Mornings with children are not for the faint of heart. They signal a time of excitement (because that’s how many children are) and yet, a time of separation and resistance to moving forward in an orderly routine. They are often rushed. And let’s face it. We are never at our best when we’re running late.
In our house, each morning I aim to find a healthy balance between drill sergeant and camp counselor extraordinaire. Getting 3 kids fed, dressed, brushed, pottied and into the car (without destroying our relationship) in under 45 minutes is a feat I don’t take lightly. Especially because one of my kids has no interest in this routine.
For him, I’m always searching for the next shiny object that will motivate him to get his butt on the potty and hang out with me until the deed is done. The bathroom is my office. We have a tray for his lap and a host of books, card games and toys to lure him forward and keep him busy. But, ho hum, “THIS IS ALL SO BORING!” he informed me the other day. Which explains why we were running late the last three days.
Enter tracing paper idea. Yes, I know. It’s not open ended. It doesn’t promote creativity. He’ll grow up in a box. But if he gets his butt on the potty, I’m all for it. And he loves craft projects. So he takes a piece of tracing paper and traces a favorite cartoon character from a picture book. Then, he goes over it again, but darker. Eventually, he transfers it to shrinky dink paper and voila, he has a souvenir from a few trips to the bathroom. I help a lot. He gets frustrated easily by tiny errors. I don’t mind though. His butt is on the potty and we’ll be on time for school.
The takeaway? Well, there are two.
First, we are constantly setting rules and breaking them as parents. I’d like to teach independence, creativity, intrinsic motivation and self reliance. But tardy slips suck. And so does constipation. So I relent and refuse to feel choked by the rules of parenting when my relationship with my son is at stake. I might pay for this later. Or he’ll grow up to be amazing despite me.
Second, we can never stop reflecting on what motivates our children. I chose tracing paper because it’s consistent with one of his strengths (focusing on crafts). Would that work with my other son? Probably not. It’s true that kids are intrinsically motivated when they feel capable, independent and connected, but they need us to stand by their side and steer them in the direction of their strengths so they can enjoy the warm fuzzies that come from a job well done. Even when we’re running late.Before you ask yourself “What motivates my child?” bring to mind all of their strengths. Then use that information to generate some new ideas. When you do this, candy will fall to the bottom of the list and effective strategies will rise to the top. Go ahead. Try it. And let me know what you come up with.