It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Lateral Thinking

Daniel continues to be a challenge. The “one-chance-you’re-out” system of responding to defiance and aggression is working well, but he’s still a lot of work. A lot.

Daniel sits in the front hall, struggling to put on his snow pants.

“If you use two hands, sweetie, it’ll be much easier.”

“I tan do it yike dis.”

“You think so? It looks like you’re having a lot of trouble. If you put one hand here, and the other here, and pull, it will be easier.”

“I tan do it yike dis.”

“Okey-doke.”

I turn my attention to the other children. Five minutes later, he’s still struggling, though he’s managed to get one foot to the bottom of that pant leg. Now, however, the elastic on the inner liner is hooked on his heel. He is still only using one hand, and that hand is gripping the pants well above the knee. Destined for failure, this approach.

“Still having trouble?”

“Yes.” Well. That’s a step. At least he admits his master plan is not working for him.

“If you put your hands here and here,” I say cheerfully, indicating the side seams of his pants close to the cuff, “and push with your foot, the pants will POP right on!”

“I tan do it yike dis.”

I shrug. “If you say so.”

Now, there are two things going on here. One is that he wants me to put his snowpants on him. However, he is three and a half, and perfectly capable of putting on his own snowpants. Rosie, a full year younger and less physically coordinated in general, can pretty much get into hers, with only minimal assistance. He’s being deliberately helpless to force me to do it for him. I am willing to help, but I will not do it for him. ‘Helping’, in this case, is coming in the form of pro tips … which he is refusing to heed. So there’s that.

The other part of it, though, is that Daniel hates taking direction of any sort, for any reason. It does not matter to him that my way will save him time and aggravation. What matters is that my way is not his way, and so, even though his way is manifestly NOT WORKING for him, it must be resisted.

What happened, eventually? Well, everyone else was ready to go. Daniel was still struggling with the first leg of his pants.

“Are you still stuck?”

“Yes.”

“Did you try using two hands, like I showed you?”

“No.”

“Okay. Then we are going outside. Here is your coat and your boots. When you try using two hands, I will help you. I’ll be back in a couple of minutes.”

(n.b. We are playing in the driveway, I can see him through the front door, and though Daniel doesn’t realize it, my son is in his room upstairs. (My 24-year-old son, quite responsible enough to be left in charge of one recalcitrant toddler.) Once outside, I will text my son and have him keep a discreet eye on Daniel. But really? It completely suits my purposes to have the boy think he’s been abandoned, just a bit.)

Daniel LOVES playing outside. Suddenly deprived of the satisfaction of defying me, and possibly losing out on outdoor play which may include SHOVELLING, he is galvanized to action.

In approximately 3 minutes he comes onto the porch, dressed in pants, coat, boots and hat, needing only help with zipper and mittens. Crying a bit, but dressed.

There was absolutely no attention given to either the tears or to his appearance. No soothing for the tears, which we a result of his own poor decisions, no cheering for his dressing, which is well within his capabilities. A nod, a quick smile, an “Oh, good, you’re ready to play. I saved you a shovel!”, and he was off.

I presume he used two hands to push his foot through his pants, too. Certainly the way he was not trying to do it was guaranteed to be unsuccessful. However he managed it, he did so expeditiously when there were no other options. So we weathered that incident with minimal fuss, no direct conflict, and Daniel eventually complied with my expectation that he dress his own damned self.

Still. With that sort of resistance to each and every directive, no matter how innocuous, you become aware, as an adult, of how very many directives you issue in a day, and, to be fair, how many of them are unnecessary.

So I need a new approach with Daniel. Not so as to avoid giving direct instructions entirely. Life’s not like that. He needs to learn to accept guidance, instructions, even outright orders, and to do it promptly and graciously.  I expect all the children in my care to follow instructions, take guidance, and obey direct orders. No exceptions.

And really, that suggestion I made about his pants was simply a helpful tip. There was absolutely nothing in it to get his contrary little back up … except that he has a contrary little back. Any other child would take that instruction with cheerful good humour. “Oh, great idea, Mary! Look at my foot popping right out the end of my pants! Who knew it could be so simple??”

I am quite capable of sticking to my guns. I can see to it that Daniel’s defiance doesn’t carry the day. He won’t win the power struggles he so determinedly sets up.

However, we don’t need to have so many of them. We don’t need to, not only because it’s exhausting for me, but because it taints the atmosphere of the daycare for the other children. (It may be exhausting for Daniel, too, but I worry less about that. If the conflicts carry a negative weight for him, well, that’s all to the good.)

Still. The conflicts are tedious, and many of them probably avoidable. I can undoubtedly structure our day to as to reduce what can be a constant stream of directives. I can think of a few ways to achieve this:

1a. Let him struggle. Don’t offer assistance until he asks.
1b. Don’t attempt to coax/encourage: If he asks, I give assistance/offer a suggestion. If he doesn’t accept this, ignore him.

2. Ask, don’t tell. “I know a neat trick for that. Want to know what it is?” He’s allowed to say no, of course. Then I offer him the possibility of asking me later, and in the meantime, let him get on with it without further interaction from me.

3. Vicarious Learning. Show the strategy to the kid beside him. Don’t tell Daniel how to put his feet through his pants, show Rosie or Poppy.

4. Prepared Environment. This taken from Montessori. Have crafts and other activities set up in such a way that instruction is not required. The children can explore with the toys, craft, manipulables, and figure out for themselves how to get the result.

It’s not that I don’t do these things with the other children, but the emphasis is different. If I stand back when I see Poppy or Rosie truggling with some task, it’s because I want them to wrestle with it a bit, to learn persistence and/or to discover, hey, they can do it themselves! With Daniel, there’s more to it than just that, but I think it’ll be effective.

Teaching. Encouraging independence, persistence, autonomy. And making our environment calmer. Ah, yes. I’m all for calm.

December 18, 2013 Posted by | behavioural stuff, Daniel, individuality, power struggle | , , | 7 Comments

Getting Better!

I described last week the challenge that Daniel is presenting. “Contrary” is not sufficient to describe this boy. All two-year-olds are contrary, or at least, go through a contrary season. Dealt with effectively, however, the contrariness does not extend past that year, often doesn’t even last the entire year.

