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Have you ever found yourself telling your child “Let’s just get through this so we can move on?” Well, that’s the question we want to discuss today. Laura Pitney is here to join me and discuss this question. It’s a good one. Here it goes: “I find that when our lessons are languishing or if my son is complaining, I have a tendency to say, ‘Let’s just get through, so we can move on’ as I get impatient with his dawdling or distractions. What is an alternative mindset and several phrases I can use other than, ‘Let’s just get through this?'”
Laura: It’s a great question. I think we have all been there.
Sonya: We have. So shall we just get through this?
Laura: Yes! I’ve been there multiple times.
Sonya: I think she has a good question of what other phrases can she use, but I want to back up a step first and think through a little checklist of what you might want to check and make sure you’re doing to try to avoid that situation as much as possible.
Laura: Agreed. There are definitely some things to check. One, making sure you have the right book or curriculum that you’re using.
Sonya: Yes, that it’s living. Because if you’re just sitting there doing textbooks and workbooks all day, then yes, “Let’s just get through this!” So living books, we want to make sure we’re doing that. We also want to make sure we’re doing short lessons. If the lessons are dragging out forever then, . . .
Laura: That’s hard, because if they’re dawdling and distracted, then the intended short lesson does become a long lesson.
Sonya: It can, but remember the little tip Charlotte gave us that we can do when we see our child starting to dawdle, starting to glaze over. Set that lesson aside temporarily, go do something completely different, use a different part of the brain. Then come back to that lesson and finish it up.
Laura: It’s good advice.
Sonya: It is. Sometimes we do it and sometimes we don’t, but I think it would help if we keep it in mind.
Laura: So does that fall under the umbrella of the variety of subjects? Is this when you would apply that?
Sonya: You want variety in your whole week anyway. Whether the child is dawdling or not, you want to have that variety. Some things you’re going to do every day; but if every day looks like every other day, then you don’t have that good variety. One of the reasons Charlotte included a wide variety of subjects was to keep it interesting and to use those different parts of the brain. So there’s another thing to check. Make sure you’ve got the variety and make sure that you’re ordering the sequence of your day so you’re using different parts of the brain and not over-tiring one part.
Laura: So reading, after reading, after reading, is not a good idea.
Sonya: It’s a no-no. You could read and narrate and then go do your math, use the numbers part of your brain, or do a couple of minutes of handwriting and then go do your nature study, and then look at a picture. Now you could come back to another read and narrate, but don’t do those back to back to back.
Laura: Another idea—and let’s say you do see the warning signs that your child is fixing to be distracted or not give the full attention—is to maybe practice that at a different time. Have a child help you cook a recipe or something and give you his full attention of counting how many eggs, or helping measure, just giving that full attention in other areas of life skills, so to speak, so when you come back to that lesson, you’re reinforcing that habit you’ve been working on. Even if you understand that he has the tendency to be distracted or whatever the situation is, recognize that, and then also figure out how can you practice getting better at that habit that he may be weak in.
Sonya: Not just in schoolwork.
Laura: Correct. That way, you’re building up confidence all around. So when you say, “Okay, it’s time to focus,” he knows what that means.
Sonya: And there’s a good phrase, by the way: “It’s time to focus.” All right, so we’ve talked about the checklist of things to think about first. Now let’s dive into what if you’re in that situation? You’re doing all those things. You’re doing what you’re supposed to be, but sometimes that situation can still happen. I think an important thing to think about is, Is the dawdling and the distraction an every-so-often event? Is it because he stayed up late the night before? Is it because he’s tired? Is it because he’s not feeling well?
Laura: “Hangry,” he needs food.
Sonya: There you go! Is it just a once-in-a-while thing or is this a habit? So if it’s just once in a while that it’s happening, let’s talk about some ways we can approach that.
Laura: I think that it’s important if you can distinguish between It just happens every once in a while and It has become a habit. First of all, you need to distinguish that. So if it’s a once-in-a-while thing, I think there’s a lot of grace there, but I also think there are a lot of verbal cues to point out. Even just to say, “You know what, you work really hard and I’m so thankful you give me your best; but right now I feel like you’re getting distracted. So let’s take a deep breath and let’s keep going.” Even recognizing it in the moment, to where it doesn’t become the habit, is important—that verbal acknowledgement that you know it’s happening so the child can then realize it’s happening. Because many times they have all the emotions and all the things, and they’re not even aware of it. I mean, we’re not aware of half of our emotions, so to help them recognize, “Okay, I’m right on that verge of fixing to struggle with something, so let me stop it right now and get back on track.” As the teacher, as the parent, help coach them through what could become a bad habit.
