I’ve discovered recently the two most effective items in my parenting arsenal: a pen and notebook. These have proven to be the most versatile items, and they seem to work for every parenting situation—so far.
Here’s how it goes.
“You made your brother late for football practice, and so now you will write this sentence 25 times: I will be on time so the people in my family can be on time.”
“You left your string cheese wrappers on the couch, and so now you will write this sentence 15 times: I will respect my home and take responsibility for my trash.”
“You were dishonest about getting your homework finished, so now you will write this sentence 50 times: I am an honest person and I will be honest with my mom and dad.”
He has to write the sentences the prescribed number of times, and he doesn’t get his freedom until his sentences are complete. My sons are only aware of their loss of privileges and time to spend the way they choose, but some basic research has shown me the deeper value of this discipline I’ve instated in their lives.
The brain is divided into several regions that process different kinds of information. We have separate regions that process visual information, auditory input, emotions, verbal cues, and so on. When we listen to information, then the part of our brain that handles listening and language is engaged. But when we take notes, when we actually write things down, something bigger happens. The part of our brain that we use to put marks on paper partners with the part that makes meaningful thought, and our brain recognizes this as ‘more important information’ and stores it into memory.
What is more, research suggests that when we write something down, as far as our brain is concerned, it’s as if we are doing that thing. In his article, “Writing and Remembering: Why We Remember What We Write,” Dustin Wax says, “Writing seems to act as kind of a mini-rehearsal for doing…. Visualizing doing something can ‘trick’ the brain into thinking it’s actually doing it, and writing something down seems to use enough of the brain to trigger this effect.” So when my son writes down what he will do next time he leaves the string cheese wrapper on the couch, he’s more likely to actually throw it away next time.
When you write something with pencil and paper, you automatically focus your full attention on that thought. Most of us cannot write one thought and think another, and this strategy of writing sentences gives me entry into my child’s thoughts. For just a few moments, I can hijack his thinking and send him in a very intentional direction. But here’s the best part about that: when he writes positive, affirming sentences about himself, he begins to believe they are true. And that’s the greatest gift I can give him, far greater even than punctuality and responsibility and honesty.
As an added cherry on top, it helps that the pen and paper don’t take much space, I always have them with me, and he hates when I get them out–these are the greatest common denominators for effective discipline. And so my child groans when I hand him the pen and paper, and to that I say, ‘Oh, you hate writing the sentences? Then simply change your behavior. Now get writing.”