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What’s Good for the Goose

Our ten-year-old has been having trouble focusing on “the task at hand.” Like most ten-year-olds, he’s got so much swimming around in there that sometimes he gets lost in the midst of doing something we need him to do.
“Can you bring down your laundry?” I call.
“OK!” he replies cheerfully.
Ten minutes later. “Are you going to bring down your laundry?”
Just about anything — a book, his new Lego Mindstorms that he bought with birthday money, or just the pattern in his carpet — can sidetrack him from a task.
To help him be better organized at times when we’re in a hurry — mostly mornings and when he gets home from school and wants to get to doing fun stuff as quickly as possible — we made him a checklist. I thought that it would help him if he could actually see the chunks of his day broken up with the tasks he had to do and then FREE TIME! in boldface once they’re done.
The success has been spotty at best. Mostly, it has helped us to be able to say, “Have you done your checklist?” rather than remember what he might not have done. Unfortunately, it’s easier for a ten-year-old to yell out “Yes!” or if he’s feeling in a particularly truthful mood, “I think so!” than actually go CHECK his checklist!
The surprising thing happened last week when my daughter requested a checklist of her own. Because she’s in homeschool, she doesn’t actually need one. One of the (many) reasons we homeschool her is that she’s one of those slow, grumpy kids some mornings and the thought of getting her out the door at the same time every day is so stressful. Occasionally I see our neighbors leaving for our neighborhood public school when I’m out for my walk (which happens just after it gets light this week!), and I am thankful again for homeschooling. Imagine having to get her out of the house at 7:35 the week after the daylight savings time change!
But in any case, I’m supportive of my kids making decisions about things that they need, so I made her a checklist. It had far fewer items on it, both because she’s younger and because she doesn’t have a lunchbox or homework to deal with. The first morning of the checklist, she bounded out of bed, made it (first time that’s ever happened without protest!), got dressed, and made herself breakfast. OK, breakfast was Annie’s Bunnies and a bowl of applesauce, but at least we didn’t have to fight about it first.
I thought it was a fluke. But then on following mornings something similar happened. The checklist was working!
A couple of mornings since have been her periodic slow, grumpy mornings. On those mornings she didn’t jump out of bed right into her clothes. But somewhere about a half an hour after she appeared cuddled in her enormous quilt a cousin made for her, she suddenly jumped up and said, “I need to see what’s on my checklist!” She got herself dressed, ate, brushed her teeth, and maybe even brushed her hair.
This morning was the worst morning we’ve had with our son since the checklist started. He seemed OK when I left for my walk. But when I returned and it was almost time to go, his backpack lay on the floor piled with things that needed to go into it still, his jacket was not readily available, and he was nowhere to be found.
In the midst of his checklist, he realized that he’d lost something he really, really wanted to bring to school. He was looking everywhere. He was frantic and teary. The checklist meant nothing to him. What was created to help him seemed like a weapon meant to wound him.
“I don’t care about my checklist!” he yelled in frustration. “I’m still looking for what I Iost!”
Our daughter watched the scene wrapped up in her quilt until my husband and son drove away. Then she said, “I’m going to go check my checklist,” and went to get dressed. I suppose I shouldn’t be so surprised that the disorganized, slow to warm up, impulsive kid appreciates the checklist, and the methodical, introspective, careful kid couldn’t care less.
What’s good for our goose is not necessarily good for our moody, emotional, pre-teen gander.

Posted in Parenting.

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