I am certainly not used to seeing compulsive contrariness in three-year-olds. Not the ones who’ve been in my care all along. I did wonder for a while: Daniel’s mother returned to work in September after her year’s mat leave, and for that year, Daniel was with me a day a week, on average. Not enough time for my lessons to take root. Was that it? Was it just that a year of a soft-hearted mummy sufficient to create this demon of opposition?

I don’t think so. I do think he’d be better-behaved with me if I’d had him full-time all along, but, as I said to his parents when we met one evening to discuss Daniel, the things they’ve been doing would be working just fine with another child. I think there’s something in Daniel that compels him to resist, and to resist to a degree that is far, far greater than any other child I’ve ever seen. In 17 years. Because, usually, no matter how poorly behaved they may be at home, the children learn in fairly short order that that nonsense does not fly at Mary’s, and we work out an allocation of power and authority (it’s mine, but I share) that keeps everyone happy.

Daniel …

Well, there are days that Daniel is just fine. Sunny, happy, cooperative. These days are the minority, but they happen regularly enough that you know he’s capable of sunny cooperation. It’s in him! The other days, though, it’s one long, steady stream of defiance. Big ones, little ones, outright “no!”s, verbal defiance, physical resistance, evasions, resistance, alternate suggestions to every single directive. All the live-long day.

Monday was such a day.

However, When I wrote about him last week, Hannah made a suggestion. Daniel should get one chance, and one only, to comply. Now, I know this, but somehow, in the Supreme Exasperation in which I was floundering, I had lost sight of this lovely, simple, conflict-clearing principle: Say it once, then act. Now, if he were younger, some explanation and/or clarification might be necessary. Daniel, however, is three and a half. He knows the rules and expectations. They are very consistent and clear here at Mary’s. He is not tripping over the rules unaware; he is deliberately kicking them to the curb and daring me to do something about it.

Though he will cry in a conflict, he’s also a bit addicted to the adrenaline rush, I think. He seeks conflict out. And it’s not because he’s not getting enough attention. He gets as much as everyone, often more. But I’ll be damned if he was going to get more for defiance! Except that’s exactly what I had been doing: lots of face-time when defiant. Silly Mary. Thank you, Hannah, for the reminder!

So, Monday. Monday morning, he arrives, says goodbye to daddy, races to the window to wave. All this is happily done. Then I point him to his boots, scattered around the front hall.

“Time to put your boots on the mat, Daniel.”

“I don’t want to.”

Pause. Not to gather my rising temper, because I’m calm. I knew we would get here, and pretty quickly. In fact, I’m almost pleased, because I get to put The Plan in action. We are going to lick this thing! We are going to get sunny-cooperative Daniel to become the primary, default Daniel. Yes, we are!

I pause to let a beat go by so he feels the significance of this exchange. My voice is calm, steady, matter-of-fact, the pacing a little slower than normal.

“Daniel, from now on, I will tell you something one time. If you don’t do what I say the very first time, you will sit on the quiet stair. I asked you to put your boots away. You said no. Quiet stair.”

He looked startled, but, with my hand on his shoulder, he went. And sat.

That was as much explaining as he ever got.

“Okay, everybody, time to tidy up! We’re going outside.”
Daniel leaves his toys scattered and takes his coat.

“Daniel?” I give his toys a long look. “Quiet stair.” (And of course, he has to put those toys away before he can get his outdoor gear on, even if that means the rest of us are delayed.)

It’s story time, and we’re arranging ourselves on the couch. As we do every day. We all fit: we’ve done it daily for … forever. Daniel believes there is no room. (Meaning, Daniel is not getting to sit where his whim demands.)

“You sit here, Daniel, and Rosie will sit there. Everyone can see, don’t worry!”
Daniel shoves Rosie.
“Quiet stair.”
“But I can’t see the book from there.”
I don’t answer, merely escort him to the stair. And raise my voice sufficient to be heard over the howls.

There are at least ten such events before lunch. At least. But! I’m counting the morning as a step in the right direction because:

1. He’s going and staying on the quiet stair, with only verbal resistance. (If he didn’t stay there, the time-out spot would be a high chair where he could be strapped in, or the front hall, which is small and can be secured with a baby gate, making it a time-out room. I have options, but I’m pleased I don’t have to use them.)

2. I’m keeping my temper in check, easily, because I’m not getting into it with him.

3. The time-outs are brief, usually — and this is something he controls. When I use the Quiet Stair, there is almost always some way a child can earn their way off the stair that’s within their control. “You may get off the stair when you are ready to pick up your toys.” That sort of thing. Normally when I send a child to the stair, I make this condition clear in advance. Because of Daniel’s extreme defiance, any such pre-condition would only be an opportunity for further argument with me as he was escorted to the stair, and will also make him less likely to comply with the instruction, even though compliance will free him from the Stair. So, in this case, I’m sending him with only two words — “Quiet Stair” — and will approach after a minute or so to ask: “Are you ready to [whatever] yet?”

On almost every occasion, the answer is “Yes!” And, moreover, the answer is given with a sunny smile, and he trots off quite happily to do whatever. Sunshine and storm, this boy.

Not every occasion, mind you. Two or three times, he said “NO”. My response was a casual shrug, a quick “that’s fine,” and a prompt turning on my heel to rejoin the FUN TIMES we’re having a few feet away. When I approached again, this time two or three minutes later, he was ready to comply.

4. The time-outs did become less frequent as the day progressed. The afternoon was better than the morning.

5. After each compliance, he gets a warm, beaming smile from me, and a hug. He’s returning both enthusiastically.

So I’m curious: will today be better than yesterday? Or will we be back to square one?

December 10, 2013 Posted by | behavioural stuff, Daniel, individuality, power struggle | | 5 Comments

Soft Heart and Brick Wall

I have two dogs. The older is a largish (about 60 pounds) husky-lab mix with gorgeous amber eyes and a gentle demeanor. The younger is a mid-size spaniel mix of some description, with long feathers and a feistier disposition.

Little Ms Feisty gets in trouble a whole lot more than Ms. Biddable. You would not know that from their respective responses to the scolding.

The big one (Indie) snoozes on the window seat in the living room. The small one is counter-surfing in the kitchen, tip-toeing on her hind legs, nose at the edge of the counter, trawling for crumbs. Someone was making a ham sandwich there earlier, and maybe they left some in reach???

