How can you motivate a girl who prefers to take things super slow? Read my answer on what your options are when it comes to a child who’s slow to complete tasks.

Q: My 7-year-old daughter has a perfect word that describes her actions towards her home school and chores, and that word is lollygag. I have frustrations with this and have for a while. I had to work recently, while my husband stayed home and did the day-to-day with the kids. She was lollygagging. My husband fed up, and giving her plenty of chances, told her she would not have a birthday, which is coming up in a  couple weeks. I feel sad about her birthday, and having to tell all the in-laws, etc., that it’s cancelled. Do you think this is an effective consequence?

A: Oh, dear. Words spoken out of frustration can’t be recalled, can they? At least not without consequences for all involved. A few points to consider before I address your question.

First, some kids lollygag. They just do. That’s not to say you can’t figure out ways to motivate them to pay attention. Giving a child chances without giving her the tools to succeed is a losing proposition for everyone involved. I hazard a guess that your husband simply couldn’t understand why his daughter wasn’t taking advantage of the “chances” and doing her work. Then he blew a gasket and levied a consequence that he probably regrets.

Words spoken out of frustration can’t be recalled, can they? At least not without consequences for all involved.

Second, you need to help your daughter learn how to manage her time and tasks. This isn’t done by hovering over her and giving her chances. Buy an egg timer—one of those wind up kitchen timers—and start using that to keep her on task. Give her five or ten minutes more than you think she needs to do the task, then set the timer and walk away. This is key. You’re not to ask her if it’s done, you’re not to check on it. You leave her to do it alone. This will take some retraining on both of your parts—her to pay attention to the timer and you to not hover and constantly get on her case.

Third, you need to think about what consequences you’ll deliver if she doesn’t complete the task in time. But remember, you don’t have to do anything right away. At this age, you can wait until the evening or even the next day to level consequences.

Finally, I think you need to retract the banned birthday as a consequence. This is a classic example of a parent not thinking clearly and responding in the heat of the moment. Sometimes, this might be an appropriate consequence, but for a 7-year-old to miss her 8th birthday because she didn’t keep on task during school is way out of proportion. So Dad should tell her that he over-reacted, spoke out of frustration, etc., and that he’s sorry and she’ll still have her birthday. Ask her what she thinks would help her to not waste time during school. I’ll bet you’d be surprised at what she comes up with.

There’s nothing wrong with a parent admitting that he made a mistake. In fact, it’s important for us to admit when we were wrong to our kids. That shows them we’re human, and it shows them how to admit when we were wrong. Plus, it restores that frayed connection that can come when we over-react to our children’s behavior.