There's an episode of Everybody Loves Raymond where Ray remembers an effective parenting method he learned from his dad: AIS. Arse In Seat. He'd say, "We're leaving. 9 o'clock, AIS!" and whoever's arse was not in their seat at the designated time would be left behind. The kicker? Ray tries it on Debra, his wife. Moral: Don't try it on your wife. (Also, yeah, I used to watch a lot of Everybody Loves Raymond - don't hate.)
I'm not saying my parenting hero is Frank Barone, but there's something aspirational about this classic yet seemingly lost practice of simply moving, and expecting your kids to do the same. In the mornings when I tell my five-year-old to put on her clothes for school, she's been doing this thing where she pretends her arms and legs are broken. It is not cute.
"Do it," I've commanded in my sternest Mum Voice (which is about as threatening as a baby deer with a sprained ankle.)
"Can you heeeeelp meeeeeeee?" she'll ask.
Needing to be places, like, five minutes ago, I've resorted to various tactics. I've done sticker charts. I've tried to pump some energy into her with "get ready" songs on my phone. I've put pretend coins in her "robot" body in order to activate it. (I'm kind of proud of that one, TBH.) And in desperate times, I've dressed her my damn self and felt annoyed about it later.
Recently, I came across some advice from Katherine Reynolds Lewis, author of the new parenting book The Good News About Bad Behaviour: Why Kids Are Less Disciplined Than Ever - And What to Do About It.
She says that if your young child is resisting the morning schedule (or stalling in other ways), walk out the door. Don't yell, don't nag, don't threaten. Simply walk out the door, stand outside and wait. Stand there for five or 10 minutes or however long it takes your kid to get moving. And if they're older and you've established your expectations, you can leave.
It reminded me of the cheesy sitcom, and then made me think, I can just do this, huh? Walk out the door. Then I wondered, is everyone doing this? Based on the amount of space in the parenting sphere that has been dedicated to The Morning Struggle, I'd venture to say no. But maybe we should. I decided to give it a shot.
When, once again, my daughter played helpless in the face of placing her limbs into her day's outfit, I calmly told her I'd be waiting outside. And then I walked out the door of her bedroom and then out the front door. She wailed. I waited.
"Moooooooooom, I need heeeeeeeelp," she cried.
I waited some more. After a couple minutes, when she realised no one was coming to get her, she grabbed her clothes and socks, wiggled like a worm through the hallway, and then finally dressed herself in the entryway, whining the whole time. The next day, she did the same thing with a bit less complaining. And then the day after that, I told her to get dressed, and as I walked toward the front door, she did. It was a morning miracle.
When I spoke with Reynolds about why the technique works, she told me that it removes you, the parent, from the issue — which in this case, is the fact that your kid must follow a timeline. "The child simply has to grapple with the challenge itself," Reynolds says. "They're wanting to pull you into their drama, but you're removing yourself from being immeshed in that way."
By giving your child some control (they love control), they can focus on the natural consequences of their behaviour - if they're late for school, for instance, they might interrupt class and feel a little embarrassed, or maybe they will miss something important. That gives a more powerful lesson than an unrelated punishment from a frustrated parent would. "Now they don't have the distraction of being angry at you and can learn," Reynolds says.
Ever since her own two children were in second and fourth grade, Reynolds has used the Arse In Seat rule — though she doesn't call it that - informing them that they have until X time to be ready in the morning or else the car leaves. If one kid is ready to go and the other one isn't, she says it's not fair for the child who's prepared to have to wait and be late. "The key is to plan it," she says. "We talked through what they must do if the car leaves — either take the city bus or walk to school." These are things they have done together as a family many times, so she knows they can handle it.
When doing this, you have to have a sort-of fake it 'til you make it mentality, Reynolds says. Inside, you might not know if it's going to work, if your children are going to pull themselves up and rise to the challenge. I didn't know if my kid was going to follow me out the door or say, "Nah, I'm cool here in my room," and start painting her nails while I stood outside waiting all day like a chump. Maybe that will happen one day. But the confidence you present matters.
Says Reynolds, "You're acting 'as if' — behaving as if your child is going to go along with program, even if they have never done that. When you inhabit the belief that it's going to happen, your attitude can really change the dynamic."
It takes a leap of faith, Reynolds says, as does every decision you make as a parent. Here, that leap begins with an air of certainty and the turn of a doorknob.