I was listening to Being (formerly Speaking of Faith) the other day and Jon Kabat-Zinn was talking about mindfulness, and the importance of helping kids learn to pay attention. Actually this is a skill they already know, and we can learn from them, but we can also help them have a greater awareness of where their attention is going. He said [paraphrased], “We think we’re teaching kids, but really we just yell at them for not paying attention. The fact is that they are paying attention, just to something other than what we want them to.”
This led me to think about the times I have asked, and asked again, and then yelled, for my kids to Put your shoes on already! I’ve recently shifted that somewhat, because it was making me unhappy and them unhappy and it wasn’t all that effective. Now the girls have lists each morning so they can check things off as they complete them. I’ve laminated them so they’re reusable too. So now it’s their job to manage their time. But sometimes, they get into playing with a toy, or reading a book, and instead of ordering them around, effectively taking their responsibility away from them, I ask them, “What are you focusing on right now?” to which I will sometimes add something like, “Because it looks like you’re not sure what to do next” [if they’re staring into space]. It is a more pleasant redirect, because they will say “oh yeah, teeth brushing” or “I can’t find my shoes.”
I end up saying this probably 2-3 times each morning. It’s possible that they find this repetition deeply annoying—indeed I feel like a broken record—but I’m hoping it acknowledges, ever so slightly, that they are always paying attention to something, and some of those things will move them forward in the morning and some of them won’t.
It’s not exactly Jon Kabat-Zinn but it sure beats yelling.