6 Ways To Herd Halflings
Parent, here’s how to save kilowatts of energy and sand dunes of sanity as you more skillfully guide your kids’ daily behaviours, attitudes and cooperation.
I’m thinking of getting them to…
- climb out of bed,
- get dressed,
- wear underpants,
- eat their breakfast,
- take their bag,
- climb in the car,
- get off the jungle gym,
- change their clothes,
- change their attitude,
- say sorry,
- be grateful,
- give others a turn,
- not ask again,
- tell the truth,
- stay seated at the table,
- calm down,
- stop licking the floor,
- give the others a turn,
- climb in the bath,
- stop splashing out the bath,
- brush their teeth,
- climb into bed,
- stop arguing,
- put the lights out.
You get the idea. These and other behavioural and directional turns are required throughout the day. Either our kids will work with us, or against us. At every turn. The difference is massive.
But how do you help your kids navigate through all these turns?
There are 2 ways you can herd your kids:
1) We can command their obedience – with a consequence to follow if they don’t listen. This means that they do what we want them to do regardless of their preferences.
2) Or – as I said in my previous post – we can ask for or enlist their willing co-operation. This means we try make them prefer to do the very thing we’re wanting them to do.
Now, both of these ways are far more difficult than we realize. Old-school parenting put all of its eggs in the first way – the way of Command-and-Consequence. (And I’m still convinced that our kids need to learn to listen straight away, as I will show in my next post.)
But as I said in my previous post, I think we need to learn the second kind too. I call it Enlist-and-Entice. I suggest you read that post to see when and why to use it. Also, you will find 12 basic ways to herd halflings in a more enlisting way.
In this post I want to suggest 6 more skills, most of them a little more technical than the ones we looked at in the last post, to enlist kids’ willing co-operation – without being authoritarian or threatening them with discipline.
1. Every now and then, use reward charts.
For several years Julie and I have stumbled across some kind of point-system which has worked wonders to motivate co-operation and behaviour change in our kids.
Each time, we created a simple chart on our chalk wall that lists for each child a few specific cooperative behaviours (usually the positive version of their specific forms of non-cooperation). Then at the end of every day or two, we give our kids points/stars/stickers based on those criteria. When they get x amount of points (in the form of ticks on a list, or maybe marbles in a jar), we may reward them with something we know they want or want to do. It could be time on the iPad, or a toy, or some freedom like staying up later on weekends.
So remarkable has this been to galvanize higher cooperation levels that at the time we swore this was the secret to shaping children’s behaviour. We weren’t dreaming – there’s good research behind this method. Dr Alan Kazdin, in his book ‘The Kazdin Method for Parenting the Defiant Child’ says this form of positive re-inforcment and rewards leads to positive results in 80% of cases of parents who try it, especially when done correctly.
However there is some questions around it. Dr Eileen Kennedy in lecture 4 of ‘Raising Socially and Emotionally Healthy Children’ says that other researchers believe it only works 50% of the time. She also points out the two downsides: One: it only works for a few weeks before the novelty wears off, and both parents and kids get bored or tired of it. Two: it doesn’t do much to deepen the intrinsic motivation kids need to succeed in life.
As a result of her insights, and our experience, Julie and I have decided to use a reward chart system no more than once a year, and for no more than 3 weeks.
I suggest doing this either in a time of year when your child’s behaviour tends to hit a low point, or when a new small-toy-or-sticker collection craze hits town – which you can use as rewards.
Initially, in a single reward chart we would try tackle 4-8 behaviours. But I have come to think its better to focus on a single behaviour that you’re trying to change. Ask yourself, ‘What one behaviour or attitude in my child do I need to most address?’ It could be the skill of peace-making, or being helpful around the house, or getting ready for school on your own and on time.
Oh by the way, don’t ever list ‘be more caring’ on your reward chart. ‘Research reveals that in most areas rewards work to reinforce a behaviour,’ Peter Vishton says in lecture 17 of ‘Scientific Secrets for Raising Kids Who Thrive’, ‘but in the specific instance of caring for others, it actually undermines their future intrinsic motivation to do so.’
2. Use win-win collaborative problem-solving.
This skill is especially when there is a recurring disagreement between you and your child.
It was Steven Covey in his book ‘Seven Habits of Highly Effective Families’ that first persuaded me that, especially as kids get older, collaboration might do more for our children than mere persuasion or command. Collaboration has a win-win orientation, while command is often experienced by the child as win-lose (Dad won, I lost).
Specializing in applying the win-win mindset to parenting, Social Scientist Ross Green has pioneered CPS (Collaborative Problem Solving) between adults and children. His method involves three steps:
- Acknowledge the child’s concern. They say, I’m not going swimming! And you say, You don’t want to go swimming. How come? What don’t you like about it? They answer, It’s boring!
