Teaching Patience

In class, we encourage people to listen to others, to take turns speaking and to wait until a friend is finished, so they avoid interrupting. It can be helpful to coach children to listen to others and wait for a break in conversation to speak. When children are little, it may work more smoothly to give a visual or physical cue. A physical cue might be a talking stick. You can introduce this at dinner time. Take a popsicle stick or something similar and discuss how whoever has the stick is the speaker and others must be listeners. Practice passing the stick regularly and develop a cue they can give if they need the stick next. This takes practice, but it quiets the table and gives everyone time to speak and actually be heard.

I had a mom in class who taught her children that if she was on the phone or speaking with someone and they needed her, they should put a hand on one of her hands, she would then put her free hand on theirs to let them know she felt the touch. This exchange of hands was a signal to mom that the child wanted her attention, and a signal back to the child she would get to them as soon as possible. For this to work well, the first 10 or 15 times, the mom immediately following the hand exchange said, “excuse me, my child needs me,” turned to the child and said, “I felt your hand, how can I help you?” The child has learning to trust the system. After several immediate successes the idea is to gradually add a bit of time. Start with a 5 second delay before you turn and speak with the child, a few times later a smile and a 10 second delay before turning to the child. Gradually work your way up to a few minutes or more.

If waiting for you on the phone or computer is often problematic, you might give them other things to do such as a writing pad beside the phone to communicate that way or just activities they can quietly do to fill their wait time.

After each time they successfully wait, draw attention by saying something like, “wow, that was a while to wait. You were so patient!” You might also highlight when you or they are patient about waiting in life. Talk about how it was nice to have pleasant conversation waiting in the grocery line, or how they were able to wait for a turn on the slide at the playground.

Want Kids to Listen? Stop Repeating Yourself!

It’s an all too familiar scenario…

Mom is almost ready to leave, children are still coloring in the kitchen. Mom says, “hey, time to get your shoes on, and could you turn off the tv, please?” Mom keeps moving to put the breakfast dishes in the sink. Children ignore mom’s request and keep coloring. Mom walks over to gather her things, turns off the tv herself and says, “really, get your shoes.  We gotta go.” Children continue coloring. One child looks up briefly, sees mom looking through her purse and checking her phone, so back to coloring. Mom, without looking up says, “shoes.” Mom, putting on her coat snaps, “shoes now! (five seconds pass) That’s one….(five seconds), two….(five seconds), do you hear me? I am counting! GET YOUR SHOES!” Crayons drop, kids move towards shoes. 

Parent asks child to do something. Child ignores request. Parent repeats request. Child ignores. Parent escalates. Child ignores. Parent, who was initially calm, loses it and yells. Child listens and moves into action. Parent is frustrated that child doesn’t listen.

The unfortunate thing if you are in this cycle is you are actually teaching your child to NOT listen. By repeating the request, you are directly teaching them to tune you out. The child is learning that, when you start talking, you are going to say it two or three more times, so they wait. They learn that they have at least a few more minutes from the first request before they have to listen. They learn you are unpredictable, sometimes you really mean it, and sometimes you just don’t, so they watch.

To break the habit of repeating yourself, you have to make a new habit. The idea is to say it once, and then expect them to listen. Accept that at least initially, you may have to move into action and help them to listen. You may have to help them at first because together you’ve created the pattern of tuning out. So let’s say you buy in, and starting now, decide to say things once and expect children to listen. For starters, the new pattern is going to fail. Tomorrow morning, you get their attention and very clearly say, “it’s time to go. Put on your shoes, please.” They are not likely to listen as listening the first time is not the familiar habit. Rather than repeat and frustrate yourself, move into action. Take child to shoes, or take shoes to child, and get them started. You can still give them choices about which pair of shoes or which step to sit on. You can give them a challenge to put them on before you sing the alphabet. You can still be polite and say please. The point is, you can still talk, just avoid the repeated asking them to put on their shoes again. Hopefully you will be less frustrated. Even if you have to stop what you are doing to help, at least you only said it once.

Have faith that you are building a new and better habit. It should only take a few weeks before a six-year-old starts to realize, “oh, you are only going to say things once. You actually expect me to listen.” With a two-year-old, it can take until they are three, but it is a far better habit to be in as a parent, to say things once and expect listening than to start down the path of repeating to be ignored.

We had a mom in class who said, “I get this, but it’s crazy. I must say 16 times every morning, ‘put on your shoes.’ No one is listening to me, but I”m making four lunches, and I’ve got four boys running amok, and you want me to stop making lunch.” Yes, I either want her to stop making lunches and help them listen, OR, better yet, save her breath and wait until she is done making lunches, and then gather everyone to ask them to put on shoes. Wait until you are in a position to move into action and expect listening. In her current habit she is directly teaching them to tune her out 16 times, making the rest of her day that much harder. Clearly there is a need to change the habit.

