When Kids Need More Motivation Than What’s Inside

As a mom and as a teacher, I have encountered a lot. One of the hardest things I’ve had to deal with is kids that don’t have enough intrinsic motivation. This could be motivation to achieve a task, to behave, to potty-train…anything really! It’s hard because when they don’t have that motivation, they really just don’t care. I’ve encountered it both at home and at school. It’s rough. What can you do to help?

First, it is important to make sure you really know that child. If it is your own child, that’s pretty easy. It’s harder if you’re in the classroom with a bunch of kids, but definitely worth your while. Once you get to know them and form a bond with them, you can understand their likes and dislikes a lot better. Once you’ve got their likes and dislikes figured out, you can start attaching them to the behavior or task you’d like them to accomplish in the form of a chart.

This sounds weird, right? Like, what if their likes and dislikes have absolutely nothing to do with the task you want them to accomplish, or the behavior you want them to change? It’s okay! Trust me, it works. At least for toddlers up to elementary aged kids. That’s pretty much my realm of experience, so if you are looking for advice for older kids, I’m not your girl! The likes become the reward for achieving the goal and the dislikes become the consequence of not achieving the goal.

Decide what ONE task/goal/behavior you want them to accomplish. It can be tempting to just make their goal, “Behave in class”. But if it was that easy, the child would probably be doing it already. Take it in baby steps. Figure out what you want to tackle first. What is most pressing? It might be having big meltdowns, it might be complying with directions, it might be blurting out. Whatever the WORST behavior is should probably be the first, if possible. If you’re potty-training, you might want to focus on just going potty first and then tackle pooping (no mincing words with this mom of four and kindergarten teacher!), then maybe wiping at another time. Whatever you’re doing…baby steps!

Now, create a chart for this ONE behavior. This helps make it attainable. They don’t feel like they’re set up for failure because it’s just one tiny thing they have to accomplish. Keep in mind, you have to give room for error, especially as they’re starting. You can’t expect perfection right away. If it’s a specific behavior you want to correct, give them a little bit of leeway per portion/period/chunk of the day. When you see that they’ve met this goal for a period of time, it’s time to either up your expectations of that same goal (less leeway, or more times of accomplishing the goal) OR it’s time to go to the next baby-step and change the goal. If they were having huge meltdowns in your classroom and now they aren’t, choose the next behavior that seems to be causing the most problems…possibly completing work, blurting out, getting along with friends, etc.

The most important thing I’ve learned about charts is that they have to be fair, concise and consistent. The kids have to know exactly what the chart is for, how it will work, what will happen if they do or do not meet this goal. It all has to be laid out and explained. It has to work exactly like you tell them it will. You can not just use the chart to give “points” or “stars” or stickers when you think they’ve done a good job. The timing has to be set up and at that exact point, the child earns it or doesn’t. It can’t be done randomly and on your terms. And finally, the hardest part: you have to be consistent in using it. We are asking kids to exhibit a consistent behavior. If we aren’t consistent in monitoring it, they’re never going to be consistent either. You have to use the chart in the exact manner you laid out to the child. If you said you’d give a smiley or sad face after every subject, you HAVE to do it. If you toddler is supposed to get a sticker for going potty, drop what you’re doing and go get the sticker. It’s hard. We’re all busy. We have a ton of other things on our plate. But you have to. The kid is worth it, or you wouldn’t have cared enough to create the chart in the first place!

Life Hacks, Product Finds

Down to the Last Drop

This week, I was having trouble getting any more of my facial wash out of the tube. So frustrated because I hadn’t get ordered a replacement, I took matters into my own hands (in the form of scissors)!

I cut the tube and LOOK how much product was still inside! Honestly, that will probably last me a week. Plenty of time to get my next tube! I can slip the top half over the bottom half and it kinds of acts like a lid. Seriously, a game-changer. If you aren’t doing this with your products, you should be!

