As a director, you set up structure to guide your children to fulfill their responsibilities when they don’t want to. Even after problem solving together, they may ignore you or resist your reminders. This is the time to use an effective director strategy.
The after-then or work-before-play strategy is one of my favorites because it is respectful, teaches children about the law of cause and effect, and is successful with all ages. Chores, homework, music practicing, and bedtime routines are common activities that children need “gentle guiding” to complete. This approach reflects the way life works. After we work hard, we treat ourselves to a rest period or fun activity, such as dinner or a movie. Kids may want to watch TV, read, or play a computer game for their play activity.
Children learn through practice to do “work” before having fun. They also learn to think of others’ needs before their own. Both are valuable skills for a successful life that are learned through years of practice.
The after-then, or when-then, statement assumes your child will do what you want her to do. Correct word order is crucial. The first part states her responsibilities to you or the family. The second part states the positive result of following through.
Your statement is, “After you do Y (my needs or your responsibilities), then you will get X (your needs or desires).” This approach provides a positive, rather than rebellious, way to meet her need for power.
Be careful not to slip into the punishment–reward trap, which can easily happen if you feel out of control and are trying to regain control.
Watch for changing the word order and adding “if” to your sentence. The reward sentence structure would be, “I’ll give you X (what you want) if you do Y (what I want).” A punishment sentence would be, “If you don’t do Y (my needs), then you can’t have X (your needs.)” The word “if” adds doubt that your child will comply, which subtly plants resistance in her mind. Your tone of voice will also change from unemotional and respectful to pleading, yelling, or threatening.
When this happens, you are no longer guiding your child from inner strength, which is demonstrated through effective structure. This puts you in a position of little authority and influence. When this happens, stop. Breathe to calm your emotional center, and restate with certainty and clarity what they need to do before they get what they want.
Here are examples of effective after-then statements. Also read the chapter How to Give Directions That are Followed to learn more about effective word choice.
“After you clean the bathroom, then you can go to your friend’s house.”
“After you brush your teeth, then we’ll read together.”
“When you pick up your toys, then you can play a video game for 20 minutes.”
You may also be tempted to flip the order and say, “We’ll read together after you brush your teeth.” You may think that telling him what he’ll get first will encourage him to comply. This actually puts your needs second in your child’s mind, so it isn’t as effective. The second part gets lost, and he may get stuck on what he wants with, “No, I want to read now.”
Also, be careful of changing your structure into a threat by saying, “If you don’t brush your teeth, then we won’t read together.” You can feel how negative this statement is, and it again assumes that the child won’t comply. When you state the work first, the child’s inner message becomes that they will do it because that’s the way they will get what they want.
A common misconception is, “If I focus on what my child wants, then he will focus on what I want.” The parents I’ve coached have had this backfire with the result being self-centered kids who act privileged. Your child will learn this reciprocal meeting of needs through your after-then expectations. Practice teaches caring for others more than telling them to care for others.
Now, I admit this isn’t fool proof and you will need to repeat yourself, especially at first. Each time, keep the same after-then format and shorten it, rather than explaining your reasoning. For example, “After teeth, we’ll read,” “After the bathroom, then you can go,” or even, “Toys first, then video.” Stay calm and pleasant and keep practicing. The after-then structure will become a natural part of your family.
©2015 Cynthia Klein, Bridges 2 Understanding, has been a Family Success Coach since 1994. She works with parents and organizations who want more cooperation, mutual respect and understanding between adults and children. Cynthia presents her expertise through speaking and private parenting coaching sessions. She writes the Middle School Mom column for the Parenting on the Peninsula magazine. She works with parents of 4 – 25 year-old children. Contact Cynthia at bridges2understa.wpstagecoach.com or 650. 679.8138 to have a complementary discovery session about finding solutions to your challenges. http://wp.me/p2TgAe-No