If you struggle with your child, do this

A tremendous number of childhood behavioral issues stem from feeling disconnected. Many parents who work or have multiple children don’t realize their children are not getting enough one-on-one time. To fix this, I present the 10-Minute Change method. The goal of this exercise is to heal that connection and improve behavior by spending intentional individual time together with each of your children.

How to do it

Every day, spend exactly ten minutes of individual time with each child. Buy a kitchen timer or set a timer on your phone that keeps exact track. Set all other electronics and distractions aside. Sit down with the child, explain that you will have ten minutes together without any interruptions, and let them see you start the timer. Then for ten minutes give your child your total attention.

The purpose of this time is to bond with your child, not to address previous bad behaviors. Do not spend this time lecturing your child. You should also not make many statements (preferably none). Instead, ask them continuous questions and keep them talking. Interview your child so they know you are interested in them. If something comes up that you want to address or are concerned about, do not use these ten minutes for your own agenda. Continue to interview your children and give them your full attention. Address concerns later after the timer goes off.

How to keep a conversation going

Some children can be challenging to engage verbally. And some parents do not have polished communication skills. For this activity, utilize some features of a method called Motivational Interviewing. The goal is to keep the conversation going continuously without gaps.

How do you achieve this? First, by not making statements. If you ask a child a question, they answer, and then you make a statement about their answer, the conversation stops. They likely won’t add to your statement because you didn’t ask them another questions. And you making that statement eats up time and shifts the conversation to be about you instead of about them.

If you run out of questions to ask, use Branching Questions. This means finding questions that shoot off from previous answers they gave. In practice, this looks like:

Noticing the gaps. “I noticed you talked about X, but you didn’t mention Y. Why didn’t you talk about Y?”

Leveraging adjacent topics. “Earlier you mentioned X. Can you tell me more about X?”

Embracing their interests. “What’s your favorite thing to do? Why? How can I help support that?”

Finding their struggles. “Where do you feel stuck? How can I help?”

Some of these topics may seem a little advanced for young children. That’s fine. The younger the child, the more likely they’re going to fill up the time with constant chatter anyway. Older children will benefit from these questions most as they show you actually care about them in more than surface ways. And the first two questions in particular are based on you paying close attention when they talk. Just asking these two questions will show them how interested you are in them.

Activities to do during conversation

If you’re picturing yourself and your child staring blankly at each other while trying to think of questions, then relax. That would be the worst approach possible. And it’s unfortunately the one most parents attempt when they try to get close to their child. Both sides are miserable and never want to do it again.

Instead, use games and activities and crafts as the central focus of the time. Studies show that kids especially communicate better when they have a physical activity to do at the same time. The conversation starts to flow as they occupy their brain with logical puzzles.

The goal of these activities is to be simple enough and keep you just occupied enough that conversation becomes less awkward. No activity should be so involved that you have to focus on directions or on competition and can’t converse.

Conversational activities include:

  • Puzzles (aged appropriately for the child)
  • Card games like Go Fish (simple games, not complex)
  • Coloring/drawing (simple art, not complex)
  • Building with blocks (wooden blocks for young kids, Legos for medium kids)
  • Modeling kits (for older kids)
  • Baking or cooking
  • Arts & crafts projects (sewing, bird house, popsicle cabin, gingerbread house)
  • Indoor picnic with fancy teacups and tiny sandwiches
  • Playing catch, soccer, or another simple sport (that keeps you close together and not competitive)
  • Blow up balloons and use them for volleyball
  • Paper airplanes (not complex origami)
  • Make sock puppets
  • Make a paper chain (and add to it each time you do individual time)
  • Gardening
  • Hunting outside for bugs or frogs (simple nature lesson)
  • Draw with chalk

When will I see results?

Some kids change after a single session. Others take a couple of weeks. Most children follow a habitual cycle of around 1 week resisting change and trying to return to the old behavior, then 1 week slowly adapting to the new behavior but testing to see if it’s going to stick, and 1 week embracing the new behavior with less frequent testing. After 3 weeks most children are reprogrammed into the new habit.

The benefit with this change is that parenting often becomes easier. Once they know they have your complete attention and interest, kids will behave better to keep your focus instead of behaving poorly to coerce your attention or punish you for making them feel unwanted. Withholding that interest can then work better as leverage than yelling, grounding, or spanking. Your kids will be more eager for your attention and will work to keep it.

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