Teach Self-Evaluation and Work Review

Self evaluation is another good skill for children to have, and it’s a piece of teaching self control. This is being able to go back and review their own efforts or their own products. The goal is to have children slow down and consider their work. We do this in our Look, Listen and Learn class over a sequence of days by having children draw three of the same shapes, later three of the same objects (like a house), then write their name three times. After each effort, they are guided to review their work and decide which is the best and the worst, then to describe why they choose each and what could they do to improve on the worst to make it more like the best. We then ask others to (nicely) state why they agree or disagree with the child’s own review. This is a task designed to have them thinking about their own process as they approach tasks and to encourage them to give their best effort. It is also foundation for teaching them to review their academic work later. By second grade, children should be encouraged to review their homework before it goes in the back pack each night. This can be as simple as having them tell their parent one sentence about each assignment. As they get older, it is more detailed including re-working 2 math problems or reading a writing assignment aloud.

Teach Children Goal Setting

Goal setting is identifying the successful endpoint of a plan. We talk about goal setting in our Look, Listen and Learn classes each week and then follow up to help children identify success as they play. Goal setting is easy to incorporate in daily life. Talk with children about the task at hand and what it would look like if it goes well. Talk through the individual steps that are part of the larger process, and then work to recognize if they are met. Take a soccer practice for example, success might be participating in every activity, beating their time for a relay and talking to one new friend. I know that is a lot to lay on a six-year-old who is just there to have fun, but it can teach them in a low key way to think more about their process and how to move through in a better way. Goal setting is another piece of teaching self control.

Teach Sequencing

This is a piece of attention span and impulse control that overlaps with the previous posts’ suggestions about listening, planning and organization. Sequencing is more about the follow through of listening and the organization of a plan. We practice this with Sequence Cards* where children are given pictures and asked to arrange them in a story that makes sense, and then tell their story. We also have them retell pictures books identifying the beginning middle and end as well as the order of smaller details if they are able. Our Crazy Directions game* and Robot game* both get at their ability to sequence. At home this may be ordering items (big, bigger, biggest blocks), talking through the beginning, middle and end of following a recipe, building a model, reading a book or playing a board game.

Sequence Cards* http://www.lakeshorelearning.com/product/productDet.jsp;jsessionid=PGNhxm1v8Ch2TpnnyxrXX1Ls2ggLTmvgLyXvVhD5J1JF1LWMHGtf!-2074226025!-769277136?productItemID=1%2C689%2C949%2C371%2C919%2C061&ASSORTMENT%3C%3East_id=1408474395181113&bmUID=1330023930245

Crazy Directions game* – Start with two steps then move on to three and four step directions. Make it fun. A three step direction might be, “find the dog, touch his nose and jump up and down. Ready, go!” If three is too many for them to manage, go back to two. If three is easy, move on to four.

Robot game* – Child is a robot, and you are the robot programer. You are giving step by step directions and they are following them, doing ONLY what you say to do. This can be a slow process, but they are practicing listening, following directions and going slowly through the process of an activity. For a younger child, it can be going over to pick up and return a book. For an older child, it can be making a PBandJ. It’s good to then change roles and have you be the robot.

Teach Organization and Scheduling

Reducing physical and mental clutter and other distractions can greatly benefit attention span and lessen distractibility. At home, this is getting toys and bedrooms organized. Make a plan with your child about how, when and where to store toys and other belongings. In our house, the toys all have a place they belong as do the backpacks, homework, art supplies and shoes. It is up to parents to provide initial set-up and expectations, and in the long run it’s a child’s job to follow through. Teaching the behvaior and then passing the responsibility may take a great amount of shared effort. At school this includes the teachers coaching the child to regularly clean out their desk, backpack and locker.

This also means getting scheduled. Most children with attention issues do far better when given a schedule. Plan with your child for a morning, afternoon and evening routine. The afternoons may vary based on extra-curricular activities, but have a plan that works before each day. It may help to build in 10 minutes of free time at the end of each routine. 10 minutes to play at the end of each morning or to read at the end of each evening. This provides a bit of a buffer and gives children something to work towards rather than against as discipline. It can also be helpful to make a visual of the schedule. This might be making a poster with pictures of the included activities or drawings of the clock for time spent at each. Have your child draw or copy the pictures or take pictures of your child moving through the activities. At school, this includes the child learning to use a calendar or homework notebook to manage assignments and studying.

Teach Planning and Reviewing towards Self-Control

Planning and reviewing skills are a piece of building attention span and impulse control.  In some of our classes, each week the children have to plan their 15 minute play time.  This includes choosing where they will play (only 1 center each day) and planning three activities to occupy their time.  Teachers check on their progress throughout and help children to meet each goal.  This is something you can easily incorporate at home.

