Saturday, October 15, 2016

GAT Parenting Skill #3 - The Bad Day

When doing test prep or advanced math with 4 year olds, I have routinely experienced bad days about 40% of the time or more.   If we were doing work 4 times a week, I might lose 2 days.  If I've got a schedule with a time limit, like school starts in a month or the test is 6 weeks away, bad days have a bad impact.

Bad days also can undermine GAT Parenting Skills #1 and #2, which is why dealing with bad days is #3 on the list of GAT Parenting Skills.

If your child is in sick and in bed with a fever, and this is a test prep day, you are not experiencing a bad day.  You have lost the day and need to rearrange the schedule, but this is not bad.  I mean something worse when I say "bad".

When I was growing up (here we go) I was a big fan of the Star Trek TV series from the 60's.  My favorite episodes began with a random guest lieutenant walking down the hall experiencing something like a glowing green arm.  A regular character would pass by, a character who had experienced many strange things in previous episodes that always led to the endangerment of the ship and crew and the death of guest characters. The regular character would ask "What is wrong with your arm?"  The guest lieutenant would reply "It's nothing, just a glowing green arm."  Then the regular character would suggest that he get it checked out later.

As you would expect, the guest lieutenant would turn into a horrible alien and endanger ship and crew before he was killed.

Now, back to your child.  You sit down to do a page in your workbook.  Your child is complaining, misbehaving, making amateur mistakes, and whining.   You start yelling, the child starts crying, and all progress for the day is gone.

On any given day, the child could be hungry, tired, exhausted, sleep deprived, or other wise completely unprepared for the workbook page.  As a regular character in the child's life, you should know this, but instead you assume that the child is just being difficult and displaying a lack of self control and discipline.   After all, he's a child, and as a regular character in the child's life, you have also seen bad behavior, which is worth correcting.

The problem is that you don't see a glowing green arm, just either bad behavior.  Bad behavior may or may not be related to a Bad Day.

Here's how you will respond using the Bad Day parenting skill:
1.  You reprimand the child's behavior the first time with no emotion.  "Get to work.  Quit complaining."
2.  By the fifth time you are really mad.  Were you supposed to be unemotional?  Does this fall under the no Emotion Skill?  You check my blog and it doesn't say.
3.  You pull out the bag of skittles and lay 5 on the table.   "I'll give you one for every question you answer."
4.  The child is getting worse.  You say "OK, why don't you pick which workbook you want to do?" Next to the hard one that the child is doing, you put down the easy workbook on the same topic or something fun like Vocabulary Workshop.
5.  Of course, they pick the easy one.  If progress is still bad, you just jump in and start helping with the questions.  By help, I usually mean letting the child read them out loud, feigning interest, and asking questions.
6.  If things are a total disaster, you will find yourself answering questions.

Notice that we didn't quit, even if you answered questions and your child got nothing out of the work. (By we, I mean you and your child plus your academic parenting coach.) The goal on bad days is not to ruin the whole session by losing your temper, because you expect bad days and you're totally prepared.  The goal is to get something done, regardless, even if you find out 2 hours later that the child had a fever.  Of course, if the child is listless, a fever means a trip to the doctor and you should have checked already, but a complaining child with a fever might not be as dire.

There are interesting outcomes to the steps I listed above.

First, I realized that if my child eats candy, a couple of pieces out of a full serving will do.   Occasionally, we have candy in the house, and everyone is happy with just a few pieces.  I learned this during test prep.  I also found out that if you have to bring candy every time you do math, within a few weeks you can retire the candy permanently just by announcing that there is no more (which is technically if not physically true) and put the bag away until a bad day.

Next, once I learned how to get through bad days, we got through quite a few bad days.  We got through so many bad days that later in life my children had no problem going to school sick, and the normal things that happen to normal children that would otherwise hamper performance do not affect my children.  Or so I think.  Maybe they just grew out of it.  I'm going to say with 71% probability that my kids are much better prepared for bad days because of this approach.

Finally, I'm a much stronger academic coach because I have much more patience.  Dealing with bad days with a predefined strategy is a big part of this.   While I list these parenting skills like I expect people to have them, it takes a few years to learn them.  Bad Days are a really good teacher.  I think I'll write a whole article on how these skills are learned.  It's not like I expect a parent to read them and apply the skills; it's almost like being the opposite of a parent.


  1. Do you recommend that we should math in test prep season (2-3 months until the exam) all together? We're doing both math (one grade level up) and test prep (building thinking...etc.) right now. I am afraid that doing math workbook might not actually help with thinking skills that I am targeting. But at the same time, I don't want my child to make it to GAT but starting the GAT class being a little behind in math. We're only spending 15-20 min a day on math and we do have time. I don't think even if we remove math from our schedule, we will not do more of test prep because the child is not liking a lot. Should we keep doing what we're doing or remove math for a couple of months? Any thoughts?

    1. Based on what you just mentioned I would stop math entirely until after the test. That's what I did every year. After third grade, math begins to converge with thinking skills again, and I'm more reluctant to stop math work. After the test, there's plenty of time to catch up. We started math 2 years up in December and by the next September were way ahead.

    2. Thank you!! How about a word problems workbook that we're doing? Should we stop that until the test?

    3. It depends on the grade of your child, the word problem book, and how many minutes each problem takes. Please fill out the following form:
      Word Problem Book _________________
      Minutes per page __________________
      Problems per page ________________

  2. Grade 1
    Singapore math
    15 min per page
    2-3 problems per page

    1. I've been staring at your comment for 10 minutes. This is a valid approach. I didn't expect this. If you promise me that you can get through your cognitive skills work on schedule, and if your child has to do any test prep on the same day you do test prep before math, than I would say you should continue this as time permits.

      When my kids were in K, they took the test in December and then started 2nd grade Every Day math the next week in preparation for first grade. It's a different approach than yours and not necessarily better, but as you can see from what I just said we weren't the slightest bit worried about the quantitative section.

  3. Evert parent going through a bad day, it will definitely boost their skills and improve their experience to learn better on parenting. It shows the result on their kids, that how they learn good things from their parents. There are several useful tips on parenting available in net and while following these tips, we are able to set a good example. But still, we need expert support and guidance to develop our parenting issues.

    1. That is a really good comment. Thank you for posting it. I never thought of that. Could you please share some examples from what you found? My focus is very narrow and I find absolutely nothing on the web specific to this topic. It would be so much easier for me just to recommend a link than have to interview parents, do research projects, and type articles over and over again until I get it right. I don't have high hopes. I've done quite a bit of web research and am generally disappointed by what I find, but this point you made is something new to me.