I just recently saw this hilarious meme online, & I thought, OMG, how do they know?
Clearly, it’s a universal that getting out the door is a pain in the ass. Or if you’re our family, getting out the door/into bed/out of bed are all a pain in the ass. For awhile, I sounded something like this every morning from 7:30-8 AM:
Hey, babes, let’s get dressed.
Time to brush your teeth!
Did you find your socks? Please go pick some socks.
Get the bowls & spoons, please, & start eating already!
Where are your socks?!!
Go get your water bottle & fill it!
We gotta get going!
Put your freakin’ socks on!!
Do you have your homework? Put it INSIDE your backpack!!
You get the idea. I’ve been a Human Checklist, an exhausted robot that repeats herself day & after day. We have been a family that sends all three kids to school in the morning for THREE YEARS. You wouldn’t know it by the way we were functioning. There was a LOT of wandering around in the mornings, as though every day was the first day we’ve ever gone to school. And truthfully, I was yelling regularly. Not angry yelling–just Is Anyone Even Listening/ Am I Invisible Yelling. Because louder worked sometimes. But mostly it just got me so adrenalized that after drop-off I had to sit in my van & just breathe for about 15 minutes.
Logistically, there are about 15 separate tasks each child needs to do every morning before we leave for school. With three kids, that would be 75 things I’d have to remind them, if I only said each task once to each kid. So, I was probably really saying/yelling 150 things in that hour after waking up, which is a crap way to start any day.
But guess what works better than yelling? Actual checklists.
So now, instead of rattling off an increasing louder list of every single thing they need to do, I just say, “Do the checklist.”
Nothing but, “Do the checklist.”
Before becoming a mom, I was a high school teacher. One of the basic life skills I tried to teach my students was how to make a list & check things off. List-making helps your child to be more organized, efficient, & independent. You’d be shocked at how many 18-year-olds leave home without this ability & habit. True that some people are just not natural list-makers (my husband, ahem), but it’s not a difficult skill to learn. It just takes practice, & kids as young as five can do it.
Repeat after me: “My liberation depends on their individuation.*” What that means is that your sanity & ability to move fluidly from one thing to another depends on your children’s ability to know by themselves what they need to do. Yes, they do need reminding & guidance, so the checklist is the bridge between YOU needing to tell them everything & their eventual ability to know & do it without prompting. Stop being a Human Checklist.
VERY IMPORTANT NOTE: This is NOT a reward chart. This is a very important distinction to make. I do not believe in reward charts, gold star stickers, or prizes in general, & especially not for doing self-care tasks. As a high school teacher, I saw what happens after years & years of children doing things because of the “carrot or stick” approach: they don’t respond to either after awhile. And with a reward system, there always comes a punishment, even if that punishment is just not getting the reward. And with that system comes a lot of weird emotional baggage about whether or not I am a “good” or “bad” child. Honestly, that is all irrelevant to learning how to do these tasks.
These are “Skills to Practice,” as they are labeled on my own checklists. If we are really emphasizing to our kids that working hard on something is the most important–not just in terms of effort but in terms of what actually makes us better at something–then just practice the skills. Kids don’t need a prize for that–as you can see when they willingly & eagerly practice their soccer drills or pirouettes. And as they get better, that becomes its own reward. A child who does tasks for stickers now is a student who only works for the grade later, & who becomes an adult who believes he is entitled to some sort of pat on the back every time he does what he should be doing anyway–or craves that external feedback in order to feel good. Let’s face it, I don’t get a prize every time I do the dishes–nor do I need one or I think I should get one.
If you haven’t yet read Alfie Kohn’s Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’s, Praise, & Other Bribes, I highly recommend it. It will explain a lot about why adults, as well as kids, are burnt out & uninterested in learning after a lifetime of the “carrot & stick.” And if you’ve been using a reward/punishment system in your household, & you want to explore ways to move away from it (because it’s exhausting & ineffective), check out Alfie Kohn’s Unconditional Parenting: Moving from Rewards & Punishment to Love & Reason. And if you want to read a book that focuses on adults & their motivations, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us is fantastic.
HOW CAN I MAKE SURE THE CHECKLISTS WILL WORK?
1.Consider making the list with your kid(s) together. Sit down with pencil & paper & ask them, “What are the all the things we do in the morning to get ready for the day?” People commit to what they co-create. If you know your kid is resistant to what you suggest, then start there. With very young children, you can make the list as you go through the tasks in real-time.
2. Introduce the checklist with enthusiasm–not like you’re making them eat brussel sprouts. “Hey, this is going to make our mornings go so much more smoothly. And it’ll help you remember to bring your Show & Tell item!” The way to implement any new habit with kids is to go over each item with them the first time you introduce it. Then walk them through it for the first couple days or a week, depending on your child & his or her developmental abilities. If your child is 7 or older, they will probably really enjoy checking things off, & after about a week, they’ll go to the list on their own.
3. Revisit the checklist when necessary. If your kids seem like the list isn’t working for them, then sit down & revamp the list together. Maybe the list doesn’t make sense to them because of the order of actions. Maybe your child would respond more to little pictures of the actions. My children added on tasks that we realized should be on there, so I recently edited the lists & reprinted them.
4. Let older kids help younger kids. The kids who can read (Miss Almost 10 & Miss Almost 8) can do checklists very easily. I listed the actions in the order they usually take place in our home, but you can edit it for however you prefer to do it in yours. The girls help Mr. 5 by reading each item to him, & he checks it off. This is great for reading & fine motor practice & cooperative learning & leadership, by the way, if you care about those things.
5. Stick to the checklist. What I mean by that is if you’re really going to use the checklist, then DON’T revert to calling out the individual tasks. Say, “Do the checklist.” Or, “What is next on the checklist?” But don’t BE the checklist!! Your kids will eventually figure out you’re just going to repeat, “Do the checklist,” & they will develop the sense to go do it themselves.
OUR FAMILY’S CHECKLISTS
(You can go to https://www.facebook.com/groups/aliceinmamaland/ to download Numbers files! I couldn’t upload them here.)
So in my search for a more efficient, peaceful morning & night, we made three checklists. I slipped each into a plastic page-protector sheet, clipped it to a clipboard to which I attached a dry-erase marker with a ribbon.
The Good Morning! Checklist: I have hung it on a very not-fancy tack that is on the wall in the foyer, which is also near the stairway they use to come to the kitchen.
The Welcome Home! Checklist is on the flip-side of the Good Morning! Checklist. For years, I had been chanting, “Shoes in the basket! Hands in the sink!” when we’d disembark from the van. But as the kids have gotten older & have backpacks & paperwork & lunches & snacks & everything, the chant didn’t cover all the bases. So again, instead of saying every single task that needed to be done, I just say, “Do the checklist” if they need prompting.
And finally the Get Ready for Bed! Checklist. This list hangs on a wall between the bathroom & the bedrooms.
I will forever be stumped by the resistance to bedtime & tooth-brushing. The difference between children & adults can be summed up as those who hate to go to sleep & those who can’t wait to. I shake my head & tell my kids, “Every single night of your lives, we have gone to bed. Every. Single. Night. There has never, ever, ever been a night that we haven’t gone to bed.” And they laugh & laugh at me like it’s the funniest, weirdest thing they’ve ever heard.
Well, we’ve been doing the checklists for about four months, & these have been the easiest mornings & nights we’ve ever had, even though we are busier than ever. Good luck, & let me know how they work for you!
*Thank you to Tom Pitner, inspiring life coach, of Zen Four for this mantra!!!!