Overwhelmed? More on your plate than you can possibly cover?
I have a method of coping and I shared it today with my daughter. I heard her frantic heartbeat slow and her blood pressure steady as I mapped out my suggested plan, and it made me feel like an active, hands-on, needed and effective mother again.
“Do you remember when your sister came home from 4th grade one day and had that huge emotional meltdown?” I asked her.
She didn’t remember, but I remember every detail.
Jill’s face was white as a sheet when she got off the bus that day. When I questioned her, she fell apart and couldn’t stop crying long enough to even tell me what had happened. I conjured every possible worst-case scenario as I worked to calm her and was never so happy to learn that her meltdown was due to an outrageous (and completely unfair and ridiculous) load of homework.
She explained that the assignments had been piling on all day long and she’d been feeling pressure, but just before the bell rang, her teacher assigned a story from the literature book called “Raja’s Rice,” and wanted a three paragraph summary of what she read.
That was her tipping point.
I’ve always juggled a lot of balls at a time (and I’ve always liked Oreos), so I calmed her down with a couple of Oreos and a glass of milk and said to myself, “You’ve got this.”
It may have been my finest hour.
We started by going through her student planner and bookbag and making a list of all the work she was to accomplish before school the next day. Next, I asked her to write an estimate of how much time each line item was going to take to complete. Then I asked her to look at the items that were going to take the most time and think about whether there were organizational steps that she could complete toward the project that would make her feel accomplishment, and how much time would that take?
The list was long. Why can’t assignments be better coordinated in elementary school so kids don’t get so overwhelmed? But, once we looked at it carefully, we realized that there were several items that would take only five or ten minutes each.
“Let’s start there. Then you will have several things checked off the list and behind you.”
Twenty minutes later she had three items checked off and the color started coming back to her face.
Next, we assigned time slots for the rest of the list. We accounted for dinner, a couple of breaks and broke up a couple of the big ticket items into two time slots, but we blocked off specific start and finish times for each and every item and we mixed the easier items between the harder ones.
Then we followed the plan to a tee. I was the timekeeper and at each time interval I would let her know it was time to move to something new. Only once did she not complete something in the time slot we’d alloted but we mutually agreed that the plan was working, so we moved its completion to the end of the list.
She finished every assignment and we both felt accomplished and proud.
“Raja’s Rice” turned out to be the fable you may have read called, “One Grain of Rice” whereby a young village girl outsmarts the selfish raja. For me, it turned out to be the method by which I organize myself when I’m feeling overwhelmed. And it works every time.
I know it’s not the first time I’ve shared the method with Jackie, but today was the day my lesson resonated with her. She’s long-since out of school, but the workload at her job has been growing and I recognized the near-meltdown as soon as I picked up the phone.
“Make a list of everything you need to accomplish,” I coached. “Beside each item, write down how much time you think you will need to complete it…”
Sometimes all it takes is a plan. (And the chance to be a mom again.)