Baby Steps

Some of you may have seen the old Bill Murray movie, “What About Bob.”  Murray plays a man who is very dependent on his psychiatrist, played by Richard Dreyfus.  Dreyfus encourages his patient to make progress in his life by “baby steps.”  He has even written a book by that name.  It’s a good spoof on the mental health profession.  Dreyfus is making a bundle with simplistic advice, and Bob is ultimately the undoing of his pompous doctor.

All the same, there is a lot to be said for the baby steps idea.  At this time of year many of us are ready to turn over all the leaves that we did not get to last year.  Parents are no different.  People are telling their children, “Now you are big enough to sleep in your own bed all night.”  Or, “Now you can do your homework in your room all on your own.”  Or “I think you can get up on your own in the morning.”  “This year you can be ready for school on time.”  “This year when you are rude to me, I will ignore you, and you will treat me more nicely.”  These are all good goals, and every parent has a right to them.

But it takes baby steps.  Another way of putting this is that all change happens slowly, bit by bit.  If you are dealing with grade school or older children, you will need to include them in the conversation.  They need to agree that the change you suggest is worthwhile.  Then you can discuss how to start.  For instance, when should the alarm be set?  How much time does your child need to get ready in the morning?  Or you will need to explain just what you mean by rude and say what you would like instead.  (This may sound as absurd as the baby steps book, but believe me, it is helpful to be very clear.)

When you have explained the goal and your child has agreed, you might also consider incentives to increase your child’s motivation.  Incentive does not need to mean expensive stuff.  It could mean a special dessert or fifteen extra minutes of screen time.

The last goal is to moderate your expectations.  Remember baby steps.  Your child might get up on time some days and not on others.  She might do her homework on her own for a day or two but have a meltdown about a new type of math problem.  Try to notice the progress, and not be too discouraged by the slip-ups.  Always praise progress.  And consider whether you can learn from the slip-ups.  Maybe the program needs adjustment.

Change takes time.  A few good days don’t mean you are out of the woods, but a few good days are definitely a few good days.  Progress happens in baby steps.

Good luck to all of you on the changes you are trying to make in your families in this New Year.

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