“Daisy!” I bark. “Down!”

Daisy immediately gets down and slinks away looking guilty. Indie slumbers on, unperturbed.

HA!

Nope. Not like that. Not at all. What really happens is this:

Daisy gets down, yes, but fixes me with a “What’s YOUR problem?” look, and casts looks back at the counter that indicate that the second my attention is diverted, she intends to be right back up there. If she had a middle finger, I’d be getting it. Indie, on the other hand, slips down off the window bench (where she is absolutely allowed to be) and slinks away. Her whole body radiates: “I’m so sorry, I’ll never do it again! Please don’t hate me!”

Pssht. Dogs…

Dogs … Dogs, and toddlers. I have precisely the same dynamic with Daniel and Poppy.

Daniel slams a car into the table leg again, dinging the wood and making an unholy racket. “Daniel, I’ve told you before not to do that. I told you if it happened again, you would have to stop playing with the car. Now you need to give me that car and find something else to do.”

And we’re off. By the age of three, with two years of Mary-training under his belt, any other child in the daycare would hand over the car. Reluctantly, perhaps, but they’d hand it. But this is Daniel.

“Give me the car please, Daniel, and we’ll find you something else to do.”
“I don’t want to.”
I hold out my hand, he hides the car behind his back.
“I know you don’t want to, but I didn’t want you to keep bashing my table, and you did anyway. Give me the car.”
“No.”

“Daniel, you can either give me that car on your own, or I will take it from you.”
“I don’t want to! I don’t want you to have the car!”
I pull his arm out from behind his back. He tightens his grip on the car.
“Then I will have to take it.”
I take the car from him and send him to the quiet stair — for defiance, not for bashing my chair.
“When I tell you to do something, Daniel, I expect you to do it on your own. If I have to make you, you sit on the quiet stair.”

Exit Daniel to the quiet stair, howling. (Where, surprisingly, he stays. The one rule he keeps without resistance. Weird, I know.)

So Daniel is Daisy — feisty and defiant.

And Poppy? Poppy is poor Indie, slinking away to hide in a corner. When Daniel is being scolded, or suffering some natural consequences, or howling in outraged indignation that Mary actually followed through on the promised consequences (which should not come as a surprise, geez) … Poppy suffers. Daniel is probably suffering too, in his own way, but that doesn’t bother me. That’s self-inflicted and well-deserved. But poor Poppy? She doesn’t deserve this level of stress and angst. And no matter how calmly I deal with the situation, it’s a conflict, and Poppy is stressed.

Nor am I always calm. Most times, I manage all this calmly. But some days, if it’s been the 47th repeat of this pattern in a single [expletive deleted] morning, my intensity cranks up jest a titch. Yesterday afternoon, I actually shouted.

If you knew me in real life, that would tell you a lot. I never shout.

I shouted. Daniel howled. Poppy ran to the far corner of the room, yipping out a strangulated, “O-oh, dear!”, and burst into tears.

Oh, the guilt.

I leave Daniel howling on the quiet stair. He’s had all the attention I have any intention of giving him for a while. It’s arguable he got more than he should have. His howls are not distress, anyway, but astonished and angry regret at having lost the battle. I take Poppy gently to another room where Daniels roars are somewhat muted. We snuggle. I comfort and soothe.

I promise her — and, more importantly, myself — that there will be no more shouting.

Tonight, when I have time and space, I will strategize.

For Poppy’s sake. For my own.

And, whether he believes it or not, for Daniel, too.

Oof.

December 5, 2013 Posted by | aggression, Daniel, Poppy, power struggle | | 4 Comments

Sharing, sharing, sharing

Toys from home. Some daycare providers allow them, others don’t. When I first started daycare, I allowed them. Back then, my primary reference point was my own children, and I knew that kids like to show off their stuff. It’s fun to parade your special something in front of an awe-struck gathering. If that were all it was about, though, I wouldn’t have allowed it. Rubbing the other kids’ noses in My Special Something that Only I Can Touch is obnoxious and anti-social.

I never let my kids do that, and they were actually pretty good sharers. Toys in our home, with a few exceptions, were communal. Even the exceptions were mostly determined by the child’s preference. That enormous pile of Lego was Adam’s because Adam was the child who played with them most. (Hours and hours and hours.) The train set, though? Entirely communal. All three played equally.

That’s just what kids did, right? With a little bit of guidance, of course. Sharing is a challenge at first, and territoriality and selfishness need to be addressed, but it isn’t long before they figure out that it really is more fun with friends. Because that’s how it worked in our house. Easy-peasy!

So yes. Daycare kids could bring toys from home. The child would get the pleasure of showing it off, and then the more sophisticated pleasure of sharing that satisfaction, when they share the toys. Okay, so they’d have to deal with the whole “sharing” thing first, but hey! It’s fun to share with your friends!

Hahahah. Sweet, naive little Mary. (Thus proving that even three kids are not enough to make you Truly Experienced. You think you are, but you’re not…)

I hadn’t factored in three important realities:
1. My kids were not all two-year-olds at the same time.
2. My kids were siblings, and so were getting the same message re: sharing all.the.time.
3. My kids were siblings, and so had built-in sharers in their home. All.The.Time.

So, kids would bring toys to daycare and I’d be policing them all the damned time. Policing, negotiating, soothing, trying to coax compromise and unselfish behaviour. That stupid stuffed marmot that little Suzie loved so dearly became the focus of MY ENTIRE DAY.

It was exhausting. I discovered why daycare providers often disallow toys from home. Toys from home are a royal pain in the arse. Not to put too fine a point on it.

So. No toys. Enough!

Ah. The peace! The (relative) lack of conflict and strife! Lovely!

I’m not sure when and why I started allowing toys again. Probably some sweet, biddable child brought something, and I knew it would work with that child. Whatever provoked it, I came back to the other, potentially positive aspects of bringing toys from home: the practice of sharing, the cultivation of generosity, the opportunity for group play. A little Character Development!

Now, however, older, wiser, more experienced Mary has a slightly more pragmatic approach. Toys from Home offers the potential for Character Development, yes, but as any sane parent knows, toddlers (and teens) fight Character Development tooth and nail. They love their undeveloped characters. You have a problem with their character, well, that’s your problem, isn’t it? Sucks to be you, now leave me alone.