Sonya: Yes, that’s a good point.
Laura: That oral communication about what’s happening is key.
Sonya: Another way we can coach them: that word coach triggered an idea that maybe the child is just overwhelmed with the thought of “I have to do this for 20 minutes” or “I have to do this for 30 minutes.” We don’t know how old this child is, but maybe it’s just overwhelming to look at it. Maybe we can coach him through by breaking it down into smaller steps, and challenging him saying, “Okay, first we’re going to review what we did last time. Give it your full effort. It’s only going to take two minutes. You can do this for two minutes, let’s do it.” Then “we’re going to read and narrate now.” Especially this is a boy in this situation (some girls too) will rise to the challenge of “This is a hard thing I’m asking you to do. I recognize it’s a hard thing but I’m going to challenge you. Can you do the hard thing?”
Laura: They need to hear that. They need to be able to have those moments to display that courage that it takes to do the hard things. I have two great examples of this that just happened yesterday. My nine-year-old daughter is the youngest, and she tends to have the “baby child syndrome” sometimes because there are plenty of other people to help her out with things. I specifically told her it was time to make her bed. I wanted her to go make her bed, and I would come check it to make sure she got it done. I could immediately feel the defeat in her. So two things came to mind: The first thing being, I knew it was going to be hard for her because multiple days had passed since I physically helped her make her bed. If I help her make her bed, it’s a lot easier when we do it together. We start from scratch, we pull up the flat sheet. Then we do the the two blankets. So it’s easier for her to make her bed the next few days after I’ve reset it, so to speak. Come day three or four, when she’s having to do it all by herself and she’s kicked the blankets and they’re all over the place, it’s a lot harder for her to make the bed. So as soon as I asked her to do that, I knew it had been a few days since I had helped her. I could just tangibly see the defeat of “It’s going to be really hard.”
My encouragement to her was, “Okay, start with the very first layer of the sheet. Pull that up, get it all smooth. And then do the blanket and pull it up and get it how you want it. And then do the comforter. And then put on your pillow.” It was a step-by-step process helping her to see, “Okay, I can do the sheet, number one. I can do the blanket.” It helped her see the process that needed to take place versus seeing the huge mess and “How in the world could she do it by herself?” It’s a queen bed and she’s a little petite thing, so I do show her some grace with the size of the bed, but I also was like, “You can do this! Believe in me as your mother, that I would not ask you to do this if I didn’t think you could do it. I know you can do it.” Just feeding her the confidence, helping her step by step, and then helping her to believe in me that I’m here to help her. “You can do it, you can make up the bed.” She was not happy about it. It did not change the heart of the issue. So that was a conversation we later had, that “It was hard and you didn’t want to do it, but the right thing to do is to still obey with a happy heart.” So long story short, she went up there, and when I went to check on her, she was just getting the comforter up and ready to put her pillows on it. She did it! She was able to do it, but it was overwhelming to start with because she saw the big mess.
The same thing with her laundry. She brings her laundry down, she feeds it into the washing machine, I usually help her switch it over, then it ends up being a big pile of clothes. So it’s a sorting job, and she just sees the big pile of clothes. I tell her, “Okay, get all your pajamas here, all your shirts here, all your pants here, all your socks. Let’s start in a small process first. Then we will get it all put away.” So it’s the same thing in this application of schoolwork. If they’re overwhelmed with the time allotment or even the course, the work itself, sometimes just giving them the practical, step-by-step processes, “Give me two great minutes. I know you can do it.” Then moving on to, “You know, I really wouldn’t ask you to do this if I didn’t know you could do it.” Just giving them that positive spin that you have confidence in what they’re doing. I feel like sometimes if you’re doing those two things it helps with the distractions and the dawdling, because you’re helping them stay focused on what’s fixing to happen next.
Sonya: That’s a great point. Sometimes the idea of being overwhelmed at the whole mess can be on mama, because we’re thinking, “I’ve got to get all this schoolwork done today. And let’s move, let’s move!”