At clean up time, sit for a minute and ask your child to plan the effort.  This includes details such as the order of the tasks and if they will work together.  Draw or write a check list and help them to stay on task.  At the end a pat on the back for completing the list.  A more fun example – ask your child to plan their next playdate.  Invite a friend over for an hour and have child (or children) come up with three or four activities they’d like to do during that time.  Help them manage the time and move through the activities.

It is also helpful to take a plan-do-review approach to outings or other activities.  If you are headed to the pumpkin patch this weekend, take some time to look at pictures from last year or visit their website, print the map and plan your trip together with your child.  Talk about all the things they are seeing and doing while their.  After, call a grandparent and encourage your child to tell them details about the trip.  Review again with your child when you print the pictures.

Teach Them to Listen

There are many ways to build listening skills. There are lots of good children’s books that introduce the idea and importance of listening. A few titles include Listen and Learn by Free Spirit Publishing, The Worst Day of My Life Ever by Julia Cook and the Amelia Bedelia books.

Many games practice listening skills including Telephone, 20 Questions, Robot, Eye Spy, Crazy Directions, Simon Says, Hullabaloo, Guess Who, Clue Jr. or Clue and Noodleboro’s Pizza Palace listening game. As children are older, there is Mystery Garden, Listening Lotto and Sound Bingo. Play games regularly.

We talk in classes about being a good listener by keeping our bodies still, our mouths quiet and our eyes on the speaker. You might check in with children after you speak or have given them directions by asking what you said, for the most important part or for what they should do first. When you ask them to give you words back about what you said, it’s better for it to be their own version rather than verbatim.

Challenge listening by reading slightly longer books with more words and fewer pictures as they grow. Challenge listening with verbal stories or books on tape. Occasionally, practice dialogic reading with your child. When they are younger it is asking questions about the pictures, such as “What is this?” As they are older, it is asking questions about the story such as, “what do you think will happen next?” or, “what was your favorite part?” The idea is to build open discussion around the reading as a habit to increase listening and comprehension.

Take Listening Walks, this is a trip around the neighborhood or on your favorite path with the idea of walking quietly and listening to all the sounds you can hear. Afterward list together all the sounds and talk about how different it is to really listen rather than talk and play.

Article on Teaching Self-Control

I just wanted to share a link to a great article from The New York Times titled Building Self-Control, The American Way by Aamodt and Wang.

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/19/opinion/sunday/building-self-control-the-american-way.html?pagewanted=all

During the next week, I will post ideas and activities to support developing listening skills, planning, goal setting and follow through skills, sequencing, their attention to detail, attention span and impulse control. In agreement with the article, these will all be through play. Here are a few guidelines as you work and play to build new skills:

Avoid Lecture

When you are teaching new skills like goal setting, listening, planning and sequencing, you want to avoid lecturing as much as possible. The best way for children to learn these types of skills is through play and experience. This means if you are teaching listening skills you want to do this through things like puppet shows, role plays, hypotheticals, storytelling, movement games and art projects.

Gradually Challenge

Whatever the concern, start small and work your way up. When children are starting with puzzles, you start with simple patterns and a few pieces, and gradually work the way up to more challenging ones. It is the same with skills like impulse control and listening. These are skills that are best to gradually challenge and grow.

Highlight When They Do Well

With life skills, it can be easy to overlook when things go well. If you have an often impulse child, it can be easy to overlook when they happen to wait patiently in line at the grocery store with you for five minutes. It is those easy moments that you want to reinforce the behavior. Notice that they did well. It’s best to describe the behavior back to them, “you waited to quietly, that was helpful!”

Have fun and grow!

Attention Span Tips

Attention span is a developing trait through the preschool and grade school years. Children are gradually learning to be better listeners, to sit and attend through activities, to block out distractors and to listen and follow directions. There are many ways to encourage attention to tasks including

  • Build on their interests – If your child is into dinosaurs, find ways to build that into to learning math with dinosaur counters. Challenge their listening with dinosaur books.
  • Build on what they already know –  When you move from 10 piece to 25 piece puzzles, start by reviewing previous puzzle strategy and talk about how they have approached similar tasks.
  • Think gradual progress – Read gradually longer stories, complete gradually harder puzzles and play gradually longer games.
  • Challenge them to set and accomplish goals – Occasionally before they play, have them plan what tasks they are going to accomplish then help them work through the tasks before moving on.
  • Play listening games – Games like telephone, robot and grandma’s house are fun ways to challenge their attention span.
  • Work to keep them there just a little bit longer – When they are finishing with an activity, is the time to challenge them to find one more way to engage, something to extend the play.
  • Teach them to review and consider their own efforts – Sometimes when they draw or write, ask them if this was their best effort or if there is anything they could improve about their product the next go around.

There is an interesting chapter in Nurture Shock by Bronson and Merryman on teaching impulse control. It’s a good take on the current research and practices around slowing kids down and getting them to think.

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