Friday, January 21, 2011

From Zero to Sixty

"What has helped me lately was to figure out that when we blow up at our kids, we only think we're going from zero to sixty in one second.  Our surface and persona are so calm that when a problem begins, we sound in control when we say, "Now honey, stop that," or "That's enough."  But it's only an illusion.  In fact, all day we've been nursing anger toward the boss or boyfriend or mother, yet since we can't get mad at nonkid people, we stuff it down.  When the problem with your kid starts up, you're really beginning at fifty-nine, but you're not moving.  You're at high idle already, yet not aware of how vulnerable and disrespected you already feel."

-Anne Lamott,  Plan B:  Further Thoughts on Faith

The Old Gray Mare

I don't hit my kids.  Sometimes, when I read about people hitting kids, or I see someone whacking his/her kid in public, it seems arbitrary and bizarre to me.  Why hitting?  Why not standing on your head?  Why not jumping up and down?  Or demanding that your kid jump up and down, until he complies?

I have decided that spanking is a vestige of an agrarian time.  A time when life was hard, survival was precarious, all hands were needed to get the work done, and kids were treated like small animals.  

If the mule won't pull the plow, give her a swat.  If your child won't mind, swat him, too.  How will they learn, otherwise?

It does work!  But I don't think it is best, for the kid or for the animal.  If it worked for farm animals, why on Earth do we have tractors now?

Being A Bystander

I have moments where I think this blog isn't necessary.  Usually it's during a time when things are relatively harmonious with my own kids, and with the families I'm around.  I begin to be lulled into complacency about how parents interact with their kids.

And then I'm reminded.  

I'll be out in public somewhere--the grocery store, a restaurant, the swimming pool.  I'll see a conflict between parent and child escalating.  I see grownups acting not-so-grownup.  Most recently, it was in the restroom of a family restaurant.  Thank God my kids weren't with me.

A mom came in with a 3- or 4-year old boy.  She was using her "commanding" voice, telling him to go into the restroom stall to do his business.  Apparently, he was resisting.  Seconds later, I hear her raising her voice:  "Get in there and poop!"  Which was absurd enough for me--because if the kid was scared or shy (or constipated, even), or whatever was making him not want to go into the bathroom stall, it was hard to imagine that being yelled at would help matters.  And then, faster than I could say "Uh oh," I heard the whack, presumably on the bottom.  Again, she said, "Now get in there and poop!"

My mind was racing.  Thinking about how I might handle the situation, if it were me and my kids.  Wishing this mom could calm the heck down.  Wanting, so badly, to say something to her.  Wanting to tell her to read my blog!

But you can't.  Because if it went the wrong way, she could take it out on him even more.  Plus, it's none of my business, right?  She might think spanking is just the best.  Even if a stranger in a public restroom doesn't.

I can imagine how this mom must have felt.  She was in her work clothes, she was probably tired, probably she just wanted to get back out to her table and finish her dinner and get home.  Who knows what kind of ridiculous kid-crazy behavior had led up to this?  I can certainly relate to having a child get on my last, frazzled nerve.  I know the lunacy that is parenting, and parenting a preschooler, in particular.  Evidently, he did get in there and poop, and I saw him playing with a balloon about 10 minutes later.  All's well that ends well, right?

All I know is that she seemed like she was losing it, there in the bathroom.  I wondered about her, whether that was a "worst" parenting moment or a pretty typical one.  For me the sad thing is that I also believe her kid was losing.  In that moment, he lost the chance to have control over his body and feelings, and to have them considered by someone who can help and teach.  In a way, for a minute, he lost his mom.  Who knows what the take-away lesson was, from his perspective?

Saturday, January 1, 2011

The Right Tool for the Job

As parents, we have to influence our kids.  We have to keep them safe, teach them, create experiences for them, and structure their environment.   But how? 

It would be a beautiful life if all it took to be a good parent was to ask kids nicely.  Unfortunately, and generally speaking, kids can be distracted, tired, overstimulated, upset--and frankly, clueless.  Getting through to them can be a tall order.

So here are some ways to influence our kids, roughly in order from least coercive to most coercive.  Also in order from emotional neutrality to greater use of emotional and/or physical force.  It's not a complete list--if you notice something I've missed, feel free to comment.

1.  asking nicely
2.  asking (less nicely)
3.  asking with a sharper tone of voice
4.  threatening
5.  bribing
6.  asking with more volume
7.  withholding attention 
8.  isolating
9.  commanding
10.  shaming
11.  shouting
12. screaming
13.  hitting

My first intention is not to pass judgment on any of these methods of influencing a child.  My primary goal is to ask these questions:

How do you influence your kids?
Does the choice depend on how you're feeling, and how much support you have?
What are the good and bad things about each choice? (for the child, for you).

Friday, November 12, 2010

Calling Things What They Really Are

"When a child hits a child, we call it aggression. 

When a child hits an adult, we call it hostility. 

When an adult hits an adult, we call it assault. 

When an adult hits a child, we call it discipline." 

-Haim G. Ginott

Thursday, November 11, 2010

My Target Audience

"Mother & Child," by  Howard Weingarten

I'm not sure how old she is.  That doesn't matter.  And I'm not positive she has to be a "she."  But while I welcome dads to my blog, I imagine that my target audience is mainly moms.  I do know she has young children, and she is devoted to them.  She reads the books, she takes the time, she goes the extra mile. She is prone to experiencing the same stresses any adult does--relationship stress, financial stress, work stress, and the stress of trying to take care of herself--all while she gives so much to her family.  At times, she feels isolated and alone.

Most of the time, all goes well.  But maybe there's a change, perhaps when her child becomes a toddler.  Or a preschooler.  Sometime when, in the course of development that is absolutely normal, her child begins to exhibit behavior that "pushes her buttons."  Pushes limits.  Tests.  Maybe her child is defiant, oppositional, even excited by conflict or danger.

Probably some people around her, including her parents and in-laws, have mentioned, in passing, how different things are today, how kids don't seem to have the same rules they did in years past.  How they, or their parents, wouldn't have tolerated certain behavior like parents today seem to.  Maybe other parents compare, and comment on, the way she chooses to interact with her child.  Sometimes people might state, or imply, a certain, predictable future course for her child, based on the way they perceive her parenting.  She tunes out their opinions most of the time, because she's generally able to get her kids to do what she needs them to.

But there may come that moment.  A moment when fatigue, stress, and the normal limit-testing of a young child all align, just so.  Suddenly the pressure to get her child to behave mounts, and it's as if the volume on all of those other opinions gets louder and louder.  Suddenly she begins to question herself:  "My child is out of control.  I don't know this child, and I don't know what will work.  I need to do something different."  That mom might feel such despair in that moment, desperation even, that she is tempted to reach for a solution from someone else's tool bag, someone else's relationship.

That's when I hope that mom finds my blog.  Really, I hope she finds it long before then, because then when the moment comes, she'll already have a plan.  She'll have a set of things to say and do, while under stress, that will help her get her child back, perhaps more gently and patiently than anyone in her family has done.  A way that she can feel proud of, that is in integrity with all of those other things she's already done with her child, and that will reveal her child's ability to grow and learn, without being smacked into it.  A way that doesn't refuse the wisdom of her parents, but rather takes the best of their wisdom and also incorporates the discoveries of the past three decades' worth of research about children and brain development.

I can provide that kind of support, those kinds of tools.  Or at least I can point that mom in the right direction.  I know them because I am that mom, and I have had that moment.