Simplicity & Specificity to the Rescue

parents-angryWhile reading an article about conferencing online with students, I was struck by the simplicity and specificity of the hints that the author recommended. It occurred to me, a focus on simplicity and being specific would probably be a helpful way to handle our new normal.

As the mother of five adult children, I have a front row seat on what it’s like to manage your work life, support your kids academics, and maintain a positive family atmosphere while sheltering-in-place. “Keep it simple” seems to be a recurring directive from teachers around the globe. Most educators realize that it is difficult for parents to step into the role of teacher in their child’s life. Many teachers themselves, my daughter included, have children of their own. Even they can’t really teach their own kids.

Anyone who has children or works with kids knows that when you are clear and specific in your approach, youngsters are more likely to respond in a positive manner. And yet, who doesn’t resort to generalizations…“We have to get this kitchen cleaned up now.” “Go finish your homework!” “You’re room is a mess. Clean it up or no TV.” Sound familiar? Here’s a few helpful hints…

  • Don’t beat yourself up                                                                                                   Everyone falls into the trap of complicating things and generalizing. We know what to do, but simply forget, especially when we feel overwhelmed and stressed. Relax. Remember Maya Angelou’s famous words, “When you know better, you do better.”
  • Keep it Simple                                                                                                                      Words have power. Simple, direct communication works best with youngsters. When kids are bombarded by a million directives, they get confused or overwhelmed and tend to tune out. Try to stop and think about your expectations and share them in a simple manner. It’s also a good idea to stay in the present. Perhaps you can make a list of all the chores, schoolwork and activities your children need to accomplish in a day, but you don’t have to verbalize it all at once. That’s a recipe for stress.                                     
  • Be Specific                                                                                                                         Without a doubt,  simplicity and specificity go hand in hand. When you give a simple directive, make it specific. When a youngster understands exactly what’s expected, he is more likely to get on board and follow through with the task. You may also want to specify a time limit or a consequence. Again, this helps set parameters and allows kids to work within them. Specificity leads to success.
  • Provide Choice                                                                                                             Sometimes, in the midst of trying to juggle all the balls, we become like drill sargeants, forgetting that everyone like to have a voice and choice in their lives. Providing choice give kids a sense of ownership and encourages responsibility. That’s a lot of bang for your buck!

Let’s consider a few examples:

Instead of, “Johnny you need to finish that Math assignment and clean up the mess you made down the basement”, you might try…                                                                                         “Johnny, Before you go outside today, I’d like you to finish your Math assignment and pick up the toys you left out down the basement.” Please get started and let me know when you’re done.”

Is it simple? Yes, there are two things he needs to do.

Is it specific? Yes. Johnny need to complete an assignment and pick up toys. “Before he can go out to play sets a clear parameter.

Does Johnny have a choice? Yes, he can do either one first.

Mary is having trouble completing an assigned book, which needs to be finished by the end of the week. You’ve noticed that her school papers are in disarray, which eats up a lot of time when she has to go online or do her work. Instead of, “Listen, you need to get on the ball, finish reading that book and get your papers in order right now!” Whew…that’s a big order. How about this approach…                                                                                              “Mary, your book needs to be finished by Friday and I notice that your papers are disorganized. It takes a lot of time to find what you need. Let’s come up with a plan. Would you be willing to commit to reading for 30 minutes each day? You could decide to do it all at once or break it up. How about if you sort your papers by subject. When you’re finished, we could work together to create a better system? How does that sound?”

Is it simple? Yes. It only deals with two things.

Is it specific? Yes. This approach creates a specific plan for accomplishing these tasks.

Does Mary have a choice? Yes. She can read for 30 minutes or break it up. She can choose to let you help her create an organizational system. What’s more, this approach respects Mary. It doesn’t put her down and make her feel like a failure. It lets her know you are on her side.

I sure hope this post doesn’t sound preachy, but I’ve been there. No doubt, the challenge this virus is putting on families is real. It’s getting long and we are all wearing thin. Hang in there. You don’t have to be perfect. From experience,  I know how much a few timely suggestions can help. I hope this smooths some rough edges for you and your family.


I can’t talk about parenting without once again, suggesting my favorite parenting book. If you are look for great ideas to preserve your sanity and your child self-esteem while setting clear limits, I urge you to check out this classic book. In fact, there’s even a new text just for parents of toddlers. You won’t be sorry!

How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & How to Listen So Kids Will Talk                                              by Adele Faber & Elaine Mazlish

How to Talk so Little KIds Will Listen                                                                                        by Adele Faber & Elaine Mazlish












About Rita K.

Veteran educator and Certified Reading specialist, Freelance writer
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