Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Toxic Free Zone: Rewriting the Script, Part Four

Last week I discussed the joys of never having to say "How would you feel if someone did that to you?" 

Here are two more phrases that I have happily quit using, because they never seemed to get me anywhere:  "You need to..."  and "I need you to..."

"Oh, really?"  I can just hear the child thinking when I say he needs to calm down.  "Oh, no, I don't!"  

"I need you to" is equally as ineffective.

 For example, consider the difference between my telling you "I want you to come home by six o'clock," versus "I need you to come home on time."  The first one establishes my authority and is emotionally clean and clear.  The second one indicates that it's really all about me, and that I am needy.

 Life is so much easier since I started substituting "It's time to...".

"It's time to sit at the table" makes it sound as if an authority from high has designated the next piece of business, and leaves no loophole for discussion. 

Old script:

Me:  I need you to come out of the gym and sit at the table.

Child:  Ignores me, and continues to play on the suspended equipment.

Me:  You need to come out of the gym and sit at the table!

Child:  I want to play one more game!  You said!

Me: No, I didn't! I need you to do your handwriting now.

Child:  NO!!!  

Power struggle ensues. I start fantasizing about going back to my old job as a bank teller.

New Script:

Me:  It's time to come out of the gym and sit at the table.

Child:  I don't wanna!

Me: It's hard to leave the gym when you've had such fun.  And now it's time to sit at the table.

Child: NO!

Me: {Taking down suspended equipment and putting things away as I'm speaking}  It's hard to shift gears, isn't it.  And we had a lot of fun in the gym, didn't we?  And we can do it all again next time, and now it's time to sit at the table.  I can't wait to see how well you're doing this week!  Let's get you a drink of water, and would you like a lollypop or a piece of gum while you're writing?

Child:  Lollypop.  I get to pick which one!  {Runs out of the gym to the cabinet where the lollypops are kept.}

Here are a few more tricks embedded in the second exchange:  I used what my social worker friend refers to as the "broken record" technique: I kept repeating what I wanted to happen in the same tone of voice, over and over.  

I did not say BUT.  I used AND.  AND is a far better choice here.  AND smoothes the way forward, while BUT stops the flow and feels negative.  I also helped the child transition by giving him several things to look forward to when he reached the table, and by inviting him to make a choice about the treat he would get once he got there.  {I give the child something to chew or suck on when he is writing because it helps focus him, and because sucking pulls the muscles of the eyes in close, which is helpful for reading and writing.}

And AT NO TIME during any of this did I say "OK?" to the child.  Don't ASK.  TELL.  If you want your child to obey you, don't say, "Put your shoes, on, OK?"  Don't say, "Do you want to put your shoes on?"  Say, "It's time to put your shoes on."

I absolutely guarantee less heartache, less argument, and less stress this way.  The clearer you are in your expectations and demands, the more the child is able to live up to them.

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