Tired of reminding my 9-year-old

Posted by David Beard, Globe Staff  February 22, 2009 01:04 PM

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The following came during a question-and-answer session with Child Caring's Barbara Meltz, who will be answering your queries at 1 p.m. Monday on Boston.com:

Question. Hi Barbara, any advice for how to get an almost 10-year-old to get herself ready (for whatever) without constant reminders for, 'get dressed!', 'brush your teeth!', 'brush your hair!'? You get the picture.
LONGING FOR QUIET

Barbara Meltz
: Dear longing for quiet, I guess it's safe to assume that these reminders sometimes become unpleasant? First, I would rule out any behavioral issue that might be making this hard for her; for instance, difficulty organizing herself. A tip-off would be if she has difficulty with these kinds of tasks at school. Assuming that isn't the case and that your expectations are within her reach, it's also reasonable to assume that she engages in this behavior because it gets her attention from you, even though its negative.

It's time to put the responsibility for getting ready squarely on her shoulders. She's old enough to assume it. Have a family meeting or a conversation where you lay it on the table. Be careful to make only "I" statements ("I get frustrated when you \ dawdle...") rather than "You" statements like, "Why can't you ....." Tell her you'd like her to assume full responsibility for getting ready ; does she think she can handle that?

If she can't, in what ways would she like you to help? In essence, draw up a contract that clearly outlines each person's responsibility. Perhaps she sets an alarm clock and wants you to look in on her one time to make sure she heard it, NOT to remind her to get up.

This should all be spelled out in the contract. The contract must also stipulate what happens if she is late: does it mean she misses the school bus? Then what happens? She has to walk to school? Does she know the way? Does she want to practice walking in once herself, just in case. These are details you need to work out with great seriousness.

Once she sees you are serious and especially if she once suffers a consequence, she'll be more likely to get with the program. The bottom line, of cousre, is that you must be willing to tolerate the consequences if she is late and not capitulate once you have agreed to consequences.

A few keys to making this work: that you lay it all out in matter-of-fact terms, without judgment; that you anticipate and make contingenices for any possible consequences good or bad you can both think of; that you do all this together so that she has input and doesn't feel as if you are, yet again, ruling over her. It's a process, to make this work, and it will take comittment. Be sure, of course, to heap praise along the way wherever appropriate.

Do you agree with Barbara's take? Have a thought of your own? Have your say in our comments section.

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14 comments so far...
  1. Good advice.

    Posted by Chris February 22, 09 03:03 PM
  1. We live in a suburb without sidewalks and my kids' schools are all at least 3 miles from the house so walking isn't an option because A) walking on the street isn't safe and B) they'd be ridiculously late to school. Instead, I explained that it's a 20 minute round-trip for me to drive them to school if they miss the bus, which is 20 minutes that I can't use to get other things done before work, so when they get home from school I expect them to give me 20 minutes of their free time. I put them to work doing chores they don't necessarily enjoy...scooping up the dog's mess in the backyard for instance...until that 20 minutes is up. They've only missed the bus one time each.

    When I started applying the same logic to doctor appointments, gymnastics practice and other day to day stuff...well, let's just say they are no longer late for anything. :)

    Posted by Rose February 22, 09 03:21 PM
  1. Rose's comment (#2) sounds like a useful solution. No yelling, just a real consequence.

    Posted by MaryO February 23, 09 12:44 AM
  1. Only in America, the most litigation corrupted and obsessed society on planet Earth, would someone suggest that a parent and child write a business-style contract regarding brushing one's teeth.

    You call your lawyer and your 9 year old will call his. This is an excellent example of American parents being unwilling or unable to manage the most basic elements of family life. Who is in charge, you or your kid? This impotent parenting nonsense simply doesn't happen in many foreign cultures.

    Keep the laughs coming. I am looking forward to your next article.

    Posted by Ralston February 23, 09 04:48 AM
  1. Ralston - I thought the ideas were an excellent...we already do verbal contracts with our kids and have amazing success. They need to understand both what needs to be done and what the consequences are. I think I will move to written ones so incase they claim to forget what we agreed upon.

    I guess foreign cultures are superior to ours in child-rearing. (Of course in many foreign cultures they still beat their kids, but hey, what's a few scars among family). Oh well, the downfall of America. Thanks for keeping us silly Americans honest! Now you can go back and take charge of your kids!

    Posted by bv February 23, 09 09:29 AM
  1. My 9 year old thinks she has all the time in the world for everything. She is like that at school. Her teacher tought maybe she had ADD. They tested her and realized she has aniexty and is always worried about what is coming next and cannot focus. So we are working on it. But it's very frustrating...........
    I agree with what another person said, a contract witha 9 year old, that is ridiculous.......

