When Julie Levine gives a presentation, you can hear a pin drop. The Stamford, CT, sales manager can really command a room. “I enjoy the rapt attention,” she admits. “I’ve been doing this a long time, so I’m pretty confident.” It’s a different story at home with son Fred, 8.
“I joke that he has selective hearing,” she says. “When he doesn’t want to do something, he acts like he doesn’t hear me. Sometimes I feel totally ineffective.”
Memo to moms: You can leverage effective work strategies when it comes to disciplining your kids, says Wilmington, DE–based psychologist Leslie Connor, PhD, who counsels on career and family matters. “Don’t think of career skills and parenting techniques as alternate universes,” she suggests.
“It’s absolutely possible to use your professional prowess to enhance the way your family functions.”
1: SPEAK TO BE HEARD
Whether talking to your boss or a direct report, you speak calmly, with focus and respect. Remember Meryl Streep as Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada? Part of her power was about never raising her voice (though she was clearly lacking in the respecting-others department). A similar strategy also works with kids.
“For work, I often show up with lights and sirens, wearing a uniform and carrying a gun,” says Kristin Golden, a police sergeant in Massachusetts and mom of two boys, 15 and 11. “Those things make people listen to me, but they don’t quite work at home,” she says with a laugh. What does? “Whether it’s one of my sons or a prisoner in the cellblock, it’s talking slowly, calmly and softly so others must listen closely to hear.” If her child or a suspect raises his voice, Sergeant Golden responds, “I don’t appreciate being spoken to that way. I’ll come back when you’re calm and ready to listen.” It works.
BE CLEAR—AND BRIEF
Keep requests and instructions short and specific, says Dr. Connor. You wouldn’t say to a staffer, “You’re rude and snotty, and you’ll have to go to your office until you change your tone.” With your child, you’re more likely to get a positive result if you say something direct and simple such as, “I don’t like the way you talked to me. You know better. Let’s try again.” And refrain from pontificating; it probably won’t engage your listener.
LEND THEM YOUR EARS
We often forget that we need to listen, not just bark orders. “Rather than nag, a good listener is able to respond with thoughtful questions that make kids and adults more likely to listen and answer,” says leadership coach Jamie Woolf, author of Mom-in-Chief. “For example, rather than yell at your child, ‘You haven’t practiced your violin in a week!’ ask a neutral, curious question: ‘Looks like you’ve had some trouble practicing this week. What do you think is getting in your way?’ ”
PICK THE TIME AND PLACE
Good business happens not just in the office but also at a lunch meeting, on the tennis court or in other social settings. Similarly, you can get optimal attention from your kids when you’re walking the dog, taking them for ice cream or shooting baskets. “Doing something you both enjoy eases the intensity that can occur while just looking at each other and talking,” says Dr. Connor. “Find a place or activity where you and your child can connect and listen when your guards are down.”
2. FOSTER COOPERATION
Working as a team instills an “all for one” spirit. “In basketball, if one person isn’t doing her job, the team may lose,” says Helen Darling, a guard for the WNBA’s San Antonio Silver Stars and mom of 8-year-old triplets. “I tell my kids if they don’t do their part to help, our family doesn’t work as well.”
BRAINSTORM AS A GROUP
Let your kids contribute ideas just as you encourage input at work meetings. Children tend to try harder to reach goals they’ve helped establish, whether it’s completing a school project or cleaning the house as quickly as possible on Saturday morning.
Sports teams have rituals like a group cheer before a game. Office meetings are often held the same day and time each week. “Rituals help teammates bond,” says Jamie Woolf. “Families can benefit from rituals, too.” Set up routines to motivate kids, to help them know what to expect and to encourage them to work with you, such as doing homework before dinner, and pizza Fridays after a good week at school.
Co-workers routinely take over work duties when someone is sick or away. Family members also need to cover for each other. “I’ll say, ‘Whether that’s your shirt on the floor or not, sometimes you’ve got to take one for the team. The sooner that shirt is off the floor, the sooner we can go bowling,’” says Darling.
3: ESTABLISH STRUCTURE
Think about your own workplace: Everyone has an area to call her own, jobs to complete and deadlines to meet. Structure can help at home, too.
ASSIGN YOUR KIDS SPACES
Give them cubbies or bins to stow things they need every day and quiet spots to do their homework. That way they’ll feel more grown-up and have a heightened sense of responsibility.
HAVE A FAMILY CALENDAR
Use tools that work best for your family. Anya Lucas, co-owner with her husband of Lucas Autocare in Cypress, TX, color-codes her computer calendar, assigning different shades to family members, business commitments and volunteer work. Her 7-year-old daughter relies on star power to stay organized: “Every Monday we update the Taylor Swift calendar in her room,” says Lucas. “My fifteen-year-old stepson uses his cell phone calendar for school and appointments.”
HELP THEM MANAGE THEIR TIME
At work or at home, setting goals helps everyone work harder and perform better. And like employees, your kids should have a say in what they aim for and how their time is structured. “Work together to set bite-size goals for each day,” suggests Woolf.
“Maybe backpacks are put by the front door before bedtime and beds are made in the morning. Let kids participate in the solutions, rather than you handing down edicts. They’ll feel proud when their ideas work.”
Check our Working Mother Family Organizer.
4: GIVE THEM CHORES
Having jobs to do empowers children, just as it empowers employees, says Cara Gardenswartz, PhD, a clinical psychologist on staff at UCLA. “Learning to handle things gives kids confidence.”
Pick jobs for your kids that build upon their strengths while helping them develop new skills. Your preschooler could spritz water on plants, which is great for developing fine-motor skills, or match laundered socks. Your grade schooler could feed the family pets, which helps develop empathy, loyalty and consistency. Teenagers might wash their own clothes or make dinner once a week.
RESPECT THEIR PACE
“No matter what I delegate to my kids or employees, I always try to give them adequate time to get it done,” says Lucas. “If you tell them to do something immediately, you’re not respecting their schedules or time. You’re saying, ‘I’m more important than you; stop what you’re doing and do what I want you to do.’ Nobody likes to work that way.” Of course, sometimes you really do need something ASAP, but that should be the exception, not the rule. When you give your kids some respect, they’re apt to turn around and be more responsible. And you’ll get some help around the house.
5: PRAISE SUCCESSES
Imagine doing your best at work and no one ever said so, thanked you or gave you perks or a raise. You might not feel as inspired to keep it up. Kids appreciate positive feedback, too, says Woolf. “A little hoopla around even small successes is motivating.”
ACKNOWLEDGE GOOD WORK
For young children, consider a sticker chart that includes a reward—like a trip to the park with you—when a row is filled with stars. For older kids, good grades or a clean room without nagging might mean an extra half hour on the computer, or simply a shout-out from you. Sometimes just noticing your child’s special effort keeps him working hard. Dr. Gardenswartz hangs a “mitzvah ladder” in her preschooler’s bedroom with his name on a tag. Every time she sees him do a good deed (a “mitzvah”), his name moves up the ladder. When it reaches the top, he gets a new ladder. “Praise becomes internalized, making kids feel good about themselves and keeping them motivated,” she says.
ACCENTUATE THE POSITIVE
When offering feedback, highlight strengths first. “You might praise an employee’s effort and follow with ‘I think if we add this it could be even better,’” says Dr. Gardenswartz. “Similarly, if your child does poorly on a math test, you could say, ‘Wow, you did well on the addition part. The subtraction is challenging, huh? How about we practice so you feel equally good about both?’” Now there’s a plus!