I turned up the heat on summer homework -- C.U.E. #3

I Turned Up the Heat on Summer Homework -- C.U.E. #3

Ahhhh, everyone's favorite -- summer homework. More specifically, since we live in Hong Kong, Mandarin homework. It's not actually required but it is highly recommended as a survival tactic. Everyone knows that Chinese is a killer language, right?

As with all posts in the Consciously Unskilled Episode (C.U.E.) series, I'll share what I did wrong, how I repaired the situation and how I grew from the experience. But first, let me build a little context around my behavior. 

When we moved to Hong Kong in 2007, we made Mandarin a priority. As a family, we have spent countless hours and many vacation weeks in Beijing and Taipei studying this hardest of languages. Claudia was only four when she started at a 70% Mandarin/30% English school. Now 11 and at another bilingual school, she was psyched when she made the intermediate class for the sixth grade this coming year.

Thanks to P.E.T., I have generally left behind my taskmaster approach to homework and adopted more of a helping stance. Alas, not this time. 


The missteps

At the beginning of the summer, Claudia set herself to doing 20 minutes of Chinese a day and packed a fiction book and a fresh notebook for this purpose. Over one month in, she had done less than two hours.

I gently reminded my daughter of how challenging her class would be in the fall and asked what she planned to do for the rest of the summer. She decreased her goal to 10 minutes a day and asked me to help her. I actually love studying Chinese so I happily agreed. She didn't want to start right then though.

The next day, I dropped her and her brother off to get haircuts. Claudia was going to do some work once her hair was finished. When I went back 45 minutes later, however, I saw her Mandarin materials still on the back seat of the car.

I went inside and saw her slumped in a black chair, doing nothing. That body language and expression was a cue and a clue that she had a problem. But I did not feel like Active Listening her ("Honey, you've had a very frustrating wait!").

I threw a couple of Roadblocks at her instead: "Aren't you really bored?" (Question) and "You forgot your Chinese work in the car!" (Blaming)

"I know," she said dejectedly. "Can I have your phone?"

"No. You can take my keys, though, and go get your work right now." (Ordering) 

Claudia resisted, "But I don't want to! I just had a really boring time, I can't do Chinese now."

I took a deep breath but it only helped a little. I should have kept at it, but instead I Roadblocked with Logic. "Claud, you say now is not a good time but when we get home, you will want to play with your cousin!" 

"Mom!! Stop it! I don't want to do it right now. Geesh!!" Claudia had had enough.


The repair

I reined myself in then and gave her an honest Declarative I-message. "I'm sorry. I am acting like I have a problem that need's to get solved right now. I'm just triggered. I'll stop. Here's my phone." 

Claudia squirmed in her seat, unable to focus on the game she wanted to play. "See, now even when I do feel like studying, I won't want to because it will feel like you've won." 

"And that's exactly why I've lost," I muttered as I recalled feeling that way with my own mother!

It was just as Dr. Thomas Gordon had pointed out about Roadblocks: 

Children often act very resistive to such messages — they dig in their heels. To give up the behavior that is bothering the parent would be an admission of the validity of the parent’s blame or evaluation.
— Parent Effectiveness Training: The Proven Program for Raising Responsible Children, pages 125-126

We made it through the day but it was still on my mind. I apologized once more: "Claudia, sorry again for being so judgmental and unaccepting yesterday when you hadn't used your time 'properly' according to my standards. I was and am still worried about your workload, but what I did was not helpful at all."

She heard me but didn't do any more Chinese during her remaining time in the US. I was 99% -- the 1% of the old Catherine is so hard to shake! -- okay with that and didn't bug her. 


The take-away

You have this incredible tool called the Behavior Window, Catherine, so use it! 

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I resolve to pause the next time I have my hand on the dial itching to turn it to high. Instead, I will mindfully work out where my child's behavior falls in the window and then choose the most effective and appropriate corresponding skill.

This C.U.E. breaks down like this:

Did my child have a problem?

No. Claudia wasn't upset in the least about not doing her Mandarin work. If Claudia was nervous or anxious, then she would have a problem and I could move in with the helping skills. (For some strange reason, preaching skills are never really called for -- LOL!)

Was it in the No Problem zone?

Heck no, it was under my Line of Acceptance! 

Did I have a problem?

No. In P.E.T., for parents to have a problem, we ask whether the child's behavior has a concrete or tangible effect on us meeting our needs or otherwise impacts us in a relevant way that the child accepts. Not liking something does not pass this test.

Was it a Conflict of Needs?

No, because my needs were being met.

Was it a conflict of values or, as Dr. Gordon termed it, a Values Collision?

Yes (and no -- I'll explain below). I care so deeply about the importance of a second language! But forcing this value especially when I am irritated and my daughter is frustrated is like shooting myself in the foot. I have five other strategies that are far more effective than using power.

And no. Writing this post made me realize that my daughter already shares my value! Claudia works her butt off during the school year on her Mandarin. 

Sigh -- this was really me being momentarily insane and turning up the heat to get my daughter to choose my solution, i.e. "Darn it, just review during your down time already!!" (I look forward to teaching my next course in September and -- ahem -- reviewing how we so often inadvertently get stuck on solutions!)

Now there is a week before school starts. We touched down in Hong Kong a couple of days ago and, while unpacking and organizing, I found some of Claudia's fifth grade work.

I asked if she would like to review it together. The answer, this time, was yes. So at 4 am over our jetlag breakfast, we had fun doing a pretend dictation.

Claudia rocks at writing characters. I can speak, but am comparatively illiterate.

Claudia rocks at writing characters. I can speak, but am comparatively illiterate.

To learn more about the inquiry "Who Owns the Problem?" check out this article by international master P.E.T. trainer Steve Emmons.

Credits: Turn Up the Heat image at http://www.ceothinktank.com/thinking-tank/how-are-you-turning-up-the-heat-this-year/930; Banana (http://www.colourbox.com/image/banana-peel-isolated-on-white-image-1957880?utm_expid=22365066-38.j3VkgN-zRgCMRMAFvmd_kg.0&utm_referrer=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.google.com.hk%2F); Tools (http://www.linkedin.com/today/post/article/20140423144851-14028329-the-definitive-list-of-premium-social-selling-tools); Take-out box (http://www.polyvore.com/chinese_food_take_out_boxes/thing?id=20188263)