025 – Chapter 4, Part 4

Step 1: Specify Your Expectations to Your Child (continued) 

Write Well-worded Success Statements (continued) 

1.     Ensure that your expectations are realistically reachable (continued) 

Time factors. Most items in your program should include a defined time frame for success in order to assure there is no confusion about your expectations. An item lacking clarity regarding time might be:

Emma, you are successful when you have your homework done on time.

The vagueness in this statement would allow Emma to work on her assignment until midnight or even to leave for school with the intention of finishing it between classes. While this might be acceptable for some parents, probably most parents would be quite uneasy with either alternative, and they would be tempted to fuss at Emma to get her work done, risking, in the process, giving her attention for procrastination.

In order to avoid this, specifying an exact time is important. An improved statement for this example might be:

Emma, you are successful when you have your homework completed for all your classes by 8:00 p.m.

Note that this modification includes an important element: the item does not define the time when Emma should start her work, but rather specifies a deadline for completion. There are two reasons for stressing this distinction:

First, alternatives to specifying a deadline for completing a behavior are either to leave it up to the child (read that as “never”) or to state when the behavior should start. Anyone who has told a reluctant child to “get started on your homework” is likely to have had the experience of sending the child to bed hours later with the homework still undone. This approach invites stalling and procrastination in children inclined to push the limits. One reason for this is that it sets up a power struggle between parent and child, and typically children can “win” such struggles since it is relatively easy to “start” and still not actually to do much of anything.

Second, knowing when something must be done allows the child to plan how to manage time and parental expectations. Consider this item:

Joshua, you are successful when you have the entire lawn mowed by noon on Saturday.

This item makes it clear that if Joshua would like to meet friends Saturday morning and still be successful, he can do so by planning ahead. If it is acceptable to his parents, he might elect to mow Friday afternoon, easily meeting the deadline and freeing him for other activities. Thus, the deadline allows him an appropriate level of control over his own life, within boundaries clearly specified by his parents, providing a key experience for learning responsible behavior.

You will likely recognize that as important as specifying deadlines for successful completion of items is, adding a time factor can also add extra work for you in monitoring your child’s behavior. Fortunately, some advanced thought and planning, taking into account your child’s age and abilities, can minimize this extra effort.

For older children, those capable of telling time, the timing process itself is typically fairly easy. It is a matter of clearly specifying the time frame for success and then noting whether the child has met the standards on time. The item for Joshua above is an example. For some other items keeping track requires a bit more effort, for example of how many times during the day Dwayne doesn’t fight with his sister. In this case, the parent should make a note of each success as it occurs to assure none is forgotten, part of the home program we are working towards.

For younger children, who can’t tell time by a clock, it is important to choose a realistically short time frame and then to use a timing device that will help the child keep track. A simple kitchen timer, for example, will serve this purpose. A suitable sample item might be:

Samantha, you are successful when you have all your toys put away from the family room by the time the timer rings.

Show the child the timer the first time you use it and let the child see it run for the specified length of time to provide a sense of how long you have allowed before applying it to a behavior. Then reset it for the task at hand. Many young children see beating the clock as a game and their successes provide an opportunity for rewarding them with both praise and credits, such as a token.

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There’s nothing that can help you understand your beliefs more than trying to explain them to an inquisitive child.

                                                                            ~Frank A. Clark

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With such young children, watch for several potential complications.

When setting the criteria for success, it is important to consider how long you think a task would typically take for your child and then set the time limit a bit longer than that – but not a lot longer. For instance, if your four-year-old girl is to pick up her toys from the family area and if you think it would take her five or six minutes to do it if she stuck to it, you might set the standard at eight minutes. If you are more generous, say setting it at 20 minutes, the child will be likely to lose track of the task long before that and thus be less, rather than more, likely to succeed. Allowing a little extra time, on the other hand, might well increase the likelihood of success within quite appropriate limits.

At first, little ones are likely to ignore the timer and you may be tempted to “remind” your child, maybe even repeatedly. While this is pretty natural, it provides the child attention for failing to do the task and keeps the responsibility on the parent, rather than teaching it to the child.

Some children quickly learn that they can reset the timer and avoid performing on time. To avoid this fudging, use a tamper-proof timer if you have one. If you don’t have such a device, explain that the timer is to help the child keep track but that you are using a clock or watch for the same purpose. Show the child how the two timers work the same. The first time or two, you will need to be sure that you actually watch the clock or, even better, that you set a separate timer of your own. The timer on a kitchen range or on some wristwatches will work just fine. The idea here is to make it clear from the outset that the clock is an objective monitor so the child’s energy goes into completing the task, not into trying to manipulate you.

All this is to assure that your expectations are defined so as to be realistically reachable by your child and so that the conditions support meeting them, the first of three characteristics of well-worded success statements.


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