Like that. Yup.

So there are boundaries on the sharing. When a child brings a toy at the beginning of the day, they are asked, “Is this a toy you can share?” If the answer is ‘no’, then the toy is put away for the day. This is not a punitive thing, this is not expressed with anger or in a threatening tone. It’s simply fact.

“Not for sharing? Okay, then. We’ll put it in your bin for the day, and you can take it home at home-time.”

Of course, lots of kids, when faced with the disposal of their toy, will have an immediate about-face. “Oh! YES! Yes, I will share!” We all know this is a lie. They just want their toy. However, I take it at face value, and we work out how the sharing will occur.

If there’s any fuss at all when the time comes to actually share, the toy will, with no fuss on my part at all, be put away for the day. This is a one-strike-you’re-out offense.

If the owner of the toy is extremely obnoxious about the not-sharing, particularly if this is not the first time, and they understand the expectations and consequences, two things will happen:
1. The sharing will occur as laid out.
2. When everyone’s had a turn (except the possessive owner) it goes away for the day.

The one exception to this is lovies, those particularly precious toys that are needful for those particularly anxious children, or for naptime. A naptime lovie stays in the child’s bed. An anxious child can have their comfort object which does not have to be shared. However, it must be a genuine comfort object, a thing that’s used all the time, home and daycare, and has been for weeks, if not years. It may not be a different item each day. Generally speaking, a different-every-day ‘comfort object’ is merely power-tripping. “I neeeeed this! It’s mine! See how lovely it is? You can’t touch it because I neeeeed it!” A power-tripping scam.

With the one-strike-you’re-out policy, I am spared a wealth of squabbling. I still have to intervene from time to time, as I do with all the toys, but with the penalty of instant removal of the beloved object, the owner generally learns fairly quickly that if he/she wants to play with it at all, it’s in their own best interest to let it be shared.

And if they don’t, I put it away. Done.

Tantrums about this consequence are rare, but if they happen, they’re dealt with as I deal with all tantrums. By the time a child is old enough to want to bring toys to daycare, they’re usually old enough to not be throwing tantrums any more.

So, I do allow toys from home, and for the most part, it works just fine. The owner is pleased and proud of the attention they and their new toy get, and the other children are thrilled to have Something Shiny!! at daycare. Everyone shares, as best toddlers do, and it’s a lovely, communal, sharing experience. It’s all part of growing them up into the kind, considerate adults we want them to be, and I am pleased to be part of that process.

In the interests of my sanity, I reserve the right to forbid toys to a particular child for a season. I reserve the right to put a toy away without a sharing trial.

Because, for all their manifest benefits as Teaching Opportunities, toys from home really are a royal pain in the arse.

May 2, 2013 Posted by | daycare, manners, power struggle, socializing | , | 5 Comments

Introverts, Extroverts, and Manipulators

“I want to be alone!”

I know some caregivers who just don’t allow that. It’s seen as unfriendly, anti-social, inappropriate, and just plain weird. What is wrong with that kid?? “Don’t be like that, Simon. Suzie is your friend! Now come here and help her build her bridge with the lego.”

I am an introvert. I totally get the need to be alone. (We can talk about how the introvert copes with a day spent with in-your-face toddlers some other time.)

So when a child expresses a genuine need to be alone, I respect that. They get to be alone. They do not have to mingle, mingle, mingle, interact every living second of the live-long day. They just don’t. And the extroverts in the group can back off for a bit.

Now, they have to ask politely. Introvert or extrovert, we all need to respect the social niceties. A howl of outrage, a shove and a scream, are not how you get your time away. “If you want to play alone, you ask nicely.”

It puts the caregiver in a bit of a bind, though. You can’t pop them on the Quiet Stair for shoving another child, as you might otherwise do, because in this case the Quiet Stair would be a reward , wouldn’t it? You’ll only train the desperate introvert into bad behaviour. “I need some space!! I know! I’ll just deck little Josh over there!”

What to do? I offer them what they want, in exchange for what I want. “You can play alone at the puzzle table, if you ask politely.” Then I give them the words. Or if they’ve been acting badly to get their quiet, I will require them to play with the others, nicely, for five minutes first. Then they can have as much time as they like, alone.

Because the request to be alone? It can be a real and genuine thing, and you should no more deny it than you’d deny the extrovert his social time. “You want to play with the other kids?? Now, Simon, don’t be pushy! Do this puzzle quietly, there’s a good boy!”

However. There is the desire to be alone experienced by the kid who is feeling overwhelmed and drained, and needs time and space to recharge. That’s genuine and valid, a legitimate need. And then …

Child A flings himself over the pile of blocks. “You go ‘way! I want to play alone!!”

That one’s easy, a clear example of a child who just doesn’t feel like sharing. “Playing alone” is code for “having ALL THE TOYS!!!” It’s not too hard to determine need to be alone from want to have all the toys: Offer the child half the huge pile o’blocks in a private corner. The child who needs to be alone will accept it. The one who just wants ALL THE THINGS will not.

(And if it’s both? He wants ALL THE THINGS, alone? Tough. Half the toys, alone, or none of them.)

And then there’s this:

Child A is in a bit of a snit. Has been all morning. Contrary and prickly, nothing quite right for Her Most Precious Princess. Child A, the Snit Child, plays with the lacing cards in a desultory way. Child B sits down companionably and picks up one of the cards. Snit Child turns her back on Child B with a whine of outrage.

“Noooo! I want to be aloooone!”

Child B, a mellow little thing, gives Snit Child a puzzled look before wandering off with no comment.

Now, if that were the end of it, it could well be that Snit Child has reached the end of her introverted rope, and just needs some solo downtime. But that’s not what’s been happening at Mary’s the past three weeks or so. Just watch what happens next:

Mellow Child B is soon happily involved in some other activity. Snit Girl approaches sidelong, ostentatiously holding one of the Magic Dollar-Store Sparkly Princess Wands. Snit Girl waves it about just within Mellow Child’s line of vision. Predictably, Mellow Child is attracted to the sparkle, and wanders closer.

Snit Child roars her outrage: “Nooooo! You can’t play with me! I want to be aloooone!”