    Posted by mom2kids February 23, 09 10:00 AM
  1. Right on, Barbara - good advice all around.

    I think we can all count ourselves lucky to NOT be one of Ralston's kids . . . no one said anything about lawyers, the idea is to be able to REASON with them to get results - use the tools at your disposal when simply asking no longer works. Seriously, how would YOU handle this, Ralston? How about offering up something a little more constructive to the forum than mockery? Kids are more than smart enough to get it, so what's wrong with applying some logic and consequence to their actions?

    In my experience, children are all about rules and expectations, and it is their very nature to push the boundaries we set for them at every single step of development. I see a contract - or agreement, or call it whatever you like, written or otherwise - as a constructive way to meet them on middle ground. "Do as I say" without any reasoning at all will only result in resentment and possibly even bigger behavioral issues for you in the end. I've never gone so far as a contract with mine, but as soon as they understand the concept of action = consequence, we apply it daily. The happy result is I have responsible kids that I can trust with ever more important responsibilities as they grow older.

    Posted by Chrismixx February 23, 09 10:12 AM
  1. well, i was a kid who dawdled and didn't appreciate the constant nagging from all members of my family at the time. but, what it came down to was the fact that i really just hated the mornings and it took me a while to get going- still does. i didn't make myself late for school or my parents late for work, but, it always took me a few extra minutes to get out the door. when i got older and went to college my solution was to get up 1/2 hour earlier than i needed to, giving myself an hour and a half to get ready. it gave me extra time to grumble, stare off into space, check my email, shower, etc. and it still works best for me to give myself extra time to get ready. i realize this is probably not feasible for a 10 year old who probably needs extra sleep, but, sometimes it is just a personality thing. though my parents nagged me throughout grade and high school, we all survived and still have good relationships. is it possible you are making too big a deal out of this?? a contract seems a bit excessive.

    Posted by anti-morning person February 23, 09 10:13 AM
  1. Ralston, I got a good laugh out of your comment because I TOTALLY agree ( and I am an American parent). Getting oneself up and getting ready for the day is a pretty basic daily exercise even for a 9 year old . My daughter will be 9 in May and I am not going to negotiate the terms of an agreement with her. She is to get up and get herself together in a timely manner, that's all there is to it. She gets up at 6:45 and is to be downstairs with coat on, backpack in hand and ready to go by 7:30. There shouldn't have to be a discussion or agreement about a routine as basic as this.

    Posted by J-Bee February 23, 09 11:57 AM
  1. Dear J-Bee, and what if she doesn't?

    Posted by Cordelia February 24, 09 08:55 AM
  1. Actually, I think Rose had the best, most realistic and probably most reasonable solution. Her kids learned that their actions have very real consequences. No contracts, no "do as I say" authoritarianism (it's not a word, but it is now!), no verbal assaults. It's a simple and effective method to both teach and discipline your children.

    I agree that sitting down and hashing out a contract with a 9 y/o is ridiculous.

    Posted by phe February 24, 09 01:16 PM
  1. I like Rose's approach as well and use it myself. However, the problem goes beyond just being late. My older child is similar to J-Bee's - he has always just gone through his routine and got himself out the door. But I have to laugh at J-Bee's smugness because he/she has never met my younger son, who like the questioner, is almost 10, is a dreamer and can't focus for more than a minute. Even when I explain to him that getting up and out in the morning is a basic routine and it happens EVERY DAY he still can't pull himself together. He'll get to the bus on time but without my constant nagging he will be unwashed, inappropriately dressed, without his lunch, and without breakfast. (For those of you thinking that I should send him to school the way he is and let him suffer the consequences, the actual consequence will be a note home from the school saying how it is my responsibility to make sure he comes to school appropriately dressed and fed). Before labeling people as bad parents or laughing at the suggested solution, remember that while your way works for your kid, it may not work for other kids.

    Posted by Cordelia February 25, 09 09:52 AM
  1. Cordelia, in response to your question: as my daughter has gotten older and more capable of handling it, I've increased my level of expectations with her so this started well before she got to this age. She happens to like being able to make choices for herself and knows that if she doesn't do what I ask, then the choice will no longer be her own. If she doesn't get dressed on time, then I'm picking the clothes and putting them on her. If she doesn't get downstairs in time to pick out what she wants for breakfast or what she's having for lunch, then I'm picking for her. At 4 or 5 she wasn't capable of doing all of these things on her own - over the years she's gotten more responsibility for herself and now if she behaves like a 5 year old by showing she can't do these things, then she gets treated like one so she does what she's supposed to be doing. And I'm not some kind of overly authoritarian parent - we have plenty of discussions, however there are certain things I'm just not going to budge on.

