Do you find yourself constantly repeating instructions to your child (or student) about everyday routines? That was a rhetorical question. Of course you do! Repeating the same direction over and over is part of parenting (and teaching), and part of learning for children. It is normal for children to need reminding, their brains have yet to develop the abilities most adults have of being able to hold instructions in their head, monitor their behavior, and consider consequences. These are all parts of self-regulation and take time to develop with practice and support.
One way you can help your child develop their self-regulation skills is to provide opportunities to practice monitoring their own behavior with your help. Instead of responding to their lack of follow-through with nagging, we can try coaching using pre-teaching and prompts.
Before we get started, think of a skill or behavior that is a common occurrence that you know your child can actually do. This approach is not fair on either of you if your child is not capable of doing the skill yet (for example writing their name if they struggle to form letters). Maybe you are constantly finding yourself tripping over shoes in the middle of the floor and yelling into the next room, “Sam, I told you not to leave your shoes in the hallway!”
The first step is to be able to state the expectations of what you want your child TO do as a pro-active reminder before the opportunity to practice, (also called pre-teaching, you can read more about it here). Taking the example above, before you get out of the car to go inside your home, remind your child what the expectations are for their behavior as soon as they get inside.
The second step is to ask your child to repeat the expectations back to you. This acts as both a check for understanding (did they hear you, were they paying attention), as well as a way to prime their own self-monitoring skills. Along with the pre-teaching from step one, this might sound like, “Sam, when we get home we are going to take our shoes off and put them in the cubby. What are we going to do with our shoes?…(let child respond) …that’s right, put them in the cubby.”
Once your child has followed through with your coaching and pre-teaching, you can step back and prompt them to use their own self-monitoring until they have developed a routine and habit and the proactive reminders can be faded. “Where do our shoes go when we get home? … I know you’ve got this, you are such a big kid. I sure appreciate your help.”
For skills that are more difficult for a child to do, like inhibiting a reaction (saying “ok” when it’s time to leave the park rather than whining), including a motivator or something small they will earn when they follow through can be added to the pre-teaching. “When I say it’s time to leave and I hear you say “ok” and come with me, you can help me choose dinner tonight. When I say, “it’s time to go” what are you going to say and do? … (child responds)… that’s right, say ok and walk with me. I know you’re going to make a good choice.”
This is also a great strategy to use in the classroom. If you find yourself constantly reminding children of the same expectations and you worry that your constant nagging is falling on deaf ears, try prompting them to repeat the expectations. Something like, “where should you be, where is the rest of the class?” or “I call on kids with quiet voices. What kind of a voice should you have right now?”, this can help them shift to self-monitoring their behavior and allows you to step into the role of coach and praise them for making good choices. Plus, it feels better as an educator and helps maintain your relationship.
Switching from reacting to a lack of follow-through to being pro-active and coaching our children to learn to monitor their own behavior is a great way to build not only their self-regulation, but their sense of independence and self-efficacy too.