- Present the two competing concerns: You don’t want to go swimming because it’s boring, but Sacha is waiting to teach you lessons, and it’s important you learn to swim.
- Invite the child to problem solve. Let’s think how we can work this out – do you have any ideas? At this point the child usually repeats themselves, thereby revealing they have never been given the chance to problem solve. So try press them to solve the problem. Maybe there’s something you bring along that will make it less boring?
I did this the other day. For the last year I’ve been letting the kids choose their own breakfasts, but lately Julie has created her own healthy granola cereal. All my kids but one choose it. Then I tried to choose for him – and it backfired. Instead of more sternly imposing my will (You will eat this breakfast today!) I tried Covey’s / Green’s method…
Me: You don’t want to eat the breakfast? How come?
Kid: I don’t like the taste that much.
Me: ‘You choose cereals by their taste. But I want you sometimes to eat cereals for how healthy they are. If you only eat your cereals you win, but I lose – in fact you lose too. If you only eat mom’s cereal I win, but you feel like you lose. Can you think of an idea so we both win?’
Kid: My brain is hurting. I can’t think.
Me: Of course you can. (And I repeat the question.)
Kid: What if every morning I take a spoon of mommy’s cereal then I choose whatever I want?
Me: That’s a brilliant idea. Two tablespoons and you have a deal.
Kid: I can go for that dad.
It’s worked perfectly – my boy is no different to you and me. We’re all invested in our own ideas, wanting to prove their effectiveness. In ‘Launching your kids for life’, Bob and Cheryl Reccord write, ‘Children are always more enthusiastic about doing things differently when they’re invited to participate in the development of new plans or solutions, and they will come up with surprisingly useful and creative suggestions of their own if we let them.’
The skill of collaboration is also a secret to success in life and relationships. So many birds are brought to life with this one stone.
3. Cultivate patience.
Many of us use outbursts of impatience, anger or irritation to get our kids to co-operate with us. The problem with this is that soon enough they will only co-operate when you lose it.
Much better to learn to steer your kid while maintaining a semblance of calm, even if you’re biting your bottom lip.
Take a breath and slowly read the pivotal word in good parenting …
p… a …t … i … e … n … c … e.
When it comes to parenting, surely the name of the game is cultivating this trait. Every time our kids delay us is a chance to develop this endangered trait.
How many times I’ve thought to myself, ‘I can’t help losing it with my kids. My kids drive me crazy.’
But that’s a lie. We can control our impatience and our anger. We must. Auschwitz-surviving psychologist Victor Frankl reminds us that between the stimulus (our child’s non-compliance) and our response (to shout or to stay calm) is a small gap, called free will.
Patience is a choice, a choice that needs to be made in the millisecond of a moment our child runs in the opposite direction.
What is patience?
It is choosing to co-operate with what life (and our kid) brings to us, rather than trying to coerce it. It is the choice to accept the delay, to seize the pause that has come our way.
It also slowly but surely frees us from our dehumanizing addiction to constant productivity and control. Impatience on the other hand is violence against the present moment. It forgets that it is not just my child, but I who am being shaped.
When frustration starts to rise, much better to take control of myself. Try to take a deep breath, smile and wait for this child. Like all the people in years gone by have waited for you.
In the long-run not only will you reduce your stress-levels, but your child will likely respond to you more quickly, and without you having to snap at them.
On this point, there’s another source of patience – understanding what your child is feeling, which leads to this skill skill …
4. Change your approach when they’re not happy.
Imagine you’re standing with your back to a public pool. Then some kid starts splashing you.
You get angry. How dare they splash you?
But you then realize …
Suddenly your whole attitude changes.
Now the splashing makes perfect sense. You realize this has nothing to do with you. There’s just no way you can take your wet clothes personally. And irritation gives way to care – and a rescue of course.
Well, our kids lack of co-operation will drive us nuts when we don’t realize that the reason they’re acting so badly most of the time is because they’re feeling awful. As I said in a previous post, perhaps they’re feeling unhappy for one of 6 reasons. I call it DRAFTS, as in they are….
- in Discomfort because of sickness, tiredness or hunger.
- Rattled because of disruption or tension.
- Anxious that I’m going to leave them.
- Frustrated that things aren’t working like they planned.
- Threatened by another.
- Starved for more of my love and attention.
When kids feel bad, they act bad. They just don’t co-operate like you’d hope.
I’m not saying this excuses their non-cooperation, but it certainly gives you some more patience towards them, doesn’t it?
And it definitely changes the way you go about re-directing them. First you have to get the kid out the pool before you can realistically get them to stop splashing you.
