Who knew something as basic as a pencil and paper could change your life?

By Beata Santora
Cultura RM Exclusive/Stephen Lux/Getty Images

“Sandro, the school bus will be here in three minutes. Please, PLEASE put your shoes on.”

“Mom, did you know that the peregrine falcon is the fastest animal on earth? It can fly up to 100 miles per hour.”

“I know, dear, but the bus is almost here and you’re still not wearing shoes…”

“That’s faster than Usain Bolt can run by almost 70 miles per hour!”

“The. Bus. Is. Here. Get dressed. Now!!”

“No. I don’t want to wear these shoes.”

“NOW!”

This used to be a typical morning in my house: I hassled my first-grader, he blatantly pushed his own agenda, and the whole thing culminated in me losing my temper and him wailing like a banshee as I forcibly dragged him down the stairs and onto the waiting school bus.

The afternoons were no better. Getting my son fed, dressed, and out of the house so he could run around on the playground and expend his boundless energy was a Herculean task. He was too disorganized, I was too demanding, and it usually ended in tears.

It went on like this for ages, with our collective nerves frayed…until a wise therapist gave me one brilliant piece of advice: Make a checklist.

I thought she was kidding. How could a checklist possibly solve this conflict of personalities?

But I was so weary of the constant battle that I decided to give it a try. I made a simple step-by-step list of all the tasks Sandro needed to accomplish in the 35 minutes between waking up and leaving the house:

▢ Put on socks, underwear, shirt, pants

▢ Choose breakfast

▢ Eat breakfast

▢ Brush teeth

▢ Put on shoes

▢ Put on coat

▢ Put on backpack

The next day, I presented my son with the list and said, “When you complete each task, you can put a checkmark next to it. No completion, no checkmark. Use any pencil or marker you like.”

Wouldn’t you know it, he was dressed, fed, brushed, and shod before the bus arrived. I was stunned.

That very same day I laminated the list so we could use it every morning with a dry erase marker. I also made a whole set of checklists for all the various aspects of our home life that were challenging. There’s something innately satisfying about putting a checkmark next to a completed task that really spoke to my son. It gave him a sense of agency and accomplishment, and it made him feel in control of his life in a way that no amount of me nagging or threatening ever could.

This method works so well for my son, that I’m now starting to use it with my daughter, who is just three. Since she doesn’t read yet, I paste pictures of each item to be done. The look of pride in her eyes when she gets to put a checkmark next to something she’s accomplished is amazing. My house has never felt so calm and organized in the morning, thanks to nothing more than a simple piece of paper.

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