My morning routines used to be pretty streamlined. My older daughter knew to accomplish her “three morning things”: brush hair, brush teeth, get dressed. My younger more-or-less happily acquiesced to my maneuvers to bathe and dress her in whatever I chose. Then the three of us would head downstairs for breakfast.
Sometime between those days and now, when they are both independent dressers and opinionated in the ways of fashion, I’ve slipped into the role of nag.
“I am not going to ask you again to put your shoes on,” I’ll say for the fifth time, before noticing that the shoeless girl’s sister has a head of hair that resembles a trash heap with a headband plopped on top.
“I already reminded you to brush your hair. No, that is not brushed. No, it’s not time to twirl in front of the mirror. Brush. Your. Hair. Brush. Your. Hair. Focus. Brush. Your. Hair.”
I will turn my eyes back to the first daughter and let them slide down to the incorrect pair of shoes, “No, the Mary Janes won’t work today. No, really, it’s wet outside. No. Take them off. Okay, you can wear them tomorrow, maybe, but not today. Now put on the sneakers.”
Back to the other: “Ahhhh. Am I really still asking you to brush your hair?”
Stretch this for the duration of the time between wake up to approximately five minutes after we should have left the house, it’s cajoling and reminding and nagging.
I’m not sure exactly how I allowed this slide, but I know I’m the only one who can end it.
Now comes a new book that suggests my solution should be to do nothing. Or, really, do nothing and say nothing.
That’s the approach advocated by Vicki Hoefle in her new book “Duct Tape Parenting: A Less Is More Approach to Raising Respectful, Responsible & Resilient Kids, (Bibliomotion).
When I first saw Hoefle’s book, I assumed it was a humor book, one of the many parodies out now about how we parents are being out-maneuvered by a mini army of our own making. Endure their abuse with martinis, with expletives, with duct tape, hahaha.
Despite the jokey title, though, the duct-tape approach is serious. Hoefle, a long-time parenting educator, said the title was inspired by her own real-life use of duct tape to control her own inner “dictator.”
“What I learned is that I indulged my desire to be the ‘boss,’ and in doing so, I was creating conflict and power struggles with my kids. The duct tape was a painful reminder of how undisciplined I was and what a lousy role model I was for my kids. More importantly, it pointed out to me that each time I indulged my mouth, I interfered with my kids’ ability to learn to navigate their own life. “
She has creating a five-day “challenge” that resembles a sort of short-term, shock-the-system diet. The purpose is “to give up all interfering ‘parenting strategies,’ including nagging, reminding, lecturing, punishing, threatening, doing for, saving, bribing, counting or time-outing, for five days and watch what happens.
“The goal is to gather factual information about the kids and see what they can do and will do on their own with no interference from parents; what they can do but won’t do without constant nagging, reminding, etc., what they can’t do because no one has shown them how to do it.”
Hoefle said different children will react differently to the sudden hands-off approach. Some will feel empowered, some will be angry and some scared.
The reactions, she said, will help guide parents decide how they might keep encouraging independence or help encourage more self-confidence.
“When mom and dad see firsthand the consequence of their actions, they too are ready to rethink their roles and responsibilities and decide to empower the child rather than dictate to them. As a result, the child builds the necessary confidence to participate more fully in the world, and the relationship takes on a more mutual respect.”
Sounds too good to be true, maybe. Then again, no other strategy I’ve tried has worked. But can a parenting control freak keep quiet?
The below edited version of Hoefle’s 7-step “Do Nothing, Say Nothing” Challenge, lays out the guidelines:
1. Decide how many days you will engage in this exercise. Vicki recommends five, any fewer and the kids can hold out until you jump back to your old ways.
2. Make a list of your worst-case scenarios and specific fears.
3. Sit the kids down and tell them you’re not judging or “grading them,” you’re interested in stopping your nagging and so on.
4. Discuss the hang-ups and worst- case scenarios with your family - what will the day look like? What happens in the morning? Go through the day just to get a feel for where the kids might actually require your assistance, but refrain from giving them last-minute notes on what to do.
5. Expect chaos, but don’t give into it.
6. Every day, take notes about the interfering strategies you’re using, what you are “doing for” your kids, and what your assumptions are. What happened when you stopped doing for your kids? What did you learn about your kids?
7. At the end of the challenge, you will have information that will change the way you parent and the way you view your kids. Discuss with your family how you can make the family work better for everyone.
I plan to try this in a limited form (no duct tape, mornings only, age-appropriate) this week. I’ll report back what happens. In the meantime, if you have other strategies to control nagging, please share them here.