Coaching Your Children So You Can Do Less

Um, actually we meant to say, “So your children can become responsible, independent, and successful people”…and of course you can do less.

Self-monitoring is a valuable skill where children learn to evaluate their own behavior and take steps to improve the outcome. So, if you have a child who chronically forgets to take their homework to school, you can coach them to learn how to do it for themselves. Self-monitoring not only helps children learn a valuable life skill that can be applied in many areas, but it also helps parents channel energy into productive interactions around frustrating situations. This can help avoid nagging, scolding, or verbally reprimanding a child for their shortcomings.

The cornerstone of self-monitoring is self-talk. Self-talk is talking oneself through the steps that are needed to accomplish a goal. Talking to oneself activates the areas of the brain (left hemisphere/pre-frontal cortex) that help a person think calmly and logically and helps to avoid acting solely from parts of the brain (right hemisphere/limbic) which tend to be more impulsive and emotionally reactive. Some children, like successful students, self-monitor without even thinking about it, but others may need coaching to develop this important skill.

The following 4 questions are a great foundation to help children self-monitor a specific problem.

Question 1: What is the problem?
Answer: Forgetting to take my homework to school.

Question 2: What is the plan?
Answer: To put my homework in my backpack before bed.

Question 3: How am I doing?
Answer: Not so well at first. I forgot my homework twice, so I improved my plan by tying a ribbon around my toothbrush to remind myself.

Question 4: How did I do?
Answer: With the ribbon I remembered my homework every day. Maybe in two weeks I will try it without the ribbon.

To coach a child, an adult needs to help the child think through the process. The idea is not to provide answers for your children, but to help them learn to think on their own instead of relying on you. This is a key ingredient in helping your child develop the skill of self-monitoring. Also remember to be patient and non-judgmental when coaching your child. For example, if your child forgets a part of their plan, like not noticing the ribbon, gently remind them to notice what is on their toothbrush and have them try to remember why it is there.

When interacting with your child be positive and supportive. You can even make it fun. For example, if your child can’t think through ways to remember their homework, offer them funny options, “You can tie a ribbon to your toothbrush or you can put a worm on your bed”. Remember this process takes time because what you are doing is teaching your child to think differently. It also requires that adults be consistent, which is one of the greatest factors influencing how much your child will benefit from self-monitoring.

Self-Monitoring and the Brain
Coaching children to self-monitor, helps change their behavior for the long term because it requires children to develop or use new circuits in their brain. Every time your child practices self-monitoring they are increasing those brain connections. As mentioned above, self-talk helps children use the logical part of their brain (left hemisphere/pre-frontal cortex) rather than their emotional part (right hemisphere/limbic). It takes time because your child is using their brain in a new way and need to build new neural pathways.

Self-Monitoring has Many Applications
Self-monitoring is making ourselves aware of how we think or behave and then altering the way we respond to these unhealthy or unwanted patterns. So, if we choose to, we can use self-monitoring in many areas, including depression and anxiety.

Landmark studies have shown that behavioral methods, like self-monitoring, are as effective as medication in some cases. This is good news for many because there are no side-effects, like there can be with medications. The change is also permanent, whereas with medication, once a person stops using a drug or the drug is no longer effective, they still may struggle with the same problem. Some people find behavioral methods more empowering because they become their own agent of change. Behavioral approaches are more time and labor intensive and the changes may not be apparent for several weeks or months.

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