September 28, 2020

Parenting Skills: Boring Baseline

“If there is anything that we wish to change in the child, we should first examine it and see whether it is not something that could better be changed in ourselves.” C.G. Jung.

This is the first in a sequence of blogs on parenting with practical, proven information to help parents in working with your children or to help professionals in working with families.

In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell writes that it takes 10,000 hours of focused practice to get excellent at a skill. Don’t you think parents get well over 10,000 practice hours?  Gladwell cautions that practicing the wrong things just helps us get set in doing it poorly; that is apparently how I do golfing.

Parenting Classes: What parents reported and learned:

As I taught parenting classes, parents were concerned about their child’s behavior, but rarely about their own. At the same time parents understood they had great influence on their child’s behavior.

Parents often claimed their child never obeyed. That was never the case. Some though reported only 2 – 3 obeys for the 70 instructions counted for the week. Parents were instructed to not show the count sheet to the child as typically just the act of counting improves behavior, at least in the short term.

Many parents were shocked by how often they were telling kids to do things. Some got through the 10 in the first half hour the children were up in the morning. Many were surprised by how often their child cooperated. Some children, whose parents claimed never did what they were told, actually cooperated half of the time. Just  noticing and counting was helpful for those parents as they noticed how often they were telling and had increased appreciation of their child’s cooperation.

As the class progressed, it was evident that when child cooperation got better, parenting skills had similarly improved.

Most parents want to be good parents and want their children to have cooperative and pleasant behavior. Practice: think about how much you practice parenting! To improve any skill or ability, you should know:  where you are starting, where you want to go, and what it will take to get there.

How do you know the level your skill or your child’s ability now? What is that baseline? Consider also about the specific outcomes that you desire.

Take the parent who says my child’s room is always a mess!

  • How do you describe clean?
  • How do you measure clean?
  • EXAMPLE: Specifying desired, measurable outcome
    • Deadline: 8PM —Toys are to be in toy box. then
    • Count the number of toys still on the floor at 8PM.
    • Do this daily for seven days, to get the starting point for behavior and baseline for progress.
    • IMPORTANT: baseline is absolutely necessary. Change is often so small that only by counting from a baseline is the change noticeable.

Are you ready to start on the next 10,000 practices for parenting? Are you ready to start improvement for you and for your child? What behavior do you want to see improve or change?

Please don’t pick the most difficult behavior of the most difficult child. The first step is to learn what you need to grow as a parent and later apply your growing ability to more difficult situations.

START NOW —DEFINE specifically the behavior you are concerned about. Most parents ended up counting cooperation…so that will be the reference of this blog.

  • Get your count sheet.  Do NOT show this to your child. It’s only for you.
    Count Sheet for Parents
  • For this beginning, you are doing only the baseline, counting what is now happening. Afterwards do whatever you would normally do.
  • Guess the number of times your child will cooperate this week.
  • Track the first 10 times your child is told to do something daily, this will be your baseline.
  • Continue this for one week

Ultimately parents wonder what outcome of cooperation is reasonable. What is ideal? Experts suggest cooperation 70% of the time is an excellent outcome. Cooperation at 100% would be a bit scary; after all we’re not looking to have children behave like robots. A little spunk and independence are good things. Cooperation 95% of the time, after the second tell, would also seem excellent.

At the end of the week you will have a total of 70 times you told your child to do something with a specific smaller number of times they cooperated. That will be your baseline or starting point.

Check back over the next weeks, continued information for improving your parenting skills and your child’s behavior will be discussed.

Next week: Tell Don’t Ask: Getting Cooperation Started.

Bill