On a side note, any adult suffering from acne or breakouts, this stuff is a miracle. Since starting, I rarely break out. If I do, it’s a quick pimple that goes away quickly. You’d think after adolescence and having four children, I’d be exempt from the frustrations of acne, but nope. Somehow I think it got worse!


8 Magic Words

This weekend, I was rewarded when I heard my youngest two kids wanting to play with the same toy (okay, okay, it was the iPad…but it WAS an educational game). Instead of the typical struggle with one pulling the toy out of the other one’s hand, yelling for me to come because “I had it first!”, I heard 8 simple words that I’ve been encouraging on a daily basis. It was music to my ears!

We started it when baby #2, Rowan, came along. Let’s face it: until then, there was no struggle over toys. Once Rowan was old enough to be interested in the same toys as his big brother, Parker, the struggle began. I found that sometimes it was hard to be the judge as to who should have it. Was their turn over? How long do they have before giving it up? Do I just take the toy away from both of them? Ugh. It’s not always cut and dry and just because one person wants it, does that really mean they should get it immediately? Or when do they get it? Ugh. There was no playbook and I wasn’t great at being the referee.

When you’re done, can I have a turn?

8 words changed this. Whenever there was a struggle, we gave the toy back to the kid that originally had it. Then we had the other child practice saying, “When you’re done, can I have a turn?” 8 words. That’s all. In the beginning, they’re just repeating you and you feel like you’re getting nowhere. It will work, I promise! This weekend, Emme, our 3-year old wanted the iPad from her brother and instead of grabbing it (like threenagers often do), she politely said, “Hudson, when you’re done, can I have a turn?” I swear the angels started singing! It worked! I had repeated it enough and had her repeat it enough that she finally did it herself. It was completely unprompted and she had no idea I could hear her. Success!

Now the other end of this is that when we encourage one child to say those 8 magic words, we have to let the other one know that their turn is limited, especially if they’ve had it for awhile. I usually say, “Now, you need to remember that somebody is patiently waiting for a turn.” They know they need to finish up and hand it over. They are definitely welcome to ask if THEY can have a turn next. Sometimes they do, sometimes they move on to something else. But the struggle is over! 8 words, guys. You can do it!

organization, Parenting

Toys, Toys Everywhere

If you aren’t careful, toys can take over your life. I mean that in the most literal sense possible. It’s never more obvious than after Christmas when you have multiple kids with a lot of people that love them! So. Many. Toys. All over the place and it’s overwhelming to keep up with keeping them picked up and put away. Why?? Well, because they’re new and they don’t have a “home”!

When your kids get new toys, you need to take time with them to figure out where they go. Where do they want to keep them? They need to find a home for each and every toy. It needs to be a place that makes sense to them so that they can easily remember where it is. I know it seems like a tooooooon of work, especially when there’s a bunch of new toys from Christmas or birthdays. But honestly, it’s no more work than having to pick that same toy up every single day! If you have an overabundance of toys, have your kids pick their favorite ones and give them the most prominent “homes”. In our house, this means spots in their bedrooms. Everything else either goes into the playroom or the basement (which honestly is the last stop before being donated!!). If it’s going in the playroom, it goes into a categorized bin (cars & trucks, dolls, puzzles, games, etc.). Usually it gets forgotten about and can be purged later. But every once in awhile, they’ll head in there and play with something that wasn’t originally given prime real estate. Then we know it’s more valued and probably needs to find a new home in their room.

I find that by declaring “homes” for new toys, they tend to actually get played with more because they aren’t ending up in a pile somewhere, shoved in their closet or under the bed (their favorite place to put things when they don’t know where to put them…). If things are out of place or the messiness is starting to take over, which I seriously can’t handle, all I have to do is ask them to put things in their place and they know just what to do. You don’t have to lift a finger! It’s like magic!


The Million Reasons Kids Can’t Go To Sleep Yet

Do your kids create quite a struggle at bedtime? After they’re tucked in and the light is out, do they NEED a million things? Drinks, hugs, bathroom, etc? Monsters under the bed? It’s exhausting. It’s defeating. You know they are perfectly fine, but the “Moooooooommy” calls just keep coming. How do you make it end already?!?

