Following Through (or Where it All Breaks Down)
“You’re not following through, Mike,” my poor friend calmly recited for the umpteenth time. “Golf is a game of follow through. You’re stopping the club when you hit the ball.”
“You’ve got no follow through on that jumper, Mike,” my angry basketball coach shouted. “Follow through or get your ass of the court.”
“You told me you’d have that paper done today, Mike. Where is it?” my exasperated college philosophy professor asked. “You didn’t follow through with what you said.”
Okay, I’ll admit the obvious: I used to have difficulty following through. Whether it was in sports or in life, I wasn’t exactly “Mr. Reliable” back in the day. And, despite a variety of approaches–from the long-suffering patience of my golf buddy to the “I’ve had it!” approach of the basketball coach, it wasn’t until my late 20’s when I started sticking-to-it-when-I-said-I’d-do-it. Before that, I was much more, “See-what-had-happened-was…”
That’s why I can relate to people when they talk about knowing what they need to do and then consistently failing to do it. This is especially true with parenting. It’s just easier, at times, to let them get away with it, to give them what they want so they’ll shut up, to not fight them when they don’t do what you want.
In my experience, the “Magic Formula” of getting compliance from children is this:
1. State your expectation.
2. When you want it done.
3. What happens if it isn’t done.
4. Follow through.
That might look something like this:
1. I want this room cleaned.
2. I want it done by 8:00 tonight.
3. If it isn’t, no video games tomorrow.
4. Take away the video game controller the next day if the room wasn’t clean by 8:00.
By far, the most difficult aspect of that formula is the last step. That’s where most of us fail, though, so don’t beat yourself up. Your child will often make it purposefully difficult to follow through with the application of consequences because, of course,they don’t want to lose their privileges! It’s the rare kid who will say, “Well, fine work, mother. Thanks for taking away my things in an effort to make me a better person.” Unlikely!
Instead, expect the storm that will break when you follow through, and accept it as part of their growth and maturity process. Just don’t avoid it.
Don’t make threats that you won’t (or can’t) keep. Once you lose credibility with your child, it’s an uphill battle to get it back–but you can. Keep looking long-term and realize that when you follow through with promises or commitments or punishments, you’re teaching them to do it someday, too.
Hopefully, they’ll learn the value of it quicker than I did.