Last week, in grossed-out desperation, I put a sign up above the toilet with “Directions for Use” written upon it in fancy font. I’m not kidding. And, mothers of sons, it’s a breakthrough. All of my ranting, explaining, and pleading have never had the stunning effect of this simple sign. The same things that I have SAID, to unanimous family eye-rolls, have become Serious and Important when put into writing.
Thus, the sign says “Kindly pee into the water there” and LO! There is not a splash anywhere else! “Close lid before flushing” is Law, apparently. And so, an exercise in the sarcastic parenting of pre-teens has reminded me that sometimes, kids just need instructions in different ways.
We already know this, if we really think about it. All kids learn differently. Some need to look at pictures. Some need to DO stuff. Some rare few only need a quick verbal instruction, and they ‘get’ it. For many kids, a visual prompt, like a list, is really helpful. (We’ll disregard the fact that my big boys are tall, smelly adolescents, not kids… the same tactics work.) It’s easy for us as parents to say something like, “Go clean your room.” But most kids need something more specific, and for a child who seems to be having a hard time with the task, written instructions might really help.
How about breaking it down:
- Place books on shelf
- Put dirty clothes in hamper
- Straighten duvet
Short, simple, and completing even such a short list will make a noticeable difference in a messy room. Start small! Perhaps you can set an example by making two lists, one for yourself and one for your child, and see who can complete their room-cleaning tasks first.
A list, or written instructions, gives kids something tangible to work with. It is good practice for later on, when you can look your adolescent in the eye and say, “Take the garbage out, honey. Oh, and while you’re there lock the bikes and turn off the garage light.” Being used to getting clear instructions, they will learn to place those three items in their heads and mentally tick them off as they go. Of course, with some things, you will still need to spell it out!
Lists are good for our communication, too. You have to know what you mean to say, when you write things down. You wouldn’t write “Would somebody just give me a hand around here?” You’d be specific, and that is what families need.
I have learned to write things down everywhere. You can use a sharpie for permanence. I have used dry-erase pens for impermanence on the bathroom mirror, and post-it notes everywhere. I even sent one son to school with a post-it note stuck to his forehead once. I swore that if he forgot to do what the list said, I would use a stapler next time. He laughed merrily, but he did do what had to be done, and amused his teacher in the process. (His teacher said that for Sam, stapling reminders to his head is probably a good idea…) Sam is a visual learner, to the power of a zillion. Next term at his new school, he will have a ‘Diary’ for writing homework down and it fills me with joy to think of all the things I can write there! But most kids can benefit from lists.
They can check back to see what they have forgotten. They can tick things off, if they like. You can draw pictures (for a non-reader). They will never be able to say “You never said to feed the dog”, because you will have WRITTEN PROOF! And the splendid opportunity for adolescent eye-rolling will be much appreciated, I promise you. I get an enthusiastic eye roll every time anyone uses the bathroom, and I don’t have to say a word! Peace, love and pleasant toilets reign in the household; the only woman in this large family is safe to sit on a toilet in the dark without falling in or having an unpleasant surprise… and all thanks to written instructions!
by Nan Sheppard
Subscribe Via Email
(click on the Subscribe link to have each and every Forever Parenting post sent directly to your inbox – what a time-saver!)
Photo graciously provided by Cayusa, through a Creative Commons license, some rights reserved