Thursday, August 7, 2008

iDog, and Up and Out of the Tween

My daughter has extended her ability to delay gratification. We give her an allowance weekly and we offered to match whatever she saved for a recent vacation she and her mother took. And she kept the bulk of her money in her pocket during the vacation and decided that she'd rather get her first iPod than collect souvenirs. I was very glad to see her pull that off. Delayed gratification is a cornerstone of emotional intelligence, and it is challenging to teach. 

Since she's only eight I'm happy that iPods now come with volume limiting capability, mainly to keep her from accidentally turning the iPod up way to loud. Those Nanos have touchy little click wheels these days. Also Hannah is not as good as some kids at monitoring that sort of thing carefully. 

Now here's the catch. She had some money left over and decided she had to get an iDog to go with her new mp3 player. Now I'm not quite as impressed with iDog as she is. He pretty much is simple robotic external speaker; produces light patterns on his muzzle to beat of music; and occasionally moves his head back and forth and wiggles his ears. That's iDog. So much for the delayed gratification piece. And for iDog to work, we've discovered, the volume on the iPod has to be cranked up way beyond the sub-half point we set on the volume limiter to preserve her hearing for future years. My hearing, by the way, isn't great, and she may be up against a genetic component too. 

I'm afraid when she's done with iDog one of these times, she'll put on those earbuds, blasting her hearing before I get a chance to reset the volume limit. It doesn't take too long to do some permanent damage. So at this point, my options seem to be  1) ban iDog,  2) throw my hands up in the air and say to myself "I guess she's almost a teen. Whaddaya gonna do?" or 3) lecture her on how delicate hearing is—try to impress upon her how important it is to make sure that she always brings one of us the iPod immediately after using it with iDog, so we can reset the volume limit again.

At 8 years old she has been cultivating that tween skill of giving off disgusted facial expressions when she doesn't like what is being said. The up side is that I have a lecture early warning sign telling me when what I'm saying just isn't likely to sink in. One of the best things I know of to help in this situation is Up and Out of the Kid. It isn't that far off from lecturing, but it is different enough that it improves on it in a couple of ways. The first way is by changing my tone so that she is better able to hear what I have to say. When we lecture, we have a tendency to lapse into being condescending. If we start catching the eye rolls and facial expressions, it can rapidly go downhill from there. We get triggered, and out it rolls: "If you're not willing to listen to me about this without the attitude, maybe you're just not ready to have an iPod." So we're off to threats, and the unstated, embedded message we send is You're Not Capable.

So with Up and Out of the Kid, I try for something more along these lines. "So Hannah, if you forget to bring us the iPod and you end up with the volume too loud, for too long, what could happen?"
"It could ruin my ears"
"Yeah. And if that happened, how long would your hearing be hurt for?"
"It could be hurt forever"
"So after you use iDog, what do you always need to do?"
"Bring you my iPod so you can do the noise thingy [volume limiter]"
"Good thinking.  And if you're not remembering to do that, what do you think we'll need to do?"
"Not let me use my iPod."
"Right. You'd be taking a break from it for a bit. So is that something it would help to write yourself a note about, or is that something that you could just remember on your own. What is your thinking on that?"
"I can remember." [self given You're Capable Message]
"That would be great. I bet you can too."

Up and Out of the Kid is not perfect, but in my mind it beats lectures and threats by a long shot. One of the advantages is that instead of bouncing off Hannah's cranium, which is what seems to happen when I lapse into lecturing, the ideas come up and out of her nervous system. And by definition that increases the odds that she's actually going to remember to do what she's saying. Also, you'll notice lots of my saying "Right" and "Good thinking" in these sorts of conversations. Where the unstated message of a lecture is, "You're not very sharp, so I'd better spell it out for you." the embedded message in a conversation using Up and Out of the Kid is more along the lines of, "This is important stuff. And I bet when you give it some thought you'll know how to handle it." An added bonus is that since by answering my question she stated the likely logical consequence of not bringing me the iPod, she is not going to be too shocked if that comes to pass. She'd still get hacked at me, but not in the same way since she was able to predict what would happen herself. 