Uh-huh. That’s why you deliberately provoked the attention, because you wanted to be alone. Yeah.

That? That is not valid. That is sheerest manipulation. Snit Child was looking for a conflict, and, when Mellow Child didn’t deliver the first time, she deliberately provoked the attention she wanted to reject.

Now “being alone” is code word for “I’m rejecting you”, or “I control you by not giving you what you want.” It’s really devious. This child has a lot of social savvy. Too bad she’s working it on The Dark Side.

So now poor manipulated Mellow Child really, really wants to play with Snit Child. SC, having achieved her goal of enticing the attention she wishes to reject, redoubles her protests. “No! Go away! I want to be alone!!”

What do I do? I pretend to believe it’s genuine. I pretend Snit Girl has a real and genuine need to be alone. Because, you know, there is nothing wrong with needing to be alone.

“You want to be alone? No, Mellow, if Snit wants to be alone, we will let her be alone.” And then I get Snit Girl all comfy in an armchair, with a blanket and a book and a toy … and then I take Mellow Child a distance away, in the next room but still in view, and snuggle her into my lap for a story. Or take her to the table to colour. Or play clapping games with her.

If Snit Girl genuinely needed time out, this will be fine with her. She’ll stick with her quiet activities, and happily recharge her batteries.

But if she was playing mean girl head games, this will not please her. Mellow Child getting MARY’S attention?? Mellow Child and not her? She will wriggle out of the chair and trot over.

“I don’t want to be alone any more.”

At this point, I can play it either way. “Sure, sweetie. You come sit with us.” The snit has passed, and she’s willing to share time and attention. Good for all of us!

But if she’s been really rotten to Mellow Child, or if I think she needs to be more rigorously deterred from this particular behaviour pattern, I’ll twist the knife just a bit more.

“Oh, no, sweetie. You said you wanted to be alone, and I think you were right. I think you really do need to be alone. Away you go back to your comfy chair. You be alone for a little longer, and when I’m done reading this story to Mellow Girl, maybe it will be time for you go get up. Away you go!” All said in my best, most cheerful “Don’t Mess With Me” voice. (You don’t have a cheerful “Don’t Mess With Me” voice? Find it and practice. It’s an invaluable parenting tool.)

April 16, 2013 Posted by | behavioural stuff, individuality, power struggle, socializing | , , , | 4 Comments

It is Friday, after all

A wail from the kitchen. A very dramatic, full of pathos wail. A wail of utmost tragedy.

It’s Jazz, of course.

“Grace ate my cake, and it was for AZERT!!!”

I look at the toddler table. On it I see a drift of cotton balls and a sparkly plastic star.

“Where is the cake, Jazz? I don’t see a cake.” (Before you all hurt yourselves rolling your eyeballs at me, I know it’s a pretend cake. I have a plan.)

“It’s right here!” Jazz lovingly taps a piece of empty air about a centimetre above the table top.

“It is? I don’t see it!” I affect great puzzlement. I get down on my knees, tip my head at a dramatic angle and peer intently into the space. “Where is the caaaaake?”

Jazz giggles. “You’re silly, Mary. It’s a pretend cake!”

AHA!!! My plot is working!!! a) She’s slipped off her high dudgeon, and b) she’s admitted it’s imaginary. I let the puzzlement leave my face, and burst into a beaming smile of comprehension.

“Oh! It’s a pretend cake! Well, if it’s a pretend cake, it can be anything you want! So you can pretend it’s still there, for dessert, and Grace can pretend she’s eating it, and IT DOESN’T MATTER!” Because, while yes, it would be nice if they were playing a cooperative game, and I could guide Grace into playing along with Jazz’s game, this little dynamic happens far too often. Jazz, you see, is Queen of Making Rules, but not so good at following them. She’ll set up a game for other people to play, but go with the flow? follow someone else’s play thread?

She! Thinks! NOT!

So I’m playing with her world view, just a bit. Indirectly, in a way deliberately intended to bemuse. Because it’s Friday, and I feel like being a little radical. Mwah-ha.

Jazz’s face grows cloudy again. Grace can have a different idea about the game??? Clearly, I am not with the program.

Ignoring the threatened return of High Dudgeon, I proceed, cheerfully oblivious. “Grace can eat it, and you can still have it! In pretend you really can have your cake and eat it, too, Jazz!” (Yes, way over her head. I am entertaining myself here.) I grin at her. “Grace can pretend it’s green, and you can pretend it’s red, and you’ll BOTH BE RIGHT! Isn’t that cool? Grace can have one pretend, and you can have another pretend, and they’re both right! That’s the fun thing about pretend!”

Jazz is slowly coming around. She’s not convinced, but she’s not complaining any more. I proceed, like the kid on Mulberry Street, snowballing this thing for my own (and, increasingly, Jazz’s) amusement.

“Grace could pretend a chocolate cake, and you could pretend a strawberry cake! And you’d BOTH BE RIGHT!”

“Grace could pretend to have cake for dinner, and you can pretend to have cake for dessert and … ” I pause.

“We’d BOTH BE RIGHT!!!” Grace gets it, at any rate.

“Grace could pretend take her cake right away, and your pretend cake would still be there!”

Jazz is reluctant to give up her dudgeon, but I don’t really care. I’m not coaxing her, I’m playing with the idea.

“Grace could set that silly cake on fire and PEE on it, and it would still be a good pretend cake for YOU!”

Well, now. Fast forward ten minutes. Four toddlers, Grace, Jazz, Daniel and Poppy, thunder from one end of the house to the other, all joined in THE VERY SAME PRETEND!

It goes like this:

THUDTHUDTHUDTHUDTHUDTHUDTHUDTHUD!

“Fire! Fire! Fire!”

BAMBAMBAMBAMBAMBAMBAMBAMBAMBAMBAMBAMBAM!

“Pee! Pee! Pee!”

Shrieks of hyterical laughter pound their way into the kitchen.

THUDTHUDTHUDTHUDTHUDTHUDTHUDTHUD!

“Fire! Fire! Fire!”

BAMBAMBAMBAMBAMBAMBAMBAMBAMBAMBAMBAMBAM!

“Pee! Pee! Pee!”

Shrieks of hyterical laughter pound their way into the living room.

“Fire! Fire! FIRE!”