    By the way, I did not label anyone as bad parent or laugh at the suggested solution. I said I was laughing at Ralston's comment ("you call your lawyer and have your 9 year old call his"). Actually it was you who laughed at me: "I have to laugh at J-Bee's smugness".

    Posted by J-Bee February 25, 09 11:50 AM
  1. HI

    I am taking a gradual approach with my son- He's 8 and started a new school last term where he has to remember far more things. His personal organisation in the morning has always been a struggle. My other son has always been great at it so I'm inclined to think the lack of focus is a personality thing rather than my parenting style. We made a list together of everything he would need and put a check list on the fridge. Now I am getting it ready but we check the list together and he checks he has everything. I am gradually becoming less involved so that he will ultimately check the list and pack it himself. I tackled the getting dressed to go out thing when he was about 5 with a pictorial countdown chart - 5 - glasses, 4- shoes, 3- coat, 2- bag, 1-kiss mum! That worked a dream. All kids are different and that is great if your kids can just be told once and they do it - but not all kids - even those in the same family - need the same kinds of support to develop their independence! Good luck parents everywhere.


    Posted by Mary March 3, 09 04:10 AM
 
14 comments so far...
  1. Good advice.

    Posted by Chris February 22, 09 03:03 PM
  1. We live in a suburb without sidewalks and my kids' schools are all at least 3 miles from the house so walking isn't an option because A) walking on the street isn't safe and B) they'd be ridiculously late to school. Instead, I explained that it's a 20 minute round-trip for me to drive them to school if they miss the bus, which is 20 minutes that I can't use to get other things done before work, so when they get home from school I expect them to give me 20 minutes of their free time. I put them to work doing chores they don't necessarily enjoy...scooping up the dog's mess in the backyard for instance...until that 20 minutes is up. They've only missed the bus one time each.

    When I started applying the same logic to doctor appointments, gymnastics practice and other day to day stuff...well, let's just say they are no longer late for anything. :)

    Posted by Rose February 22, 09 03:21 PM
  1. Rose's comment (#2) sounds like a useful solution. No yelling, just a real consequence.

    Posted by MaryO February 23, 09 12:44 AM
  1. Only in America, the most litigation corrupted and obsessed society on planet Earth, would someone suggest that a parent and child write a business-style contract regarding brushing one's teeth.

    You call your lawyer and your 9 year old will call his. This is an excellent example of American parents being unwilling or unable to manage the most basic elements of family life. Who is in charge, you or your kid? This impotent parenting nonsense simply doesn't happen in many foreign cultures.

    Keep the laughs coming. I am looking forward to your next article.

    Posted by Ralston February 23, 09 04:48 AM
  1. Ralston - I thought the ideas were an excellent...we already do verbal contracts with our kids and have amazing success. They need to understand both what needs to be done and what the consequences are. I think I will move to written ones so incase they claim to forget what we agreed upon.

    I guess foreign cultures are superior to ours in child-rearing. (Of course in many foreign cultures they still beat their kids, but hey, what's a few scars among family). Oh well, the downfall of America. Thanks for keeping us silly Americans honest! Now you can go back and take charge of your kids!

    Posted by bv February 23, 09 09:29 AM
  1. My 9 year old thinks she has all the time in the world for everything. She is like that at school. Her teacher tought maybe she had ADD. They tested her and realized she has aniexty and is always worried about what is coming next and cannot focus. So we are working on it. But it's very frustrating...........
    I agree with what another person said, a contract witha 9 year old, that is ridiculous.......

    Posted by mom2kids February 23, 09 10:00 AM
  1. Right on, Barbara - good advice all around.

    I think we can all count ourselves lucky to NOT be one of Ralston's kids . . . no one said anything about lawyers, the idea is to be able to REASON with them to get results - use the tools at your disposal when simply asking no longer works. Seriously, how would YOU handle this, Ralston? How about offering up something a little more constructive to the forum than mockery? Kids are more than smart enough to get it, so what's wrong with applying some logic and consequence to their actions?

    In my experience, children are all about rules and expectations, and it is their very nature to push the boundaries we set for them at every single step of development. I see a contract - or agreement, or call it whatever you like, written or otherwise - as a constructive way to meet them on middle ground. "Do as I say" without any reasoning at all will only result in resentment and possibly even bigger behavioral issues for you in the end. I've never gone so far as a contract with mine, but as soon as they understand the concept of action = consequence, we apply it daily. The happy result is I have responsible kids that I can trust with ever more important responsibilities as they grow older.

