Are you tired of fighting with your kids to get them to do their responsibilities?
Many children, regardless of age, diagnosis, or abilities, have difficulty completing non-preferred tasks (i.e. doing their chores) in a timely manner. This could be due to the child’s inexperience with cost management and understanding the “true costs” associated with their untimely performance. Sadly, children often feel the brunt of adult consequences when trying to learn their own self-management techniques. This was something I realized while working as a nanny years ago for a boy we’ll call Adam. While getting the kindergartener to school late did not mean that I was late to my job, it did mean I got a talking-to from his mom, my employer. I could easily remember my own parents struggling with this as they rushed us off to school before rushing themselves twice as fast to their own office. But how could I get this little boy to understand the correlation between taking care of tasks in a timely manner and the rest of one’s day running smoothly?
I am not quite sure how I came up with this idea as I was quite young at the time (this kiddo is now a HS senior) and I had only had one introductory course on behavior analysis, but I decided to start counting as a way to avoid both of us getting upset right at the start of our day. Now, the key to this “intervention” was that I was a very fun nanny. Every day after school we would come up with all sorts of fun activities to do all around their town. One day we might go to the beach, another we might go ice skating, another day we might spend it making a treasure map because in my experience fun is one reinforcer that never gets satiated. So, using the fun activities as rewards for good behavior instead of allowing free access to them every day, I was able to help this child learn the importance of time management.
Here’s how it worked:
Reward systems and positive reinforcement are great ways to get kids used to the concept of getting tasks done in a certain amount of time!
Each morning I would wake Adam up for school. If I came in a second time and he would not start to get up I would start counting. Once he started moving, I would stop counting and leave the room to continue what I had been doing.
Often when I would check on Adam to give him the next task reminder (i.e. “ok now let’s brush your teeth”) he would start to yell at me. Again, I would start to count, however, this time I would start from the same number I left off on at the last count. So, if I counted to 3 before Adam started moving to get up, then I would start at 4 when he yelled at me and wouldn’t stop until he stopped yelling. I would simply tell him what he needed to do and then walk away calmly counting as he could hear me through the house.
The number I ended with when I dropped him off at school was the amount of minutes he needed to play in his room after school instead of going out to do a fun activity. If he kept the count under 5 then we called it a wash, but anything over 5 meant we had to head home to “do the time” before we could get out to our fun day.
The highest count Adam ever got to was about 48. This was about a week into this “intervention”. After that day though, Adam rarely got past 5 and Adam was rarely late to school.
Tips for you and your child
If your child struggles with completing tasks in a timely manner, a system like this could be helpful. Consider asking your child how long they think it will take them to complete a task. Then ask them what they would like to do after the said task is completed and set a time for how long they can do their preferred task after they are done with your request. If your child says it will take them 15 minutes to complete their chore, then set a timer for 15 minutes. At the end of 15 minutes, they can appropriately ask for more time if needed. However, after this short-extended time, or if the child does not ask in an appropriate manner, the next timer for their chosen activity starts to count down. This now means that the rest of the time your child takes to complete your request is going to come off the time they want for their own activities.
As an added bonus, if your child completes their task faster than they predicted then they get to add that time onto their activity time.
Make sure to set appropriate time parameters on task predictions so that your child does not figure out how to “work the system” and over-predict so that they get an over-abundance of activity time.
If you have any questions about how to implement this with your child or have concerns about your child’s development, give us a call at TEAM 4 Kids!
Andrea Magness, RBT