Last Friday, as the rain and sleet that had been falling since early morning turned to swirls of snow and strong winds — the beginnings of the Northeast’s so-called Winter Storm Nemo (don’t get me started!) — I was on the phone with parent educator, author and mother of five Vicki Hoefle. I don’t know if it was the threatening weather outside my window or her charming laugh, but I seriously wished we were chatting in person over hot cocoa. By the end of our talk, I also kinda wished she could come over and, you know, help me raise my kids. In case you’re not familiar with Vicki, she recently published a fantastic book called Duct Tape Parenting: A Less-is-More Approach to Raising Respectful, Responsible, Resilient Kids.
How much do I love those three R’s? A lot!
And Vicki’s message, that we have to do less in order to accomplish more resonates with me. As you all know from my last post, I tend to do a lot of talking at home. I tend, like many of us, to say the same things over and over. And yes, there’s something funny and universal in that portion of parenting, but if you think about it and go deeper, do you really want to be saying those things, directing the situation, packing the lunches and pushing and prodding to the next thing (time to go! Get going! Get your lunch! Do you have your homework?).
Of course you don’t. But the mistake we’re making — certainly I’m making it! — is thinking that if we just say it often enough, the kids will magically get it. Her take: Say it a lot less, trust them a lot more, deal with the short-term fallout and mess, and you’ll reach the promised land of responsible, resilient kids. Who have their homework and their lunch now, and their good jobs and happy lives and homes later.
I hope you take the 28 or so minutes to listen to it. Here’s a little bit of a highlight, to explain the concept behind Duct Tape Parenting:
Q: Where does the title Duct Tape Parenting come from?
A: Twenty some years ago, when I was raising my first child, who was three at the time, I wanted to come up with an exercise that would help me teach the parents in my parenting class understand that we, the adults, were making most of the mischief that was going on in our homes. So I thought, I’m going to get up Monday and just be quiet and watch my daughter. Can she figure things out? Will she come to me a million times? I’m going to be quiet. That lasted 30 seconds… I realized, I have no self-discipline. I believed my mouth needs to be going in order for my children to figure out how do anything. So I want to the garage and got some duct tape and put it over my mouth… as my mouth was taken out of condition, my mind went into a panic. Often, there’s this fear: what will happen if we’re not directing our children?
Eventually my mind settled down, and as I was quiet, my child’s brain started to turn on. I could literally see the gauges in her mind start to click. When I talk, her brain goes to sleep. But when I’m quiet,her brain clicks on. That became the easiest way for me to get parents to understand the less is more approach. Watch your kids for a few days and i guarantee you will learn things about yourself and your children that will change the way you parent.
Q: I love the idea of being quiet, of duct-taping my mouth. But I think if I did that, my kids would look at me like, why isn’t mom telling us anything?
A: And that’s what my daughter did. I could see the confusion on her face…. But my “aha” moment came when I saw that [when I was quiet] my kids were thinking. I wanted to raise thinking kids. But thinking kids are messy, they make a lot of mistakes as they’re they’re trying to navigate what they need to do. And in our effort to help them navigate more easily, we mistakenly get them to turn off their brains and just listen for cues from parents, teachers and coaches.
Q: That sounds so right, and yet I feel, and I know I’m not alone, that I can’t just sit there and let them miss the bus… what do then?
A: I get this question all the time! What parents are looking for, when they ask that, is this: They want to do the ONE THING that’ll suddenly make their kids snap to and do everything they should. But that won’t happen [right away], because you have them trained to listen for your directions. So you have to first go through detox. You have to give them three or four days to figure out that if they don’t take responsibility for their time and their stuff, it’s not going to happen. They are trained for our cues, so they don’t know what to listen for [inside themselves]. You have to get over that hump…
If you’re still prompting them through the morning, what happens when they go to college? When does their brain click in? I can be inconvenienced for a few mornings if I know the end result is kids who are always ready in the morning. So make an agreement with your child: If you miss the bus, I’ll drive you, but you pay me the $5 it would probably cost to take a cab to school. They’re learning, and learning means you make mistakes.
Kids making mistakes is the best learning tool we have, and it’s the one parents are the most afraid to implement. All it takes is for the child to be late for school, to have to go into the office or come to class unprepared, for him come home that day and say, “this is not happening to me again,” and all of a sudden you have a child who is really participating in his life. It’s thrilling to watch that moment.
But I had to buckle myself down when I’d think they’d have a tough day. But I think life gets tougher between 18 and 80 than it is between 0 and 18, so this is actually good practice for them to become resilient, to learn that they can overcome challenges…
Vicki and I went on from there to talk about chores and how maybe the approaches I’ve taken to get my boys to pitch in are not the best practice (you know, stuff like, “when I was your age” or “I insist you fix your bed”). Listen in, you won’t be sorry. And let me know what you think.