A little distance goes a long way

I’ve discovered a wonderful way to get my children to do my bidding – I leave them alone. I don’t mean that I abandon them in the shady part of town until they’re willing to do anything to come home (although who among us hasn’t been tempted…). I mean that I tell them what they need to do and then leave.

I’m speaking mostly about getting ready for school and doing homework. These don’t sound like big challenges, but my children can make breakfast seem like one of Vi Hart’s infinite series (without the fun and cool doodles). It. Just. Doesn’t. End.

Like any sane, loving parent, I’d gently remind them (since they would often forget) why they found themselves sitting at a table with food in front of them. “Drink your milk…Drink your milk…No, DRINK your milk…your milk…drink it…drink it now!!!!!” Despite a mountain of evidence against the efficacy of these rants reminders, I’d continue to offer them every minute or so.

By the time we’d get to the bus stop, their faces (and mine) were twitching.

The solution was to take myself out of the equation entirely. Now, as soon as I put breakfast on the table, I sprint out of the room before I can start screaming at them to finish their waffles.

My kids have never moved faster.

Ok, so maybe I should have realized sooner that giving them such a colorful reaction only rewarded their sloth-like behavior. I’ve read parenting books, so I ought to know these things. But they just move so slowly and there is so little time to get ready and why can’t she take more than just a tiny bite at a time and oh my God, move it!!

See. It’s much better with me out of the room.

Our mornings have gotten so much better that I now use the same approach with homework. They know what they need to do and where to find me if they need help. We are all better off with some distance.

This extra-special glimpse into my parenting style probably reveals more about my mental health than I’d like. It may also leave you feeling sorry for my kids. I feel sorry for them, too, sometimes.

That’s why I keep so much ice cream in the house.

So for my fellow nutty parents out there (you know who you are, even if you won’t admit it), I offer this valuable lesson in avoiding facial tics for you and your children. You’re welcome.

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21 Responses to A little distance goes a long way

  1. It’s all good until someone starts throwing syrup. Which is what my kids do when I leave the room!

  2. dearfriends says:

    So I’m that retired children’s therapist that you may not want to hear from, but of course–here goes: YES! Less words! We tend to talk tooooo much to our children. We teach them that we need to speak 3,458 words so they will finish their breakfast on time for school, 4,302 words so that they will hang up their coats–you get the idea. A few words of reminder, followed by a smile as positive praise, or a soft-spoken, few worded lesson in self-responsibility. How does that sound? Thank you for your most welcomed post! Barb

    • Thanks, Barb! A wise friend recently advised me to link their behavior to their natural consequences, so that 1) I could stop nagging and stressing everyone out and 2) they could learn to make their own decisions based on an understanding of the consequences, rather than what will make me happy. They don’t finish breakfast? They’ll be hungry. They don’t have time to brush their hair? They will look like ragamuffins.

      By the way, since I started allowing them to own their mornings, they haven’t gone to school hungry or messy once. 🙂 They are great kids.

  3. kcerise says:

    Great post. So true!

  4. You are hilarious! I thought you were going to talk about a safety issue and as part of my ongoing research began reading dutifully, now must follow you because I think you are very fun, funny and totally in touch with how important your mental health is! One of the gals following me was discussing, the 123 approach that I had totally forgotten I used in my elementary classes…..
    Now, I have revived it for my Nana preschool on MWF.
    Thanks for the giggle!

  5. ghfool says:

    I abandonded my kids once in a shady part of town. Most of them made it back home safely.

  6. That is great advice. I use it with my students, too!

  7. I do the exact same thing. Everything moves much more smoothly if I stay out of it.

    It was so much fun meeting up with you today. Thanks for that.


  8. I think it’s a fantastic idea to leave some things as their responsibility. If they don’t eat fast enough, they may be hungry. Natural consequences are the best teachers! Good for you!

  9. bigsheepcommunications says:

    I’m picturing you all standing at the bus stop, faces twitching uncontrollably. The new approach sounds way better : )

  10. Pingback: The Mysterious Stranger « Woman Wielding Words

  11. Jodie says:

    Why is it that kids move so slowly in the morning? To irritate us? or because they really do not want to go to school (probably both) I know mine likes to talk my ear off, which wouldn’t be a bad thing if one could eat and talk without chocking. Sigh. So leaving her in a shady part of town, I mean alone in the room maybe key. 🙂 Thanks for the parenting tip. 🙂

  12. gojulesgo says:

    LOL Kudos to you! I think that’s definitely an act of bravery. I’m reading a book right now that features an overbearing mother, and even reading it’s making me a twitch a little.

  13. notquiteold says:

    I don’t have kids (or grandkids, of course, duh) but I’d like to try this on my husband. Only every time I leave the room he falls asleep.

  14. Muff says:

    If we did this at home, what would I do with all the time the ranting normally takes? Yoga to lower my blood pressure?
    We have been on this train with homework recently. Stress is lower, so were the grades. Back to neurosis for us for a while.

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