Don’t be a hero. Working on your child’s self-regulation and executive skills all the time is not going to get you faster results.
In ParentAbility, we only work on our child’s skills for 10 minutes a day. I realized that I’ve never talked about why I only recommend “working” and by working I mean playing, on your child’s skills for 10 minutes a day. There are two very specific reasons, and no, neither of them is that I want my students to make snails-pace progress so that I can get more of their money!
Reason #1 is because most of the changes we make in ParentAbility aren’t what I call “active work.”
Most of the changes my ParentAbility students make are more passive, lifestyle changes. They’re changes that we make, not that our kids make. We change how we respond to their behaviour, we change how we set up our routines, and our days, and our expectations to make them more appropriate to our children’s developmental abilities. There are a lot of strategic changes that ParentAbility parents make that you just kind of do as needed. I don’t consider that work that involves them. It’s just a change in how we approach them, in how we run our household. When I say that building up your child’s skills only takes 10 minutes a day, I’m referring to active minutes, where you are both in it and working on it. You’re only engaging them in active skill building for 10 minutes a day. The rest is more passive, as the need arises, how you set up your family life so that it supports your children in behaving well. Think of it like meal prep. When you get a recipe that says that this meal takes only 30 minutes to cook- you don’t assume that “30 minutes” includes the time you need to go make your grocery list, to go through your pantry and freezer to see what ingredients you already have, grocery shop, and clean up all the dishes afterwards. Often those “30 minutes” doesn’t even include the amount of time you need to spend prepping the food- cutting veggies, butchering meat, marinating, etc. You’re aware that “30 minutes” is the active time required to cook the meal. It’s the same with skill building.
Reason #2 is because skill-building is exhausting.
Think about it- you’re playing games and doing activities with your child that is actively demanding that they use a skill that they suck at. Often when we have new members in ParentAbility they’ll come post in the group after about a month and say, “This isn’t working, my children can’t do it. We’ve been trying different ways to work on this skill for the last month and every single time is a total fail. They end up crying, they don’t want to do it. We can’t get past 10 minutes of this activity.” WHOA! Back up! You’re only supposed to be working on this skill for 10 minutes tops! 10 minutes isn’t the minimum. 10 minutes is the limit. And they’re like “yeah, but I want them to get better at it faster so we need to do more every day.”
ENH!!! Wrong! If your child has a weak skill, that skill is sucking too much energy out of their tank every time they use it. We want to build the skill up so that it requires less energy, so that they can use it more frequently before they’re running on fumes. You’re playing a game with them that is likely asking them to use that skill 2-10 times in rather rapid succession. That means 10 minutes is likely the upper limit that they can sustain, after that they are tapped out.
Back when I was in early intervention- I originally only focused on these skills with my clients for about 10 minutes because that’s all I had the opportunity to do. On days that I had more time in my schedule and I tried to work on them for longer, generally the kids would run out of steam after 10 minutes anyways. They were exhausted! And I quickly realized that doing 30 minutes is useless, because after the first 10, they’ve checked out. Skills aren’t necessary for survival, that means that once we’re out of energy, our brain reroutes the vestiges of our energy to survival – which is why they’re whining and being irrational. Those are defense mechanisms.
I say, “only work on 10 minutes a day” because I want you to progress as fast as you can! I don’t want you wasting your time fighting an uphill battle against an exhausted child. I don’t want you wasting your time having to co-regulate because you’ve depleted your child to the point where they can’t self-regulate! I’m trying to save you time while getting you the best results, not create extra work so that you “feel like you’re doing more.” I’m not a fan of busy work. And none of us have time for that bullshit anyways. We’re busy! Most of us struggle to fit in a 20-minute workout let alone 10 minutes of skill building. So don’t try to be a hero. This is an area where pushing yourself doesn’t do you any good!
So I hope that helps you see what I mean by 10 minutes of skill building, and why that’s how we market ParentAbility! We know that you’re busy! We know that you don’t have time for a big, complicated behavioural system. We know that you can’t be spending hours every day working on these skills! And the good news is that your child doesn’t need hours every day to improve! We also know that the biggest gains usually come from the smallest tweaks. Parents are usually 80-90% of the way there already, but they need to optimize what they’re doing. By tweaking and troubleshooting and making small lifestyle changes to what’s already working, we reduce your energy output as a parent. We make the energy you do need to spend parenting more efficient!
Ten minutes a day can make a big of a difference in your child’s behaviour.
Practice makes perfect. The more you practice, the more you fail, the more you fail slightly less each time, until you gain proficiency. And that’s our goal: that our kids enter middle childhood with sharp, strong skills. Because by time they get to age 7, academics are already taking over their lives. They don’t have the energy to devote to skill building like they did when they were little. If you’ve got a child who is 2-6 years old, and you’re in a position of starting preschool at home this year, this is where your attention should be, not on academics. This is what makes the difference behaviorally, and academically, long-term.
If you’d like more information on that, the first step is to watch my free workshop: How to Raise Well-Behaved Kids Without Yelling, Shaming, or Time-Outs.Or if you’d like to continue the conversation, come and find us in the Parenting Posse group.