Thursday, March 09, 2006

Wilson Bear Will Always Be Safe (in our house)

Leo - thanks for pointing out the value of extensive proof-reading before sharing. (What a great embarrassment to a teacher of writing who has many lectures on exactly the same thing!)

Leo was concerned about Wilson bear and his potential demise in the previous post.

To clarify - what I meant was....

So many times parents are inconsistent, irregular or not tuned in to their child. As a result, they reach a place where they become frustrated by non-compliance or unwillingness on the part of the child to work with them towards more acceptable behaviour. In their rage and frustration, parents make statements like "I'm going to cut Wilson bear into forty pieces."

Perhaps, 3% of the parents who say it will do it. They are not healthy people.

Then there are the 97% who don't do it. (Reserving judgement on state of well-being here. A majority of parents understand how mean, cruel and downright nasty it is to cut Wilson bear into 40 pieces. So, they say it, but they don’t do it.)

So, what I’m trying to that parents shouldn't wait for that moment they are so upset that they promise cruel, meaningless, counterproductive consequences. Most of which the parent is unwilling to enforce in the first place.

What I am saying is that we should pick and choose our battles seriously and with great amount of thought. We should be consistent, aware and realistic. We should be present with our children. And often - that attentiveness heads off any so called “battle of wills.”

When a parent says "no cookie" and after 45 minutes the child is still asking for a cookie, and we say, "well okay 1 cookie." After that victory, the will child ask for another. You can bet successfully on that one. Again, the parent says, "no cookie" and find themselves surprised and frustrated about spending another 45 minutes on the discussing the second cookie. We, the parents have a problem of our own making. These small, normal events can escalate out of control.

When we gave them the first cookie - what we actually said to the child is: "If you whine, wheedle and nag, there will be another cookie." It should be no surprise to the parent that they find themselves in an endless loop. But, many a parent finds themselves in such loops daily. They didn't say what they meant.

However, if we say, "Not now. First we eat all of our lunch. Then, we load the dishwasher and put away our toys before nap time. After cleanup time is for cookies." We have said what we meant. More importantly, we have to remember what we said and do it. If there is a cookie in the future it must be delivered promptly and without reminder by the child.

But, I digress. Alternately, if the answer is "no cookie." Then there is no cookie. And if they fall on the ground, scream, carry on and make our lives miserable. There is still no cookie.

Children remember something which has been promised. If I say, "we'll go to the zoo tomorrow." We go to the zoo - regardless of rain, snow or sleet. (I do, of course, offer the option of doing something less cold and wet. ) I have found myself at the zoo on grey, drizzling days. The first time, I was surprised by the amount of wonderful indoor places the zoo has. We had ignored many of these places on sunny days.

I remember what I say and then I do it without prompting. I am the adult. I have to be trusted if I want to build a good relationship with my child. (Unfortuantely - I had to learn all of this after 19 years of parenting my superb, excellent and brilliant first-born. Who in spite of surviving every mistake a new, communicative, liberal parent can make, is an amazing and talented person.)

I do not offer choices when there are none. Offering children the ability to make choices within the confines of their developmental ability empowers a child. But, like everything, this has limits. Children just don't get to make some choices. I do not ask if he wants to go. I do not ask if he wants to put on his coat. I do not ask if he wants to wear shoes. I do not ask if he wants dinner.

I do ask if he still wants to go to the zoo even though it is raining. I do let him know we'll be leaving soon. I do let him get emotionally prepared to go. I do ask which shirt he'd like to wear today. I do ask what he thinks everyone would enjoy for dinner.

So many times parents invite conflict by not being clear. This especially happens around the area of allowing children to have choices. Asking a child if they want to put on their coat - when you mean - "It's time to put on your coat," causes confusion. The parent has indicated that there is a choice. When the child makes the "wrong" choice, many parents enforce the "right" choice. To offer unclear choices which are invalidated does not empower a child.

I also listen to what he wants. If we are somewhere and he is uncomfortable. We go. I don't wait for him to find a way to force us to go.

This is what I mean by honesty. Honesty involves effective communication and presentation of expectations. Everything is an opportunity to learn. Everything is a exercise in establishing trust.

Grocery shopping is the nightmare of most mothers. It is one of his favorite things to do. But - I establish the agenda; run through a verbal checklist and enlist his support. I no longer need to carry a grocery list. He is so busy remembering the chant of items on the way to the store and once inside of the store to ask for Cocoa Puffs or act out. He chooses the 2 heads of broccoli. (Yes - I often have to cut off bad parts.) He counts 3 boxes of granola bars. He is busy with the activity of doing the marketing. I support his involvement and engage in dialogue the entire way. The only “reinforcement” he recieves are the comments from people in the store about what a good boy he is. He hears it 30 times in the course of a 50 minute shopping trip.

I have been honest. I have communicated. I have established trust. He knows I say what I mean. One time he fell down in the grocery store; wailed as if I was beating him and thrashed. I simply crossed my arms and said, “I’ll wait until you are ready to finish our shopping.” I got a lot of funny looks. I got a lot of offers of lollipops. I waited 7 minutes. He picked himself up and he hasn’t done it again.

This is not psychological cruelty. This is clear communication. This is saying what you mean and then doing it. This is being focused on the child. This is allowing them to work through it enough times that it doesn’t become necessity for having their needs met.

And part of having a relationship is knowing how and when to compromise. As in the cookie scenario. If you don’t have cookies in the house, then there are no arguments about cookies. If you do have cookies, then it needs to be worked into the rhythm of the day. Cookies happen before or after X.

Finally, even our - now seemingly unpredictable days - are predictable. I communicate the day’s rhythm to him. There are no surprises. And every day is different - these days. But, I take the time to talk about what will be happening.

Wilson bear is never in danger at our house. We have bypassed all of the situations which would make such an awful utterance escape our lips.


boodafli said...

i sent this to gene. it pretty much exemplifies how i'd like to parent, and it's much shorter than playful parenting, smart love, or how to talk so kids will listen. this, he might actually read. thanks!

Katy said...

I was very, very fortunate to be let into this "secret" when dd was quite young. I pick battles carefully (and consistantly - that can be hard some days!) and if it's no then it's no. We have gone home early, we have deafened the shoppers as she screamed out her desire for some trashy magasine/toy etc whilst I "ignored" her.

I've never threatened violence on her toys but I have given a few less cared for/looked after ones away.

I have sent her out of the room to avoid losing my temper though :(

Christina Springer said...

Yeah - I've never had to threaten a toy either.

It was an example of the kinds of absurd threats made by frazzled parents. Often because being consistent or vigilant isn't part of their daily lives.

But - if you head it off before it escalates - the way you were describing - well then that kind of nasty silliness never enters or exits your mouth. (Or crosses your mind - for that matter.)