obligations, and though angry, did not deny the justice of our position.

But the surprise has been Morgan. Each night, she goes upstairs (we stuck the chart on the wall outside the bathroom), reads each step carefully, follows the directions, runs back, reads the next step, etc. This is surprising to me because it's such a Jenn-like thing to do. :o) She is so much like Brendan, that sometimes I forget she came from me, too! This child seems to take an especial satisfaction in knowing what's expected, having it written out in a clear way, and it seems as if she gets a sense of completion and pride from having finished all of the steps. The first night she was so excited that she began the routine about 15 minutes early!

This is wonderful because she is taking that responsibility I wanted her to, being independent, and she is experiencing pride in her accomplishment. Which, incidentally, is connected to Step 5 above: Do not take away from feelings of capability by adding rewards. Pride in accomplishment is an end in itself. If she were focused on winning a reward (a sticker or extra 5 minutes of story time), it could easily distract her focus from an independent first-handed feeling of pride.

This is also wonderful because I have struggled and struggled with figuring out how to help her follow processes with multiple steps. Those who know her in person are familiar with the fact that you can't give her more than two instructions verbally if you want half a chance that she'll follow the instructions. Sometimes I wouldn't place a bet on whether she'd follow an instruction with ONE step! Could it be that all we have to do is write the steps down together? Does she just not hear things? Is she primarily visual (that's me)? Does making this into a fun project with Mommy's taboo markers simply get her full undivided attention? I'm not exactly sure which factor it might be (or all of them?). Doesn't matter--we'll definitely be trying this again!

Have you ever used Routine Charts with your kids (or spouse, ha ha!)? How did they work for you? Any enlightening moments, such as my Morgan Revelation?

A routine chart--a handy way for everyone in the household to understand and agree on responsibilities, and a wonderful way to reinforce a few of the virtues, too. :o)


Hanah said...

I recently made a potty chart for Charlie. He's too little to help in the creation of it, so I made it myself and presented it to him one morning after he woke up.

The impetus for the chart was that Charlie has been _seriously_ dawdling in the bathroom. My husband, who has the patience of a saint, can sometimes spend up to an hour sitting in the bathroom waiting for Charlie to cooperate with taking his pants and diaper off, sitting on the potty, getting dressed again, and washing hands. I, with less patience, usually end up yelling.

Charlie is intrigued by the chart. It started off really well, he wanted to do each step in order. Now, after a few weeks, the chart has somewhat become another way for him to dawdle. He wants to pick it up, talk over all the steps repeatedly, try folding the chart in half or holding it under the faucet, etc.

I understand that he's a bit young for this, but I thought it was worth a shot. And it has helped somewhat. I think I need another tool here, though. Still working on it.

Jenn Casey said...

Hi Hanah!

I wonder if a tool you could use might be "Decide What You Will Do." In other words, decide ahead of time what you are willing to put up with in terms of dawdling, decide what you're going to do about it, tell Charlie, and then stick to it.

I'm with you--I don't have that kind of patience. So what I've done in similar situations is say "Okay, I will wait one minute for you to do X." (take off your pants, etc.) "After that, I will help you do it." Or, "I'll wait here with you for three minutes, but then I'm going to go into the kitchen and do my work."

This is sometimes a good strategy with younger kids, because they really want to do things themselves and that gets them in a hurry to do it. And it's always a good strategy for helping me keep my temper in all kinds of situations.

With younger ones, making boring activities into a game is helpful. "How fast can you take off your pants?" "How many silly faces can you make while you're sitting on the potty?" Singing songs is helpful, making little rhymes. With Sean the latest hysterical thing is my saying in a fake-stern voice: "Don't you pee in the potty! Don't do it! Aaaagggghhh!" with pretend screams when he does it. That's Gold, Baby!

Little little kids seem to need more variety in these kinds of strategies, and can't really be involved in negotiations--well, lengthy ones. But Limited Choices might be another option: "Do you want to use the Big Potty or the Little Potty?" "Do you want Mom to help you take off your diaper or do you want to do it yourself?" (that last not to be used with someone who will always make you do it, of course).

No matter what, the Decide What You Will Do helps ME retain some semblance of control on my temper, and if I simply don't have the patience to do something then I won't subject myself to it if I can possibly help it.

Kelly Elmore said...

Jenn, that response to Hanah needs to be a blog post of its own so that people will see it. You are the toddler whisperer!

Hanah said...

Decide What You Will Do is my favorite parenting tool. In fact, it's one of my favorite life tools. I use it all the time.

With the potty, I was trying to get Charlie to be a bit more independent. I know that at his Montessori school, he does all the steps by himself--taking off his pants, sitting on the potty, doing his business if he feels like it, getting dressed again, washing hands, drying hands--with minimal teacher involvement. But at home, if I wait for him to do it, he just decides to do something else, like turn on the bathtub faucet. If I ask, "Will you take off your pants yourself, or should mommy help?" He almost always answers, "Mommy do it."

I will try the game idea, though. That sounds like it has potential. :)

Michelle said...

I need routines, but I have such a hard time sticking to them. I try my best, because the kids seem to need them. We're discussing our fall schedule at our next Family Meeting (minus our toddler, too ) and I'm hoping to get my almost 7 yr old involved in this. Maybe she can keep me on track. ;-) We've paid "mommy money" in the past for completing morning chores, because I don't know what to do when she just refuses to do her work. I don't think harsh punishments are appropriate, but there just don't seem to be enough "natural consequences" in this area to motivate her. She'll just live in filth if we let her.