“PEE! PEE! PEE!”
HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAEEEEEEEEEEEEE!
“Fire! Fire! FIRE!”

“PEE! PEE! PEE!”
SHRIEK! Gigglegigglegigglegigglegiggle!!!
“Fire! Fire! FIRE!”

“PEE! PEE! PEE!”

And me?

I laugh. Because, hell, I started it.
And they? Are too damned cute.

February 1, 2013 Posted by | Grace, Jazz, Mischief, power struggle, socializing | , , , | 4 Comments

Power Struggles

I know I promised you a follow-up to the book I discovered, Beyond Time-Out, but I can’t! I’ve already lent it to a parent. Obviously, I need to buy my own copy. Or two.

However, the book did get me thinking about a few things, and I’m going to muse on one of them today.

“Oh, I never get into a power struggle with my child. You just can’t win those!”

Have you heard this? I have, quite routinely. The parent who says it is generally quite pleased with herself. She (less commonly he) seems to view it as a point of pride. A rueful one, perhaps, but a point of pride nonetheless. It’s a thread in the parenting ether out there, a parenting meme: Avoid power struggles. They’re costly, they’re exhausting, and, more to the point you just. can’t. win. Why dive into the stress and the mess when you know it’ll only result in humiliation and frustration?

I agree with a lot of that. Avoid unnecessary power struggles, of course. Don’t foolishly set yourself up for one, because they are indeed costly and exhausting, emotionally and physically.

But.

“You just can’t win?”

Are you nuts?

You have to win. In the first three or four years of life, establishing your role as authority in the child’s life is one of your primary parenting job. You do that all sorts of ways: by caring for their physical needs, by being emotionally available and supportive, by loving them to itty-bitty bits.

And by winning power struggles.

I think the resistance to the idea of winning these struggles has three sources.

1. Many people don’t like the idea of “power” in a family context. It smacks of authoritarianism, of oppression. They read “win” and “power”, and they think “power tripping” and “bullying”.

2. When in a power struggle, your toddler will, along with the raging, almost certainly cry. A loving parent hates to see their child cry, and many loving parents respond to the tears by backing away from the conflict. They may even feel guilty at having provoked the tears, and never want to do that again! What kind of a parent, they wonder, is willing to trample roughshod over their child’s feelings just because some toys need to be picked up?

3. Many people have tried to tackle their toddler … and have lost. Ignominiously. They have skittered from the fray, tail between their legs, uncomfortably and humiliatingly aware that not only are the toys still not picked up, but they have been bested by someone who comes up to their belt buckle and who still says “yeyyow” instead of “yellow”. (And is probably pointing to something orange when s/he says it.) Who wants to repeat that experience?

Given these points, why do I insist that you must win power struggles?

The short-term answer: Family harmony.

It’s your job as the parent to be the authority in your family. If you let your child think you’re afraid of power struggles, they will set them up. You won’t have to worry about seeking out a power struggle — they’ll be thrown at you. What’s the end result of a parent who can’t or won’t see a power struggle through and prevail? Chaos. And conflict. Continuing, unrelenting conflict.

The long-term answer: Your child’s happiness.

Toddlers like to vie for power. They want to be in control … but they aren’t developmentally ready for it. They have no idea how to wield power constructively. They are impulsive, short-sighted, impetuous, selfish. They will choose to do things that are just not good for themselves. You cannot trust a child to know what is in her or her own best interests.

A person who has never learned to share power, to defer to others is not going to get along well in life. They will likely be ostracized by their peers, because who wants to be friends with a person who always must have things their way? They will likely experience more conflict, as their peers push back with more vigour than their parents ever did.

Sadly, loving but misguided parental efforts to avoid tears and conflict … results in long-term conflict and dissatisfaction for the child — who is, one day, going to be an adult. Unless they can learn those life lessons elsewhere — from more rough-and-ready peers, from some good teachers, from other family members — they will not be happy people.

If it’s so bad for them, why do they do it?

- they don’t know it’s bad for them. No point in asking the child why. They don’t know! If you step back a pace, it doesn’t take long to see that no toddler has the cognitive and emotional maturity to know why they do what they do.
– it is developmentally normal for a toddler to be testing the boundaries. Who are you? Who are they? Are they a separate person from you? YES! And how do they express their autonomy? PUSHING BACK! SAYING NO! RESISTANCE! DEFIANCE! Wheeee… However, just because something is developmentally normal does not mean that a parent does nothing to shape and direct that stage. Besides, the purpose of this stage is to establish their autonomy and your role as a strong resource. If you’re not strong, they are undermined. Ironically, what they need at this stage is the exact opposite of what they want.

A further irony here is that if a parent consistently backs down from power struggles in order to avoid tears, they only ensure ever more of them. You must see them through.

What is “seeing it through”?
– it does not mean humiliating or brow-beating your child
– it does not mean frightening your child
– it does not mean pleading, coaxing, negotiating
– it does means ignoring the protests and calmly but firmly seeing that the request is accomplished
– it is often entirely possible to do this with a light touch; I regularly use humour

What is gained by consistently seeing power struggles through to the end?
– the conflict ends
– the child is calm
– the damned toys get picked up
– there will be fewer and fewer power struggles
– you can say something once, calmly and cheerfully, and with only occasional exceptions, that’s what happens
– your child feels secure, knowing they can rely on you to be their safe harbour when their emotions get the best of them
— your child trusts you

Okay. So let’s say you’ve all bought in to this idea. Power struggles are inevitable. The parent must see them through. They are not to be avoided at all costs. And you will never, ever again say, “Oh, I never get into power struggles with my child!” as if this is a parental accomplishment instead of a) an impossibility and b) a mistake.

You’ve bought into all that. Now you’re saying, “Okay, but how? How do you respond? What happens next?”

That’ll be for the next post in this series, when I get my hands back on that book! This might not happen until next week, but we’ll get there!

January 17, 2013 Posted by | books, parenting, power struggle | , , | 4 Comments

Solomon’s Choice

Jazz and Grace are painting toilet roll tubes. Each of them securely bibbed, their brushes seeped in green paint. They are making Frankenstein’s monster heads, which will become napkin rings for our Halloween party later this week. Each of them has several tubes in front of her, but it is not until we reach the last tube that I realize I have provided them with an odd number of tubes.

