why lists are good for our kids– and our sanity

Like many mothers I know, I struggle mightily with the out-the-door routine of our weekday mornings. When it’s two minutes to eight and each of my three children has one sock and a bed head– well, I’m glad I’m not being filmed.

Then there’s the after-school slog: did you do your homework, where is it, I have to sign it, come back here and put your homework away, it’s time for your bath, yes it is, yes I know you took one last night, no you can’t have those Sun Chips I’m trying to get dinner ready…

and so on.

Recently I decided to reinstitute the morning checklist. I wrote down everything I need my recalcitrant and sleepy first-grader to do in the mornings, and asked him to copy it onto a sign for his room.

“Make peeps” is our bathroom euphemism of choice. I heard Rosie O’Donnell say it on her show (before I ever was a parent) and I just liked it. Anyway, I just scribbled it all on a Post-It and gave it to Seamus so he could make it his own. Instead, he just shrugged. “I’ll probably use this,” he said, neverĀ one to put himself out unnecessarily. But despite its shabby appearance, this Post-ItĀ note has worked wonders over the last couple of weeks. He is now able to get himself ready for school by 8 a.m. without me dragging him every step of the way.

Somehow, though, I felt like the after-school slog was different. There’s not a intense time constraint- just three kids, exhausted from a long day at school, who want to lie on the couch for a few hours of junky television. The last thing they’d respond to was ANOTHER list, especially a list as long as this one:

What am I, the Tiger Mother? Give the kids a freaking break.

And yet this was the advice I received from a cognitive behavioral therapist who has seen it all before. Give them a list, he said.

Puh-lease, I thought to myself. But they have such a highly structured day, I said out loud. They’ll hate this. By 5 p.m. they’re just tired of being told what to do.

Structure, this very wise man replied, does not have to be onerous. For children, structure can be a huge relief.

A nineteen-item list of things to do every night, a relief? Yeah, sure. I put it up anyway, because I was tired of the fighting.

And oh my. It has worked. Homework magically appears before me for me to review and sign. Dirty school uniforms leap off the floor and into the hamper all by themselves. In the most delightful way.

“Look at the list,” I say, when they ask me what happens now. And they do. And no one weeps with exhaustion. Not even me. The list is life.

Have you ever taken any parenting advice, sure it wouldn’t worked, and then have been shocked when it did?

Comments are closed.