By Randy L. Cale, PhD
With summer vacation upon us why wouldn’t you want to make life as struggle free as possible with yourself and your children? While there will certainly be struggles, why not establish a structure and routine that makes life easier? Believe it or not, it can be done!
This is best achieved through creating a world where chores and responsibilities are completed without the need for constant decision making, without the need for nagging or prodding and without the need for continued monitoring.
However, let’s first talk about how not to do it. This is the stressful approach—it’s how you can make life difficult and create a constant struggle. Just so you know, this approach generally requires incessant nagging, prodding, negotiating, pushing and sometimes even a bit of yelling, screaming and threatening of consequences.
Using the “stressful” approach means that we usually fail to establish automatic routines. We make day-to-day routines flexible, we make decisions based upon moment-to-moment fluctuations and we use lots of words to try to manage behavior. Life then becomes a constant struggle! You can fight it. You can argue with it. You can disagree with it. Yet, life doesn’t seem to change. You make these daily routines flexible and changeable and then you’ll always have a struggle as time goes on. The more kids, and the more commitments you try to keep, the more stress prevails in the lack of automation.
Why is this the case?
1. Children thrive with structure. In an environment where there’s predictability, children thrive behaviorally, academically, and emotionally.
2. Children thrive on predictability. There is comfort and security in knowing when things will happen. When children are involved in chaotic and out-of-control family systems they often rebel at the initial signs of structure and routine, they quickly adjust and their behavior calms. With this adjustment also comes an emotional calming. Children will often report a sense that life is easier after experiencing a consistent structure and routine.
3. Consistent routines remove decision-making. This is the true source of the magic. Daily decision-making on all routine stuff is removed, and thus there is no wasted energy. The energy is reserved for what’s really important. How many of us actually have to make a decision to brush our teeth in the morning? Very few, I hope! And it presents no emotional stress or challenge since it’s not really a chore. For those of you who buckle your seatbelts on a daily basis, it becomes routine and there is no stress to this.
In the early stages of an exercise program, the daily commitment often involves a decision and, at times, a struggle to make the decision. If you have exercised regularly for years however, there is no decision to be made. It is a given that you will exercise. It gets easier when there is no decision to be made.
In essence, these events have been “pre-decided.” A level of automaticity then evolves that eliminates the stress of making a decision. The result: reduced anxiety, and reduced stress and greater harmony.
Automatic routines are “Thought-LESS” routines
By “Thought-LESS” routines, I am referring to a way of parenting that does not involve constant thinking and evaluating about what kids need to do next.
By “Thought-LESS”, I mean that both children and parents fall into a structure and pattern that allows for the basic responsibilities to be addressed without a lot of struggle. Instead, these occur effortlessly.
By “Thought-LESS” routines, I mean that you nurture “habits” that eliminate the need to constantly figure out what’s next. It’s been pre-decided.
What happens when you establish a home with “Thought-LESS” routines? Lots of time is available to discuss things that are of real importance to the family. Little time is put into managing homework behavior, and instead discussion actually occurs about what is being learned.
Little time is spent getting the children to the table to eat, and instead meaningful discussion occurs about life events. Little time is spent arguing over homework or bedtime routines, and greater opportunity is available for simply spending quality time with children.
Do you have a sense how this works?
When routines become consistent and predictable, there is relatively little discussion and dialogue that goes into the completion of these fundamental responsibilities that we all have to take care of. Most of the daily chores in life become “automated” and thus little thought and energy is devoted to these daily tasks.
If children learn to do this, their minds are freed from the struggle about what to do next and they can devote energy to what’s important. They don’t end up wasting their life doing battle with the fact that they have to do homework, even though they may not like to do it. They simply get it done. And then they move on.
This is a formula for success. This is a formula for making life easy. This is a formula for staying healthy, emotionally strong and focused on what’s really important. Make this the way you do things at home and watch how much easier day-to-day life becomes.
Dr. Randy Cale, a Clifton Park based parenting expert, author, speaker and licensed psychologist, offers practical guidance for a host of parenting concerns. Dr. Cale’s new website, www.TerrificParenting.com offers valuable free parenting information and an e-mail newsletter.