Oops. Nine tubes for two girls, means that one girl will get to do ONE MORE tube than the other! This, as you all know, is a toddler catastrophe.

In this case, though, it has an easy fix. We’re going to be cutting the tubes in half anyway, so I’ll just cut the last one in half. Then they can each have one!

“I don’t want you to cut it in half.” Jazz, who finished her last tube before Grace, eyes the now-intact tube. Obviously, she’s working on the “first come, first served” principle, so close in mindset to the other toddler favourite, “finders, keepers”. Neener, neener to you, Grace. That’ll learn you to be so contemplative and careful, immersing yourself in the experience. Serves you right for putting quality above SPEED!

I set a long, level stare on Jazz. “Okay. I won’t cut it in half. I’ll give it to Grace. I’ll give it to Grace, and you won’t get anything. Is that okay with you, or shall I cut it in half?” My tone isn’t hostile, pushing, or sarcastic. Nor am I trying to coax or wheedle. I’m just stating facts. This is What Will Happen, missy.

Jazz recognizes Implacable when she sees it. Her eyes widen, she smiles and nods. “You can cut it in half, Mary!!”

Good on you, kid.

October 24, 2012 Posted by | crafts, Jazz, power struggle | , | 3 Comments

You want to make Mary twitch?

A mother stands in my front hall at the end of the day.

Her daughter reaches for the latch of the front door. Now, this is Not Allowed at Mary’s house. Children are never, ever to open the front door. Never, ever, ever. I shudder to think of the chaos and potential tragedy that could result from children wandering out the door. Most of the time, the screen door is kept locked to prevent escapes, but this is the end of the day, parents are coming and going. The door is unlocked.

Nonetheless, locked or not, the door is Off Limits to the children, and SuzieQ knows this. However, she has obviously weighed our respective authorities (who’s the boss? mummy or Mary?) and our potential to act (who’s standing closer to me?), and figures it’s a risk worth taking. Mother notices.

“Suzie. Leave the door, please.”

Suzie looks at mum, and puts her hand on the door knob. Without breaking eye contact, her jaw set, she carefully places her hand on that knob. OOoooh, the defiance! I’m itching to take action, and I would, I would, were mother not standing between us. But of course, mum won’t let her get away with that, right?

“Suzie. Leave the door and come here, please.” (And I sigh, inwardly. Here we go!)

Suzie unlatches the door.

Now, her mother is within arm’s reach. There is absolutely nothing to prevent mother from stretching out her arm — she wouldn’t even have to lean! — and pulling the door firmly shut. Instead, she merely tosses more words, more pointless words, into the air. Tosses them into the air, where they dissipate into nothingness. Ineffectual, meaningless nothing.

“Suzie. Leave the door.”

Suzie opens the door.

(Gee. I’ll bet you didn’t see that coming, huh?)

“Suzie. I said leave the door.”

Suzie steps out onto the porch.

“Suzie. I said … oh, okay. Okay, you can go out, but stay on the porch!”

We’ll stop here, shall we? You can see the trajectory. I think none of you will be surprised to know Mum and I didn’t get to finish that conversation.

Suzie’s mother is impressed (and truth be known, I think also a little pissed off, some days) at how readily, and without any fuss, her daughter does as I ask. Had I been standing between Suzie and the door, there is absolutely no way at all that she would have touched the latch.

What’s the difference? Is it that “children always behave better for others than their parents”? Suzie’s mother’s been known to cite the truism.

Oh, puh-lease. No. It’s because Suzie’s mother does not consistently monitor and maintain the boundaries she attempts to set. I do. I do, not just with Suzie of course, but with all the children. I do, because I’ve been doing this for years, because I know the enormous difference it will make and because, as Hannah expressed it so well not too long ago

IT’S EASIER OH MY GOD.

I do it because I’m in the business of raising adults. I do it because I want these children to become all they can be.

But I also do it because if I didn’t, I would have FIVE children all ignoring me and dashing every which way, doing exactly what they wanted in every moment, all day long. Can you imagine? The chaos, the noise, the screaming, the violence, the mess?

That? Is my idea of hell on earth. Lordy.

If I had issued the directive, Suzie would have dropped her hand. Period. I might, because her mother was there, have gotten a considering look as she weighed the possibility that Mummy might trump Mary, even in Mary’s home, but even so, I am reasonably confident she wouldn’t have. Had mum not been there, there wouldn’t have been a second’s hesitation. The hand would have come down.

Suzie, however, is three and a half, and well schooled. Cast back a year and a half, though. A year and a half or two years. Cast back that far and re-run the tape with an un-trained Suzie.

Suzie stands in the front hall as we all get out coats on to go out. She’s ready first, and reaches for the door.

“Suzie. You don’t touch the door knob, remember? Only grown-ups open that door.”

Suzie, being the feisty little thing she is, gives me a considering look and grabs the door knob.

“Suzie. I said no. Only grown-ups open the door.” And as I speak, I move close, lift her hand off the knob, and, if she seems inclined to reach for it again, lift her to a different area of the floor.

Suzie, being the feisty little thing she is, would probably kick up a bit of a stink at this point. I suspect it was all the stink-kicking a year or two ago that now prevents her mother from taking firm, decisive action. Mum doesn’t want to provoke a fit. (A wry comment about letting the terrorists win flits through my brain…)

Which is why, when I take that essential firm, decisive action, I reward her with a very warm and sunny “Thank you!” and a distracting task.

“Thank you!” because it’s good manners to thank someone when they help you out. The fact that the help wasn’t voluntary is completely irrelevant. The point here is not to punish her for her attempted disobedience, the point is to teach her a Better Way. So, a warm and sunny thanks. Which very often throws them off their disgruntled emotional trajectory, and they’ll smile right back at you.

And then, quickly, give her a task. “Here, sweetie. Would you give Sam her hat, please? Sam needs her hat so she won’t be cold!”

That usually does it. Usually, but not always. If Suzie were determined to throw her fit, if she refused to be distracted from the joy of rage, then I would move into my standard tantrum response. (If you are interested, check out the Tantrum Series tab at the top right.)

So. Issue an instruction, make sure it’s been heard, then FOLLOW THROUGH. Calmly, firmly, politely, implacably.