I'm betting she'll do well with this. God they grow up fast. 

This is Your Elephant on GTD. Any Questions?

I was going to forgo posting this feature article I wrote for the GTDtimes, but I've been getting a good response to it over there so I thought it deserved a brief mention here. Though the piece is aimed at Getting Things Done, it actually is about essential knowledge for acquiring any complex skill

The article is about the way that our automatic and unconscious processes tend to wander off in a different direction than the goals we deliberately se, and that we may very much want to achieve. Our conscious desire to learn the skill is like the rider on an elephant. And the unconscious part that keeps us from going to the gym or from using a new parenting skill, even when we fully intend to follow through, is like an elephant the rider is perched upon. The only way this gigantic beast can be influenced is by training and repetition, as it very much has a "mind of its own". And getting angry with it or berating it is pointless.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Why Stating If/Thens in the Positive is Essential to Your Relationship

I've posted before about the importance of enforceable statements, stating the conditions under which you will do, provide or allow a child to do something. By definition enforceable statements are stated in the positive. An example would be, "You're welcome to head outside as soon as your room is clean." We've focused in the past on how these statements increase adult credibility because they are actually enforceable (as contrasted with "Don't you talk to me in that tone of voice", which is much less enforceable). This time let's take a look at how framing your if/then or when/then statements in the positive affects your relationship with your child.

The Difference Between the Two
When things aren't going smoothly, or when we are rushed, we are much more likely frame our requests and commands in the negative So the enforceable statement about the room above goes downhill to become "You're not going outside, unless you get that room cleaned."

The puzzling thing about it is that in the two examples, stated in the negative and then in the positive, the limit being set is exactly the same one. You could say that the statements are logically equivalent. Though they are setting the exact same limit, framing the statement in the negative undermines your relationship with your child in a huge number of way. Let's look at a few.

When an if/then statement is put in the negative, it sounds like a threat. Think about how you feel when someone threatens you. The hair stand up on the back of your neck, and you want to defy the person issuing it. You might even resolve to get back at them. Needless to say when your child hears a threat, it becomes much harder for your child to comply. And when used frequently she will be much more likely to need to struggle with you over control in other areas, even unimportant ones.

Command Avalanche
Whether you make your if/then statements in the negative or positive has a compounded effect over time. I think it is easy for us to forget just how much kids have to put up with adults setting limits for them. And don't get me wrong, I'm all for adults setting reasonable limits for kids. Kids need them. But lets pause and consider (or even remember) what that's like. They have to listen to parents, teacher and other adults throughout their day telling them when they can eat, that they have to be quiet, that they can't play yet, that it's time to clean up now, and on and on.

The point is that when you add up all these commands, the positive manner of phrasing them leaves your child focused on the options at hand. They sound more like the world is filled with opportunities, and they have choices to make. It helps them to behave more responsibly and feel more capable: "Feel free to dig into those cookies, as soon as your lunch is finished." On the other hand, when stated in the negative, the child ends up with what must feel like an avalanche of threats, constraints and negativity. "If you don't get that desk clean, you're not going to recess", "If you don't finish your dinner, no chocolate milk for you."

The Embedded Message We Want to Avoid
This last point is an important one. Kids respect adults who can warmly set reasonable limits with them. They feel safe and protected knowing what their limits are. When they hear limits set in the negative, the underlying message they seem to get, even when we don't intend it that way, is "I don't like you all that much, you're not very capable, and I certainly don't want you enjoying anything in life." The piece about wanting them to enjoy themselves, within the limits of responsible behavior is a biggie. Teens are very apt to see adults as wet blankets as it is. It is part of the process of individuation, to a point. Talking to our kids by phrasing things in the negative from early on though makes the waters more troubled, and sets you sailing in them sooner than you need to.

The negative command tick is a challenging habit to break. See my article at GTDtimes about elephant training to understand why that is, AND what you can do to make your success much more likely. Also see this previous post on seven tips for mastering new interpersonal skills.