Background of the problem
I have two children, two boys. Corentin is the youngest and is 5 years old. The eldest, Baptiste, is 8 years old. Like many other children of this age, the most important thing during the day is PLAYING. They like to play individually or together, with balls, board games, game consoles and they also like to watch TV. But of course, like any other kid, they also have some difficulties keeping their bedrooms tidy, they are a bit lazy in studying and their participation in household chores is quite limited except when asked.
My wife and I have been trying for a while to educate Baptiste and Corentin in order to make them understand that certain behaviour was not appropriate and were causing some trouble. Typically, toys spread everywhere in the house, shoes or coats removed and left on the ground, dirty clothing accumulated in corners, limited help for daily tasks such as setting or clearing the table for dinner. Although we requested these things at least a hundred times, kids just forget (voluntarily or not) and go to play.
Daily stress and frustration
So guess what was happening at home? We, as parents, wanted the rules to be respected. They, as young boys, wanted to play. Therefore, each time we discovered they were having fun, we would have had to stop them in the middle of their pleasure peek because nearly none of their good promises were respected. In reaction to this situation, the easiest way to get things done is to blackmail them not to be able to play further if they don’t proceed immediately with their tasks. When we were lucky, they did everything they were supposed to do. If not, with a quick check, we could discover that they did only half of it, just to go back to their game as quickly as possible. We were then ready for another try.
This situation was becoming extremely stressful for both parties. Indeed, it demands a huge amount of energy to check every time if the status is green. It’s particularly stressful to engage with the two boys in the middle of their game, because they will automatically react negatively, considering the intervention unfair, unjustified or inappropriate (especially if they were authorized to play earlier). Although we were usually getting things finally done, it was systematically creating a bad atmosphere, with cries and tears. Worse, we were feeling somehow guilty because we were always stopping and preventing our children from enjoying, trying to remain consistent with the rules we introduced.
“If you keep doing what you’re doing, you’ll keep getting what you’re getting”
we had to be creative and change our approach if we wanted to succeed with less energy spent and less stress and frustration generated. The ideal and ultimate situation we were looking for was a kind of ritual that would be run naturally and systematically by the boys prior to any fun moment they decided to have. We wanted to make our kids more responsible for what was happening around them and let them take the right decisions to change the situation by themselves if they were unhappy with it.
In order to get my sons’ buy-in and commitment, the solution had to be attractive, practical, efficient, self-explanatory, simple and repeatable. I proposed to articulate the solution with a mind map that everybody at home could understand and agree with. The mind mapping technique is not totally unknown at home because I’m doing a lot of research on the subject and because I’m a ThinkBuzan licensed instructor. But don’t worry, kids are open for cool stuff and a pleasant and well explained mind map is easily welcomed by the young generation.
Rule with a mind map
Then, you add branches to your mind map. Basic Ordering Ideas (BOI), are first-level topics that radiate out from your map’s central topic. The output of a small brainstorming with my wife revealed that the most problematic areas we wanted to improve where the following:
For each of these categories, the mind map had to explain somehow what was wrong or unacceptable. But even more important, it had to explain to the users what the rules to win the central reward are. Because
“a picture is worth a thousand words”
and because I wanted my mind map to be simple and attractive, I created self-explanatory pictures for each case and I put them on sub-branches related to main topics. Here are some example rules and the final mind map:
- Shoes should not disturb the passage, always place them in a dedicated place
- Coats must be easy to find, always hanging in the same place
- Toys, board games, ... are useless when finished with , always put them back in place
- Dinner is for everybody, everybody participates in setting and clearing the table
- Homework is mandatory, no way to escape
Make it practical
The new rule could not only remain on the computer or in the heads, I had to materialize it. I decided to print and distribute it. Knowing that a sheet of paper will quickly suffer from usage, I covered it with plastic. Then, I looked at a place to hang it but could not really find THE place. Something was missing to make it available for everybody, anywhere, anytime. So, I created personal cards not bigger than a credit card, with plastic covering as well. There is no good place to store them and they usually stay where last used, but it’s fine.
Practically, how does it work now? It’s easy, when our sons ask if they can play, we first ask them to solve the map. If they start to play without asking, we stop them just to ask if the map is solved. Without shouting or explaining or justifying further, the only thing we have to say is: “Is your map solved?”. If the answer is “No”, without any effort, stress or energy loss, we apply the rule. The kids are not allowed to proceed further because they committed themselves to always have their mapped solved. They know the consequences because they accepted the deal. The situation is improving every day. Indeed now, my children don’t see any benefits of asking to play if the map is not solved upfront, which means that we have to check less and less if it is actually the case. Even more interesting, the boys start to understand that the map could be solved if they would acquire some automation throughout the day instead of solving the whole map in a single shot. This is changing their habits little by little, to the pleasure of their parents.
Why is it successful?
I’m not a psychologist so I cannot really explain the actual mechanisms that make this solution so successful. What I can explain is why the mind map is particularly powerful in this case and why it is the perfect support for solving the problem.
It’s clear: the mind map presents a clear goal as well as the big picture of everything that needs to be done to achieve it. Rules are very clear and memorized throughout branches and pictures.
It’s attractive: Colors, curves and pictures are fun and pleasant. Appealing mind maps with few keywords are not boring and kids like them.
It’s engaging: the mind map is the commitment and it is understood the same way by all the actors. This is only possible with a proper presentation and dialogue. The objective is no longer to respect rules but to solve or unlock the map.
It’s simple and self-explanatory: The mind map encompasses many rules in one single asset. Instead of repeating each rule individually and check whether they are respected, the mind map has become the unique rule. There is no need to explain what it contains, it’s memorised and represented as a whole. There is no need to re-explain once it is understood.
It’s practical: With a bit of creativity, you can turn your mind map into a useful tool. Cover it with plastic, distribute it and it becomes something tangible. Asking to solve the mind map is straight forward; it works without stress and pain, without cries and tears.
Willing to hear from you
Don’t hesitate to test the technique and share your experience here. I’m also interested to read psychologists feedback and understand deeper what are the other reasons why it is successful. Also teachers or educators might find a good way to turn bad experiences into success stories.
I plan to post soon more case studies about successful mind map applications. We can easily stay connected via different channels:
(special thanks to Carl Peters for his collaboration)