I’m not saying we’re perfect over here…far from it, actually. Some nights are rougher than others. But I have learned to end the struggle as soon as possible. Anticipate, anticipate, anticipate. What you have to do first is ask yourself what they’re getting from all of these excuses. Are they trying to keep themselves awake longer? Are they trying to get more time or attention from you? Once you figure out what they’re getting, you can form a plan of action. Your game plan has to totally eliminate what they’re trying to get.

If they continually ask to get a drink and you think it’s to be out of bed to stay awake longer, have a drink there ready for them. Make it something that they can get themselves WITHOUT getting out of bed. Keep a water bottle by their bed. Is that causing nighttime accidents? Fill it mostly with ice and a tiny bit of water. They’ll have their first drink, then tell them they will just have to wait just a little bit for the ice to melt to make more water. I guarantee you they’ll fall asleep waiting! And if not, well they’ll get another little drink and wait for the next one. Soon enough, they’ll be asleep. What you absolutely can NOT do is continue to go in there to encourage them to wait for it to melt because you’re defeating the whole point of eliminating yourself from the equation. Be strong! Don’t go in there. You will thank yourself later.

Are bathroom breaks the excuse? Call their bluff. I dare you! I mean, don’t completely set yourself up for a load of laundry. Have them go to the bathroom before bedtime and make sure they actually GO. Then you can be pretty darn sure it’s a ploy to get out of bed if they’re asking to go 30 minutes later. I can almost bet money that they won’t actually have an accident. Or, if you believe they are trying to get more time with you, eliminate that benefit from the trips to the bathroom altogether. Make sure they are able to go independently and tell them they’re welcome to get up and go by themselves, but they’ll have to get themselves tucked back in when they’re done.

Are monsters the problem? This might be legit. They might actually be scared and not just trying to get your time. BUT, depending on how you approach this, you could totally shoot yourself in the foot. You can get a million great ideas from Pinterest for getting rid of the monsters. Pick one! But I will caution you that whatever route you choose to take, you need to make sure the kid is the one getting rid of the monsters. If it’s monster spray, make them the ones that spray them away, not you. If YOU are the one getting rid of the monsters, then YOU will be the one called to do it every. single. time. That’s what we’re trying to avoid!

Once you figure out what they’re trying to get, you can play the game and come up with a plan. Come up with solutions that take that outcome out of the equation completely. Pretty soon, they’ll quit making those excuses because it doesn’t get them what they want! Later this week, I’ll be talking about some other things that might help if this approach doesn’t cut it or you just can’t stay away. But I do encourage you to try this one first!

Parenting, Uncategorized

Easier Bedtimes

How is bedtime with kids at your house? Stressful? Chaotic? I get it. With four kids, I’ve had those nights. Or would you say, “It’s fine!”? But is it REALLY fine? Do you secretly dread it? Let’s make it better than fine! When I first became a mom, a good friend that I totally looked up to gave me a bedtime tip that has stuck with us through four children and 13 years (and counting!). It works and makes bedtime run pretty smoothly around here!

It seems like it would be pretty natural for kids to fight bedtime. You can’t even blame them! Most kids will tell you they hate sleeping. Give them ten years and they’ll change their mind. But how do we survive until they get to that point? The answer is stories. Yep, bedtime stories. You probably already read to your kids at night, so why not use the stories to drive compliant behavior?

