Sunday, June 05, 2005

Bully For You, Peacenik For Me:

Our Top ten Tips For Toddler Discipline
Thanks Deena for listening. Thanks to the Highland Park Playgroup for developing, modeling and practicing these strategies cooperatively. And thanks to all the attachment parenting, mindful parenting gurus who wrote books from which we could quilt little bits into a warming quilt.

Bullying. It made front page news here in London a few weeks ago. Probably 1 part N.H.S., 1 part A.S.S. / P.L.U.M.S. and 1 part British attitudes towards children. Bullying is causing a high suicide rate, truancy, and all of the other social ills that make “decent citizens” shake their heads and wonder what happened. Okay - so what, how sad, Jiminy Crickey what nation isn’t having a problem with their youth? Norman is planning for me to unschool Winston anyway. So, it doesn’t affect us. Wrong.

For more reasons than selfish ones, it does affect us. Whenever he is willing, I take Winston to these bizarre government subsidized playgroups. Which.... these days...... is not often. I think he knows about the unschool plan as well.

In England, a playgroup is not an organically grown group of parents with common interests, similar parenting styles and lifestyles who get together with their kids to make the day more pleasurable for all parties. It is not an intimate sharing of time wherein we question, validate, research and engage in constructive dialogue about improving ourselves as people and parents.

Here, playgroups are sponsored by the local government council. A social worker caters to the lowest common denominator and follows a schedule which has objectives such as:
* teaching us all how to play with our children;
* helping us train our children to go to nursery school;
* helping us all learn the benefits of a rigid, unyielding schedule; and
* creating the next generation of obedient serfs.

I’m glad we have somewhere to go to meet people. I’m grateful we can use their paints and mess up their space. I’m delighted there is an indoor space to go when it is raining and cold. Except, the social worker never intervenes in any conflicts. S/he never reprimands children who aren’t behaving. She just marches merrily along singing the songs from today’s chart of songs. AND We will sing and we will all make the right hand gestures and we will get up and do the exercises. We will paint the ambulance yellow. We will make the walkie-talkie black. We will paint the police man’s stop sign red. He will wear a smile. And we will control our children.

The rest of her time is spent making sure that her statistics will be accurate. More importantly, she will insure that nobody from a better or worse neighborhood has slipped in under her radar, “We have very strict cachement areas that we serve. Please make sure you write your full postcode.“

There is no modeling of conflict resolution. There is no teaching of positive parenting techniques. It is a lot of, “This is how you play with a puzzle with your child,” or “Everyone must make a nice circle right now.” And the best thing I’ve ever heard a social worker say to the parent of a 17 month old toddler, “Make your child sit down and sing.”

And there is rampant bullying; out of control children and zoned out parents who don’t do anything about it. And there is Winston. And he sticks out like the first crocus of Spring after a snowstorm.

At one of our playgroup, there is this one totally out of control boy.  His mother alternates between trying to bend him to her will and being totally oblivious.  He is a real bully.  Winston either stays out of his way or attempts to include him depending on how dangerous the boy reads at the moment.
Well last week, Boy has made off with the crayon bucket.  Mother is shouting and chasing and trying to get it back.  Winston walks up to Boy, and offers him a stuffed bunny and says: "How about this bunny?"  Boy takes the bunny, gives Winston the crayon bucket and Winston marches over to Boy's Mother and gives her the crayons.  She is astonished, floored, impressed and totally surprised.  She looks over at me and says, "Oh your boy, he is such a good boy, such a good boy."  It felt great.  Thank you Karen.  Thank you Ethan.

So - I begin to wonder why my child is so different here, but was “average” in The States. And I have come to understand that his truly formative years were spent around people who practiced the following guidelines.

My (OUR) Top 9 Tips For Toddler Discipline.

Discipline begins at birth. It begins with recognizing that - you - the parent are charged with socializing an instinctual creature into a human being. It is an active recognition of the potential humanity within a wriggling, screaming need-machine. It is about learning to let go of expectation and learn adaptability. first and foremost it invokes The Golden Rule.

1. Praise parenting.  
I take time to notice when he has done something I want him to do.  So - he seeks praise attention because he prefers it to negative attention.   I say "thank you for listening" or "I really like it when you ...."   about 75 times a day.
2. Knowing When To Say No 
I never say no unless I am prepared to get up, walk across the room and enforce it.  Sometimes, I don't bother to say no when I don't feel like enforcing something.  And that's okay - because when I do say it, he understands that I really mean it.
3.  Consistency
The movement of his day is always much the same.  He knows what to expect and when to expect it to happen.  If I say something is going to happen, it does - whether that is going to the park, getting a toy or "helping him" cooperate.
4. Respect
I don’t often grab things out of his hand (unless it is dog poop or something dangerous and vile.)  I make a trade or offer an alternative.  I say please and thank you - always.  I stop what I am doing and listen to him.  (We are learning right now how he can do this as well.)
5. Reasonable Choice
I never offer a choice when there isn't one.  I don't ask if he wants to put on his shoes.  I don't ask if he wants to wear a coat.  I don't ask if he wants to go home when it is time to go home.  I tell him.  Sometimes, there are not choices in life.  
I do ask if he wants a croissant or bread.  I do ask if he wants to go to the farm or the sand playground.  Sometimes a choice is not red shoes or blue shoes.  Sometimes a choice is "You can use that crayon on paper or I will help you not draw on the walls by taking it away."
6. Compromise
I do allow him to stay in his jammies all day.  It just means we have to stay at home.  "You can wear jammies AND we will stay home until you wear clothes."  This is our current battle.
7.  Environment
Childproofing - yes.  Forcing them to "be good" - no.   I don't think children should learn to walk through a porcelain world.  Frankly, I don't have that much energy.  (I'd rather spend my time in a peaceful, happy, calm environment than screaming about a vase or a light socket.)
8. Meaning
Giving a child context or reason to cooperate.  If it is not a life-threatening situation (or after you've saved their life) children need to know why.  Two current examples include "I like it when you sit in your high chair because I don't have to worry about what to do if you fall." He fell out of the high chair and as I soothed him I said, "Oh gee, I was so worried this would happen." (And I give no comfort num-num at this time.)  Next time I ask him to remember when he fell.  He sits right down.  and "Cars hurt when they bump into people.  They hurt so badly you'd have to go away from Mommy for a long long time." I had to help him a twice by strapping him in his stroller. But, it clicked best when I said, "I like how your hand feels in mine.  It feels like when we share num-num but we can walk around and see things and go places when we do it."   Needless to say, Winston now happily holds my hand when we walk down the street.  And he tells me "Cars hurt. Bump peoples."

9. Enforcing Family Values - We share. It doesn’t matter if it is fair or not, nothing is wroth fighting, kicking, biting, grabbing or screaming about. Our lives are filled with abundance and there is enough for everyone. And we enforce it. If someone grabs something from you, so what...offer a trade and if that fails, walk away, find something new. Chances are they’ll get bored with it in ten seconds.

Bully for you. Peacenik for me. Golly willikers, I’m such an American.

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