Our world is fast-paced. We often feel a need to keep things moving. It is easy to always focus on the next thing, or how we can accomplish the most in any given moment. What happens when our children can’t keep up or when they get stuck? Take the morning routine, for instance. I am sure that I am not alone in the thought that my ability to get our whole family out of the door and on time resembles the job of an air traffic controller.
Of course, wouldn’t we all like for our children to be able to independently complete essential tasks on our timetable? However, when we slow things down, build in more time, and encourage focus by getting out of the way, we build independence, confidence, and a sense of calm.
How do we get out of the way? It’s easy to find ourselves verbally over-prompting when our children are not focused. Frequent redirection tends to make things feel more chaotic for us and our children, and doesn’t help to build strong, positive relationships. As adults, we don’t tend to enjoy receiving constant verbal redirection. At best, it’s annoying, and at worst, it can damage relationships and negatively impact our sense of self-worth. Yet, for many of us, as parents, we are not fully aware of how frequently we are redirecting our children.
Next time, if you are confident that your child is in fact able to complete a task or series of tasks independently, try providing a verbal reminder. Then, wait a full minute before providing a visual cue (e.g., such as pointing), wait another minute before providing another verbal prompt. In other words, instead of focusing on what your child is not doing, or choosing to do it for them, build in wait time. If your child is struggling with task completion, you might find that a task is not as independent as you thought it was and in a low-stress time, it might be helpful to explicitly model for your child what it looks like to complete the task independently, practice, and reinforce learning. If your child is struggling with speed, you might set a goal WITH your child and make a game out of it by trying to beat the clock.
At school, we frequently take the time to explicitly teach students what it looks and sounds like to meet success. We go slow to go fast as we build student independence and stamina. We are intentional in what we ask students to do and we encourage our students to advocate for what they need. Remembering that it is actually quite difficult to do more than one task well, particularly if both tasks are not automatic.
For example, walking and talking tend to be fairly automatic for most adults and doing both at once could be considered easy for many. However, if you are learning to rock climb while also talking about something cognitively challenging, you might find it hard to focus on your thoughts. For many of our children, we have to help them shine their attention flashlight (see podcast reference below for more about shining your flashlight). If they are simultaneously trying to think of the right words to tell us a story and get their shoes on in the morning, then they are going to go a lot slower. If they are trying to process our continuous requests while also doing what we ask them, we increase everyone’s struggle. In a society full of overstimulation, it is important to slow down when we can, and model intention and presence. Supporting our children to be present and to focus on one task at a time helps to build their awareness and endurance in tolerating any frustration that arises, and eventually builds their automaticity across multiple settings.