Sometimes the most important things can be the hardest to notice…getting dressed and ready in a timely manner is one of them. Here are some things to do about it.
7:25 pm –
Walking out of the room where my child stands naked after taking a bath, I quickly say, “Alright, man…here are your pajamas. Go ahead and get dressed.”
From Thomas the Train undies to the Toy Story PJ set, this is a 2 minute task…OR SHOULD BE.
Ten minutes later I open the door ready to read the bedtime story and all I see is our son in some naked Yoga pose over a set of trains perfectly lined up on a new track (like, “new” in the last 10 minutes “new”). “Why are you not dressed yet?” I ask, not expecting an answer I would approve of.
Why this is important
I tell this story because it reflects two bigger issues I think we all deal with as parents:
1. We often forget to notice and reinforce behavior that doesn’t seem really great, but really makes a difference when it doesn’t happen (i.e., there is a big difference between a morning before school with a kid who gets ready on time vs. one who messes around and requires constant nudging to get ready).
2. When kids are slow in doing something you want them to do, they are simply being kids. The behavioral explanation for this is there are competing reinforcers. This is not hard to understand, but sometimes difficult to get through. I will help you out.
Hard to notice good behavior
Simply stated, there are a lot of behaviors that are just not that noticeable, like getting dressed in a decent period of time, picking up something when dropped, closing a door instead of slamming it, NOT freaking out when told “no.” Sometimes we refer to these as the should behaviors (i.e. “he should be able to do that”) and other times the behaviors are nearly impossible to notice (e.g., a flushed toilet, socks put away, having a bookbag put together).
Do this today…yes, you
Sit down and make a list of these behaviors that happen frequently enough, but when they don’t happen, it really annoys you or it causes a hitch in your day. Put this list somewhere that will help remind you to pay attention to these things. Remind your kids before the behaviors happen (i.e., right before they are getting dressed, when you know they are about to go to the bathroom). When it happens, pay attention to them…praise them…thank your kids for doing these things.
Sounds simple. It is. It is as important as it is simple.
Find more powerful motivation if you need
I have written about competing motivations before, but it is worth mentioning again. If your kids are consistently dragging and taking forever to do things, you might need to set up some other reinforcers or things to motivate them at the time these things usually occur.
Make sure the requirements/criteria are clearly stated (written on a list for older kids). This can be something as simple as a special breakfast choice if ready for school before a specific time (state the time and use the clock in the kitchen) or as easy as “as soon as you finish getting dressed you can _______.” You could even read the posts on token systems and use something like that for these times.
Try to make the reinforcer/reward as close to the behavior occurring as possible. The quicker the fun thing occurs after the behavior occurs, the better it will be. For older kids, can you get away with something special after school for a job well done in the morning before school? Yes, but it will not be nearly as effective as something that they get in the morning.
Hopefully things will speed up a bit for you…having the night-time 10 minute episode of Thomas the Train turned on when we leave the room at PJ time sure has sped up our little man.