Learning not to be a jerk

Following is a fun excerpt from OutThink…enjoy!

school-bus-stop-colorI have a confession. I used to be a tyrant in the morning. Tyrant might be an exaggeration (or not), but my recollection is that while getting the kids ready for school I spent all of my energy cajoling, prodding, pleading, scolding, and sometimes ranting at my kids to get ready – to put on their shoes, eat their breakfast, brush their teeth, get dressed, put their lunch in their backpacks…, because the bus is coming! My wife has a different, and more effective style, but on my mornings to handle bus time I would conduct diatribes on the inevitability of the bus, and harangue them that unlike procrastinating getting in the car, the bus is coming at an appointed time and they needed to hurry up!

One evening after berating myself again for being an ogre of a parent, I decided that the next morning I just wasn’t going to behave that way again. I resolved that regardless of whether they missed the bus or not, I simply was not going to be a jerk to my kids. While a nice idea, it did require I try something else.

I decided I would simply advise them of the time and ask them what the next steps were. So instead of, “Get your lunch in your bag!” I might say, “Looks like we have about 14 minutes. Is your bag ready?” Or if Annie asked me to play Taylor Swift songs on the kitchen iPod stereo, I might say “Well, we have about 20 minutes, do you think we have time?” Sometimes she decided we did have time to listen to Taylor Swift, sometimes not.

It really worked. We had a few close calls, the first few days, but it worked. I would simply point out the time, and almost immediately they learned to watch the clock and developed an awareness of when the bus would arrive (our bus is quite punctual). My whole demeanor changed from dictatorial bus baron to simply asking what was left on their check list in the next X minutes. I would ask if they brushed their teeth or packed their homework, but in an inquisitive way, not as a command. I’m also convinced this morning behavior shift worked because I truly didn’t care if they missed the bus. I was completely prepared to drive them, but I never admitted it out loud. I kept up the shared expectation that we always ride the bus, I just shifted the accountability from me to them. Making the bus became their responsibility; I was just there to help the process.

Believe me, we don’t claim to be model parents, and I find it almost impossible to manage the logistics of our lives these days (last night I missed a soccer meeting by an hour…), but now in the morning we have four kids successfully making two different bus times and very rarely miss it. They watch the clock, punch the list, and make the bus.

According to a study at Duke University, almost 45 percent of our daily activity is habitual. It wasn’t easy to stop barking orders at my kids. It had become an ingrained habit.

In equal parts we have to selectively abandon past behavior, carry on with what works, and pick up new habits and actions.