    Posted by Chrismixx February 23, 09 10:12 AM
  1. well, i was a kid who dawdled and didn't appreciate the constant nagging from all members of my family at the time. but, what it came down to was the fact that i really just hated the mornings and it took me a while to get going- still does. i didn't make myself late for school or my parents late for work, but, it always took me a few extra minutes to get out the door. when i got older and went to college my solution was to get up 1/2 hour earlier than i needed to, giving myself an hour and a half to get ready. it gave me extra time to grumble, stare off into space, check my email, shower, etc. and it still works best for me to give myself extra time to get ready. i realize this is probably not feasible for a 10 year old who probably needs extra sleep, but, sometimes it is just a personality thing. though my parents nagged me throughout grade and high school, we all survived and still have good relationships. is it possible you are making too big a deal out of this?? a contract seems a bit excessive.

    Posted by anti-morning person February 23, 09 10:13 AM
  1. Ralston, I got a good laugh out of your comment because I TOTALLY agree ( and I am an American parent). Getting oneself up and getting ready for the day is a pretty basic daily exercise even for a 9 year old . My daughter will be 9 in May and I am not going to negotiate the terms of an agreement with her. She is to get up and get herself together in a timely manner, that's all there is to it. She gets up at 6:45 and is to be downstairs with coat on, backpack in hand and ready to go by 7:30. There shouldn't have to be a discussion or agreement about a routine as basic as this.

    Posted by J-Bee February 23, 09 11:57 AM
  1. Dear J-Bee, and what if she doesn't?

    Posted by Cordelia February 24, 09 08:55 AM
  1. Actually, I think Rose had the best, most realistic and probably most reasonable solution. Her kids learned that their actions have very real consequences. No contracts, no "do as I say" authoritarianism (it's not a word, but it is now!), no verbal assaults. It's a simple and effective method to both teach and discipline your children.

    I agree that sitting down and hashing out a contract with a 9 y/o is ridiculous.

    Posted by phe February 24, 09 01:16 PM
  1. I like Rose's approach as well and use it myself. However, the problem goes beyond just being late. My older child is similar to J-Bee's - he has always just gone through his routine and got himself out the door. But I have to laugh at J-Bee's smugness because he/she has never met my younger son, who like the questioner, is almost 10, is a dreamer and can't focus for more than a minute. Even when I explain to him that getting up and out in the morning is a basic routine and it happens EVERY DAY he still can't pull himself together. He'll get to the bus on time but without my constant nagging he will be unwashed, inappropriately dressed, without his lunch, and without breakfast. (For those of you thinking that I should send him to school the way he is and let him suffer the consequences, the actual consequence will be a note home from the school saying how it is my responsibility to make sure he comes to school appropriately dressed and fed). Before labeling people as bad parents or laughing at the suggested solution, remember that while your way works for your kid, it may not work for other kids.

    Posted by Cordelia February 25, 09 09:52 AM
  1. Cordelia, in response to your question: as my daughter has gotten older and more capable of handling it, I've increased my level of expectations with her so this started well before she got to this age. She happens to like being able to make choices for herself and knows that if she doesn't do what I ask, then the choice will no longer be her own. If she doesn't get dressed on time, then I'm picking the clothes and putting them on her. If she doesn't get downstairs in time to pick out what she wants for breakfast or what she's having for lunch, then I'm picking for her. At 4 or 5 she wasn't capable of doing all of these things on her own - over the years she's gotten more responsibility for herself and now if she behaves like a 5 year old by showing she can't do these things, then she gets treated like one so she does what she's supposed to be doing. And I'm not some kind of overly authoritarian parent - we have plenty of discussions, however there are certain things I'm just not going to budge on.

    By the way, I did not label anyone as bad parent or laugh at the suggested solution. I said I was laughing at Ralston's comment ("you call your lawyer and have your 9 year old call his"). Actually it was you who laughed at me: "I have to laugh at J-Bee's smugness".

    Posted by J-Bee February 25, 09 11:50 AM
  1. HI

    I am taking a gradual approach with my son- He's 8 and started a new school last term where he has to remember far more things. His personal organisation in the morning has always been a struggle. My other son has always been great at it so I'm inclined to think the lack of focus is a personality thing rather than my parenting style. We made a list together of everything he would need and put a check list on the fridge. Now I am getting it ready but we check the list together and he checks he has everything. I am gradually becoming less involved so that he will ultimately check the list and pack it himself. I tackled the getting dressed to go out thing when he was about 5 with a pictorial countdown chart - 5 - glasses, 4- shoes, 3- coat, 2- bag, 1-kiss mum! That worked a dream. All kids are different and that is great if your kids can just be told once and they do it - but not all kids - even those in the same family - need the same kinds of support to develop their independence! Good luck parents everywhere.


    Posted by Mary March 3, 09 04:10 AM
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Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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