5. Coach them with a replacement behaviour.
Ever since Celeste Rushby showed us this, Julie and I use this one almost everyday. Here’s how it works…
- Your kid does something wrong or handles a situation poorly.
- You say, ‘Hang on. Let’s try that again. Rather… (whatever the preferred behaviour is)’
- You act out the better behaviour to them, and say, ‘Give that a try.’
- Your kid imitates you. (You might have to gently encourage them a few times.)
- You say, ‘Much better!’
Then you seamlessly carry on from where you were.
This works so well because kids learn much better from practicing getting it right (and being commended for it) than being penalized for getting it wrong.
(You can read that last sentence again – it’s the single insight that seems to be missing in old school parenting.)
Here’s an example. Today, Charlie tried to push Sam off his bike. I said, ‘Hang on. Rather ask him for a turn. Like this. ‘Sam, can I have a turn?’ Try say that.’
He imitates me. Sweet Sam offers the bike. And I spur Charlie on with a ‘That’s much better!’ and his twin with a ‘Good sharing Sam!’
As in all habits, practice makes perfect, so you might have to replace the same behaviour 100 times, but each time they imitate you, the synaptic pathway deepens in their mind – until one day it will come naturally to them.
6. Tap into the power of pep-talks.
In my friend, Jaci Mungavin’s book, ‘Purposeful parenting’, she reminds us that ‘a good coach doesn’t bomb on the team after a bad game for things that he never mentioned they should avoid. Rather he helps them to achieve success by preparing them for the various scenarios they’re likely to face, clearly communicating his expectations.’
When Jaci takes her kids to the shops (brave!!!) she spends a minute in the car providing them with a pep-talk: ‘Remember what I told you before? In the shops we stay close to each other. You don’t touch anything – it might help to keep your hands in your pockets. Don’t nag me for anything – if I want to buy a treat for you I will, but I won’t want you to ask for anything.’
When Jaci and Richard arrive at a friend’s house for a meal they might say, ‘We’re guests here so we need to respect their home and watch them to see what’s allowed in their house. No jumping on couches. Remember the people’s names are Shar and Louis, and their children are Jake and Johnny. I want you to look at people’s faces with a friendly smile and say ‘hello’ to everyone. When it’s time to go, I want you to say, ‘Okay.’ And I want you to say bye to everyone and also to say to Shar and Louis, ‘Thanks for everything!’
See, they’re raising the bar, clarifying the win for their kids.
Thanks to their tip-off, Julie and I have done this a lot. To be honest, we have not found much luck in getting our kids to always smile or look into eyes, but in other ways it has worked remarkably. They do need reminders along the way, of course. When we’re back in the car, we are like the coach who affirms what they got right. We also mention what they need to do better next time – none of which comes as a surprise to them, because we were clear on what we expected.
The 18 Enlisting Skills Compiled
So, adding this list of 6 to the list of 12 from the previous post, here are the 18 Enlist-and-Entice skills for enlisting your kids co-operation in such a way that they WANT to listen to you…
1. Make sure they can hear you in the first place.
2. Give them a choice, or at least the illusion of it.
3. Catch them doing it right and praise them for it.
4. Work on the language you use – making sure it’s an ask, not a command.
5. Try start with the word, ‘Let’s…’
6. Tell them who else is doing it.
7. Tap into the power of routines.
8. Direct with principles.
9. Distract with humour and imagination.
10. Offer them rewards.
11. Alert them to natural consequences if they don’t co-operate.
12. Factor in your child’s wiring.
And the ones we explored in this post…
13. Every now and then, use reward charts.
14. Use win-win collaborative problem-solving.
15. Cultivate patience.
16. Change your approach when they’re not happy.
17. Coach them with a replacement behaviour.
18. Tap into the power of pep-talks.
I am not saying you need to know these all. But we all need to develop an evolving arsenal of skills to herd halflings that come out of this list – depending on the age and personality of our child. And depending on what feels most natural for you.
I know 18 is a lot, but it’s liberating to think that there are so many different ways to go about effectively herding our kids. There’s no one size fits all.
- Of the 18, which ones have you already used? How did it go?
- Which not-yet-tried ones might you try out in your parenting approach?
- Is there someone else who could benefit from this post?
As I said earlier, as much as we need to use Enlist-and-Entice, there is a place, even daily, for using Command-and-Consequence. Especially with younger kids.
But here’s the thing. If there’s lots of diversity in how we go about enlisting, when it comes to command-mode, I know of only one method that actually works. I will tell you what it is in my next post. If you haven’t yet, you might have to like my Facebook page to get that in your feed.
Also published on Medium.