When I was in third grade, my classmate and friend Julianne told me she wanted to grow up to be a pediatrician. Today, she’s a pediatrician.
In third grade, I didn’t have that kind of determination and foresight — I seem to recall I wanted to grow up to be a giraffe — and I’ve always been envious of Julianne’s focus. Her desire to become a pediatrician was something that meshed with her personality and was an idea she came up with on her own. However, her parents listened to her wishes and helped her develop the diligence and dedication needed to be successful in school and her future career path.
One of the things they did was create clear goals to help her establish positive habits. In elementary school, she had a chore chart that identified what she needed to do every day (brush her teeth, feed the cat, make her bed, read 20 pages in a book, practice piano, etc.). Her parents trained her how to complete each of the chores, monitored and guided her to see that she understood how to do each of the chores, and then reviewed her chore chart with her each night before bed to see what she had successfully accomplished. If she did the chore properly, she received a check on the list. If she didn’t do the chore, she did not get a check. After accruing a set number of check marks, she would get a reward that she and her parents had agreed upon at the start of the week (extended television time, a book of puzzles). Julianne’s mom also supervised her as she did her homework at the kitchen table after school every day and had her review what she learned in each of her subjects, regardless if she had homework for that subject.
After reading books like Willpower and Top of the Class, I understand why Julianne’s parents’ guidance was such a strong contributing factor to her achieving her life-long goal to become a pediatrician. From an early age, her parents helped her to develop the skills essential for her success.
These books conclude the easiest and best way for children to develop the self-control necessary to be organized, uncluttered, and have positive study and life skills is for parents to:
- Set clear goals for young children and/or help them to set clear goals for themselves as they move into middle and high school.
- Train children how to reach their goals and complete tasks. (If you want your preschooler to make her bed every morning, show her exactly how to make her bed, and have her practice making her bed so you can see she is aware of your expectations.)
- Stay engaged with your child’s progress. When starting new routines and taking on new chores, it may take a few weeks for your child to really master the task. Don’t be obsessive, simply make it clear to your child that you are monitoring his behavior because you love him and wish for him to succeed.
- When creating rules, have a reason for creating each rule and be realistic with the rules. Don’t create rules for the sake of creating rules. Have rules that promote positive behaviors and skill building, and rules that are appropriate for the age of your child. A two-year-old child cannot be expected to hang her coat up on a hanger on a closet rod she cannot reach, but she can be expected to hang her coat on a hook that is only three feet off the ground.
- Consistently enforce rules and expectations, without exception. If two parents are in the home, both parents have to respond the same way every time whenever a rule is broken or expectation is unmet. For young children, this might be returning to a playroom to pick up toys if they are left out on the floor each and every time it happens.
- Meaningfully reward a child when he achieves a determined valuable milestone. Rewards should be established when goals are set so that children know what they are working toward, and the reward should be given immediately when the goal is met. If a child is to receive a pack of stickers after five days of successfully doing all of his chores, the stickers should be given as the last chore is completed.
Personally, the most difficult aspect of taking on these responsibilities is consistently helping my two-year-old son through the process. If I’m tired after a long day at work, I want to take the easy way out and do his chores for him to save time. This isn’t fair to him (he doesn’t earn check marks) and then there is the repercussion that the following night he protests doing the chore because he knows I can do it for him. Being consistent, though, is what he needs to properly develop the skills … so now I’m working on my willpower.