Buy yourself a sticker chart.

Remember when we were potty training our children or wanted to get them to do something, and our first go-to was a sticker chart? Listen, I had three kids in 5 years – (along with reconstruction on a house and a move out of state – and then a move back) – so I was all about the bribe – and I owned it, but I digress.  

This spring, I worked with my son (who is a junior), trying to motivate him to prepare for his upcoming SAT/ACT tests. Nothing was working – not even my old stand-by – the sticker chart! He wanted new Air Pods, and my offering to bribe him with them didn’t even motivate him. 

Oh, the fights we had! 

I began to question everything about my parenting and my skills as a professional in the business. How could I, an SAT/ACT coach and College Admissions Advisor, not motivate my son to begin his process?  

At one point, deep into a somewhat heated conversation when I was, well, let’s just say I was done –  put it this way, it got so bad that the dog went into his dog house to hide – ok, not one of my finest mommy moments.  

My son simply said – if you tell me what to do, I will figure it out on my own time.  

He promised to do 30 minutes of test prep a day (my suggestion to students in the beginning phases of prep) and made me promise that I would not bug him for a month. After that, if he didn’t do what he was supposed to, I could intervene. 

As hard as it was, I agreed.

I thought long and hard about how to make it through the month. So guess what – I made myself a sticker chart! 

Seriously ya’ll; I made myself a sticker chart. I needed to figure out how to motivate myself to KEEP MY MOUTH SHUT.  

Yup, I got out my colored felt tip pens, even went to Michael’s, and got the most glitter, fun stickers I could find. I promised myself that each day I did not say anything to my son, I would find the prettiest sticker and decorate my chart! And at the end of the month, I would treat myself to something. Maybe that new purse I was eyeing? 

Now, before you run away and say this woman has clearly lost her mind – hear me out.

When I set my mind to something, I get it done. I believe in setting realistic and achievable goals and setting up systems to help me achieve them, so I thought long and hard about my goals for the month. 

One of them was to start losing the Covid/Menopause 15 that had slowly crept onto my hips (and are still here)! I have never been one to diet or deprive myself of a treat, but perhaps the nightly glass of wine paired with a piece of chocolate needed to be curtailed. So I wrote, “Go one month without chocolate or wine,” as one of my goals.

Ok, who am I kidding? My oldest daughter is graduating college, and my youngest is applying to colleges; I need that nightly treat! So I quickly crossed that off and added “Drink More Water” to help me achieve my goal. Every day I drank at least 64 ounces of water, I would give myself a sticker! 

To round out my Big Three monthly goals (more on my Big Three later), I wrote: “DO NOT BUG KOBI ABOUT HIS SAT PREP.” Again, promising myself a sticker to keep me on track. 

I stuck to my goal, and it worked!  

My son made it through the month – and is ready to go. I lost 4 of the 15 and drank 64 ounces of water daily. I did not once ask my son about his test prep; he did his work, but, more importantly,  our relationship took three steps forward. 

When I allowed my son the autonomy he needed, he felt ownership of his work and felt a sense of accomplishment. He was proud that he didn’t need his mom reminding him of what to do and when to do it.  And guess what?  

He even thanked me for it! 

And even though I did go and buy myself that purse, his “thank you, Mom” was all I needed.

Empowering our teenagers means allowing them the freedom to learn, explore, and occasionally stumble. So I’m challenging you to try this with your child. Give them the space they need to cultivate self-reliance and foster a sense of accomplishment.

Talk to them about a 30-day plan to help motivate them during their test prep, college essay writing, or final projects for school. Express your expectations, then step away and give them room to succeed. And then, grab our fun sticker chart to help keep you on track with your goal of stepping away.

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This guide is full of tips and the approach I believe we ALL need when it comes to talking about college as a family. Trust me, when I say I know because I’ve been right where you are, it comes straight from my experiences!