Laura: So let’s just get through it.
Sonya: “Let’s move, child!” Yes!
Laura: Where’s my whistle?
Sonya: So sometimes it can help—if there is a good reason for it, if we are trying to be proactive in all these other areas—but we just know that today is just going to be one of those off days.
Laura: Which happens.
Sonya: It does, because we’re all human. So maybe rather than say, “I have to get this much done, this whole amount.” Maybe we can have a plan B for the off days?
Laura: Yes. I 100% agree with you that some days our attitude is, “Let’s just get it done.” That’s just where we’re at; that’s where we land. And it’s not just schoolwork, it may be housework or all the things. Like “Let’s just make it through this day. All I want to do is get in my pajamas and get back into bed. That’s the goal. Just today.”
Sonya: And not killing any kids. Yes, exactly.
Laura: Days like that for sure happen, and for you to say to have a plan for those days is super valuable. Part of that is that it helps us not feel guilty. To give ourselves the grace that, “Today’s one of those off days. So instead of doing all the things, we’re going to do these three things instead.”
Sonya: Have a light schedule.
Laura: Yes. So having a plan. I think the benefit to that is knowing those days are going to come and then it helps us not feel guilty that we didn’t do all the things we expected of ourselves.
Sonya: That could be if mama’s not feeling well, has a chronic illness, or pregnant, or whatever.
Sonya: Moving, yes. Grace on you, yes. It could also be if you see that in your child, if you know your child is not feeling well or is just struggling with something else, and the mind is wanting to go somewhere else all the time. Like we said, it’s not just a bad habit that has been formed but it’s something real in their lives right now, that grace would be a great thing.
Another idea that came to me is you can give that child choices. Because choices, small choices, are what helps a child develop a stronger will. When they make a small choice and experience the consequences of it, those consequences are what teach the child whether that was a good choice or not. So what you can do is look at the situation and say, “Okay . . .” —I like to go through the Who, What, Where, When, Why.”
The What is what cannot be changed: the schoolwork. It must be done. (Or whatever that lesson is.) If it’s on the list, and we’re not going to throw it out for the day, then the What cannot change. But maybe the When can change. Maybe you can give that to your child as a choice. Again, you have to be willing to let him choose either one. So you might say, “We have five minutes left for this math lesson and then we’re going to move on to something else.”
Laura: I would say “Just get it done.” That’s what I would say. “Just get it done. I want it to be done.”
Sonya: That would be the easy one. But you could also say, “We’ve got five minutes left. Do you want to finish your math lesson now or do you want to finish it this afternoon instead of . . . (whatever free thing he was going to be doing this afternoon)?” And be good with whatever he chooses.
Laura: That’s hard.
Sonya: It is, but it’s going to help him learn from that situation. A lot of it has to do with our attitude and our tone of voice as we present that. “Do you want to finish it now or do you want to finish it this afternoon?” No, it’s not like that. We’re trying to help him learn from his choice. So we’re going to give him the two choices and give him grace, because if he chooses a harder one he’s going to have to live with that consequence for the day. So the When could change.
The Where might change. It might be, “Do you want to finish this lesson here or do you want to finish it in your bedroom? Or do you want to finish it on the back porch?” Maybe the Where would help shift things up just enough that it becomes fresh again.
Or the Who? Yes, he has to finish it, but it could be who he’s going to finish it with. “Do you want to finish it with me now or do you want to do it with Daddy later this afternoon, or tonight when Daddy gets home?” Again, don’t present that as a threat. It’s just two choices. “Which one do you want to do?” Only give two choices and make sure you are willing to live with either one that he chooses. Make sure they’re both viable options but that’s how you teach the child. That’s how you use consequences in strengthening the will and in learning habits and reinforcing good habits. So that’s another option you can do.
I also remember the phrase, in one of the chapters in Karen Andreola’s book, Mother Culture. “Can you be brave for five more minutes?” Brave for five more minutes. Maybe we need to say that to ourselves; but then maybe that would be encouraging to the child as a phrase as well?
Laura: It’s just stirring up that courage that it takes to do the hard thing.
Sonya: And that you’re recognizing that this is a hard thing he’s doing. Sometimes we don’t think about mental work as a hard thing.