See, in our house, bedtime stories aren’t a right. They’re a privilege. They are earned. How are they earned? Through compliance at bedtime. Brilliant, right?!? This is how it works. Each child has the opportunity to choose three stories for bedtime. When they’re really little, they might get to choose these before the getting-ready-for-bed routine begins. Grab a basket and call it their “Book Basket” (or something more clever than that!). That makes it a bit more concrete for them. As they get older it’s just a number we keep track of until it’s actually time to pick out stories and read. Once you start the process of getting ready for bed, any non-compliance like whining, saying “no”, refusing to open their mouth to brush teeth, running away from their bedroom (Just hypothetical examples there. I’m sure none of us have these things happen.) result in a book being taken away. If they have their book basket, they have to go pull one out and put it back on the shelf. There are no ifs, ands, or buts about it. They can not earn these back. If all three books are lost before they crawl into bed, there are no stories that evening. When that happens (and it WILL, especially in the beginning), I tuck them in, give them a hug and kiss, tell them I love them and that we’ll try again tomorrow. That’s it.

It seems simple, maybe too simple to work. But I promise, if you stick to your guns, even if you feel like you’re being harsh, the behaviors will change. Not only that, but they will look at books and reading as a reward and a positive thing. It will help create a sense of love for literature, give you a positive bonding activity, while majorly boosting their vocabulary. This is only going to help them down the road! And those nights when you read three stories? You might groan inside about how long it takes, especially if multiple kids are still on this system. We had three at once, so that was nine stories tackled between the two of us…ugh! But think about how much time and energy you saved by having compliant kids getting ready for bed. Trust me, a few extra minutes of reading each night is totally worth it!


When the messiness is NOT fine!

If your house is anything like mine, it can seriously become a cluttered mess in a hurry. With four kids, if each of them even leave a handful of things out in a day, it adds up REALLY quickly! I used to try to act like I was fine with it. I’d say it was no big deal because our house looked lived-in and that’s exactly what it was! But in reality, I was not actually fine with it. I tried to fake a tolerance for it, but inside it was making me crazy. Then I would try to keep up with the mess on my own. My husband would, too. It was impossible! Eventually, I’d be grumpy and upset and it would just bubble over and I’d have myself a little freak-out moment. Tell me I’m not the only one that does this!

So something had to change. When we added baby #3, it all just got worse. Not only did we have toys and items for a 6 year old AND a 3 year old, we had all the baby paraphernalia, too. It was just a lot to manage myself. When it was my hubby and I trying to pick up after every single one of us, it was exhausting and overwhelming. That’s really kind of all we got done in a day…picking up. Not long after we became a family of 5, we moved to a different house. I was determined to create order that ALL of us could follow. Well, except for the baby. But eventually, even he would be able to help keep things tidy. There were a ton of things that I put into place: all clothes go immediately into the hamper, we installed a hook for each kid for book bags and coats, each person had a shoe basket to put their shoes into when they took them off. There were lots of new procedures and I told my older boys that those were just the rules at this new house. They went with it…thank goodness! I refused to pick their things up any more. Just like that, I stopped. If their book bag was on the floor, I called them to come hang it up. They were annoyed, but eventually they just started doing it on it’s own…and my life got a bit easier. This is HUGE! Stop picking things up for them or you will be doing it forever. Nothing changes if nothing changes!

But my biggest weapon in this transformation? My label maker. I know, I know. It’s ridiculous, right? How in the world does a label maker do anything besides make me a Monica-like wife. Well, my friends (See what I did there?), it is a game-changer. I labeled things that people might think are strange. My kitchen drawers, for example. I don’t have labels on the outside for the world to see…I’m not that weird! But inside the drawers on the organizers, there’s a label telling what goes in there. When my boys empty the dishwasher, they don’t have to ask where things go. They also have absolutely no reason NOT to put it in the correct place! My husband always was great about putting things away, but sometimes his opinion of where it went was different than my opinion and we’d find ourselves searching for things. Not any more! Anybody could come cook in my kitchen! (And I’m totally serious if you want to come cook for us…)

These days, any time I find an area of our house that we just can’t seem to keep neat and tidy, I go at it with the label maker. We still get clutter and mess, don’t get me wrong. Now though, if I call attention to it, we all jump in and have it all put away within minutes. Every once in awhile, I find the same things being left out over and over again and I realize it’s because nobody knows where it goes! Labeling forces you to categorize items, take stock of what you have and find everything a home.