Toward a More Self-Regulated Child

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At this stage parenting is 40% snuggles and adorableness, and 60% battleground. We are using all the traditional parenting strategies. They are using all out guerilla warfare. It’s hard to tell from moment to moment who has the upper hand. New strategies are always needed. Here is one that has been helping keep the peace in our family lately…

Discovering Audiobooks

My oldest has never been drawn to toys. As a toddler her favorite activity was being read to. We quickly learned that our public library allowed us to check out 150 books. Both my husband and I often had our accounts maxed out. We would keep renewing as long as they would let us. Friends would joke that we should be classified as a library annex. One benefit of all this reading was that our daughter practically began speaking in full sentences. Both she and her brother have great vocabularies, it was entertaining to hear preschoolers use words like dissipate and cacophony. However, I am not a big fan of reading and became very weary of this over time.

A few years ago, when I was signing the kids up for the summer reading program at the library, I noticed that audiobooks counted as a reading activity. I discovered the library’s audiobook app. My daughter loved it. She soon developed an enthusiasm for a few series: The Box Car Children, Nancy Drew, and How to Train your Dragon, to name a few. There was typically a waiting list for the books she wanted. Hoping to find a better selection I discovered the Audible app and we began accumulating a mass of audiobooks to match our library annex.

Books on Bikes: a Perfect Solution

We get around by bike. While two kids on the back of a longtail make an adorable image, the reality can sometimes be quite different. It is not uncommon for our commutes to take 45 minutes plus. Long trips can equal boredom, and boredom quickly deteriorates into tickling, pinching, poking, pushing, and other antics to excite a reaction from the other sibling. Besides the screaming that this elicits, the shifts in weights can get downright dangerous, especially when going slowly up hill in a narrow bike lane. This is where audiobooks come in handy. An iPod, headphone splitters, and a good story are the perfect recipe for tranquility.

When Good Things Go Bad

If the audiobooks had stayed on the bike we would never have had a problem. However, my kids, especially my daughter started asking to listen to audiobooks at other times. Not realizing where this was going at first, I obliged her. But before long I started noticing that when I asked her to turn the iPod off and engage in a different task she ignored me. When I turned it off, after warning her that I was going to if she couldn’t do it herself, she would become irate and hostile. I became more selective about when I would let her listen and tried to establish clearer boundaries about when it was appropriate and when it was not. When I refused she would whine, beg, and question, “whyyyyyyy not?” It was as if audiobooks were the soundtrack to her life and she couldn’t function without them. What once had been a wonderful thing had become yet another battleground.

Chances are if you are a parent you’ve faced a similar situation. With my kids its audiobooks, with others it might be TV, or video games. Even reading can preoccupy some kids to the point that it is interfering with other worthwhile activities. The point is, we want our kids to be well rounded and learn how to manage their own time better. But how can we help them move toward that?

A Borrowed Idea

Just about that time a Facebook friend, Jared Anderson, posted a picture some “Spending Time” cards he had made for his kids. I asked Jared about the cards and this is what he told me:

“My motivation in making the Spending Time cards is I wanted to give a sense of proportion rather than playing into the task-reward dichotomy. So screen time isn’t something you “earn”, making that the reward and other activities the “work”. Instead, the time cards can give children a healthy sense of what kind of balance daily activities should have.”

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I could see the wisdom in Jared’s idea. We have used rewards/incentives in our household, and they can be effective, but they do have their downsides. For one, the child’s motivations is external rather than internal, if the reward is removed, they are no longer motivated. And, over time rewards tend to lose their appeal. For example a child who’s parents use video games as a reward for doing his/her homework may suddenly decide that he/she no longer desires to play video games if it means having to do homework first. I have witnessed this first hand and I want to avoid that pitfall when possible.

The thought occurred to me that something similar Jared’s Spending Time cards could help my kids begin to learn to manage their time on their own and reduce my conflicts with them.

Designing the Time Use System

When designing the cards for my kids I wanted a theme that they would enjoy. One of the biggest interests right now is our foster kitties. For the last 9 plus month we have been taking care of two kitties while their regular family is in Europe. My kids adore these cats. Their owners will be returning soon, so I thought it would be neat to make the cards a tribute to them. I tried to incorporate a bit of their personalities in the illustrations. They were a big hit. My kids giggled when they first saw them and spent a good deal of time admiring and playing with them.

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(Card activities in order: art center; homework; audiobook; physical activity; playing a game, chores; making bed; playing with toys)

Next, I needed a way for them to keep track which cards had been spent. After considering several ideas I decided on a flannel board. This way they could see all of their options and move them around into the order they prefer. I divided the flannel board into a “To Do” side and a “Done” side. I thought it might be satisfying for them to move things from one side to the other. In addition, if something is displayed on the “Done” side it is a good reminder to choose a different option. Before leaving for work I typically put out the cards I think we will have time for when we get home. I let them organize them in the order they want to do them. On weekends we start with all of the options on the board. If we make it all the way though, they start over. I added some pockets on the bottom to store the cards we weren’t using.

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So far they seem to be enjoying it and it and conflict around the audiobooks has diminished.

Now we are off to enjoy our 60 minutes of physical activity…

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Share Your Thoughts

If you have any thoughts about our Spending Time system, ideas for promoting harmony on family rides, or helping your children to become more self-regulating I would love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below.

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