Every time.

That’s it, that’s all. The caregiver’s “secret” to co-operative children.

Follow through, physically if necessary, and it often is at first. (By ‘physically’, I mean hand-over-hand helping or preventing whatever it was, of course. I do not mean spanking. If you can produce considerate, obedient, kind children without it — and you can — why would you?) Follow through despite the protests, despite the tantrum. Follow through, every time, and it will not be long before there are no tantrums because they just don’t work.

I’m sure a lot of the time when I see lack of follow-through, it’s happening because the parent doesn’t want to subject the caregiver (and themselves) to the struggle that might ensue. But please! Don’t fret! Don’t worry! She won’t criticize, she will applaud! Go for it, because I promise you: When you tell your child to do something and then don’t follow through? You are making your caregiver twitch.

October 17, 2012 Posted by | manners, parenting, Peeve me, power struggle | , | 7 Comments

Menu Monday

Monday: Swiss chard skillet

Tuesday: Mashed potato pie

Wednesday: Quinoa Casserole (I own the book which contains this recipe.)

Thursday: Dosas (I plan to make the filling and sauce the day ahead, and make the  pancakes with the kids.)

Friday: Grilled cheese sandwiches, cooked carrot sticks

A word on picky eaters. Right now, I have two, NBG (new baby girl) and Poppy. Well, not so much picky as unwilling. Neither of them wants to eat right now.

NBG found this place very stressful the first week. When she’s stressed, NBG doesn’t eat. In the second week, this place was merely exceedingly distracting. So many things to look at! And oh! I have dogs! Who EAT FOOD if you hurl it at them! Dogs who, if you do it right, CATCH THE FOOD IN MID-AIR!!!

Who needs to eat with all that wonderfulness going on?

And Poppy has taken to greeting mealtimes with “I don’t want snack/lunch. I go a nap,” because sitting at a table with NBG makes her anxious.

What to do?

Well, some people find the thought of a child not eating very stressful. It makes them anxious. “Come on, honey. You can’t go without eating all day! Here, have a bite. Just one. Take a bite for Mary, please?” And they turn mealtime into one almighty power struggle … which the child is pretty much bound to win. Why do they do this? Mostly because they worry.

They worry about the child’s nutrition. They worry about the tantrums thrown by a hungry toddler. They worry because they know how being hungry makes them feel, and they can’t stand it.

They worry because they think it’s their job to see that their child eats, and if the child doesn’t eat, they’re FAILING AS A PARENT!!!

Bunk.

So what do I do when a child won’t eat?

Not much, really. I have enough on my plate juggling a stressed, integrating baby (even though she’s doing spectacularly well) and a stressed, anxious toddler, without taking it upon myself to force food into unwilling mouths. Remember the rules? I provide nutritious food at reasonable intervals. They eat. Or don’t.

The adult decides what, when, where. The child decides how much, and yes, even whether.

So I pop both NBG and Poppy into high chairs. Yes, Poppy has told us she doesn’t want to eat. So I tell her what has always been the practice:

“You don’t have to eat. You just have to keep us company.”

We’ve been going through this so often the last two weeks that Grace and Jazz chime in. I say “It’s okay, Poppy. You don’t have to eat. You know that. You don’t have to eat, but you do have to …”

… and Grace and Jazz chime in …

“keep us company!”

So into their chairs they all go, and then, without fuss, without making eye contact with Poppy, and certainly without saying anything, I slide a bowl in front of every child seated around that table. La, la, la, if I don’t look at you, then I haven’t really put it there. I have no expectations, I’m not talking to you, I’m not even looking at you.  How did that food even get there, anyway?

I run the risk that she’d scream and swipe it off the table, though I was careful to place it just a little further from her than I normally would. Not out of reach, but not in the usual eating zone. Still, it was a risk.

But with my back to her, my attention carefully on the children who are eating — not that I’m saying anything to anyone about the food, because I am totally NOT (food? what food? aren’t we all sitting here just to enjoy one another’s company??) — with all that in place, Poppy just … starts eating.

Once she’s started, she’s her usual self. Poppy loves her grub. Nom, nom, nom. Two helpings at least, every day. Often three or four. (And then we run out of food. So sad.)

So that’s Poppy. She never wants to eat these days, but, given a very casual and non-confrontational opportunity to eat, she always does. You can be sure that if I were coaxing and pleading, she’d not have eaten a bite at my house in two weeks, and I’d be stressed and angry at my powerlessness and her intractability.

I like my way better. :-)

NBG? I quickly discovered that, being 12 months old, NBG views bowls not as food containers, but as food projectiles. Put a bowl in front of her, and within seconds, the whole thing is hurtling somewhere. So now NBG gets buckled into a high chair with a few items from her bowl laid on the table in front of her. The bowl is carefully out of reach.

At first she ignored the food. After two or three days, she actually ingested her favourite things. (Fruit and carbs. SURprise!) A day or two after that, she discovered the dogs as food entertainment. Daisy is always crated during meals because she’s an aggressive mooch. Will steal things right out of their hands. Indie, a passive mooch, only lies under the table and quietly hopes for things to fall.

Indie is smart. Things always fall from my table. Only, with NBG, they’re not falling, they’re launched at force. “Whee! If I throw this, that doggie will leap to her feet and grab it right out of the air!!!” Fun, fun, fun.

Fun, certainly. Nutritious, not so much. So now Indie is shut in another room during meals. Poor, well-behaved Indie.

NBG is one of those teeny, lightweight, active children who is just not tremendously food-motivated. For her, food is fuel, and she eats what she needs. (And when you weigh as much as a pillowcase of feathers, that’s not a lot.) It also means that when she’s stressed, food is not on the radar at all. That’s okay. She was downing a couple of bottles in a day, so there were calories, and, more important, liquids, going in.

I had nothing to worry about. So long as I didn’t pressure her, so long as mealtimes remained happy, interactive, social occasions, she’d relax and come around. Which, by the end of the second week, she pretty much had. She may turn into an eating machine with her next growth spurt, who knows, but for now she’s a little thing with a little appetite. But she is eating, and eating healthfully.

As Poppy is a hearty thing with a hearty appetite, and she’s eating healthfully. All without any stress or pressure from (or on!) me.

Easy-peasy.

September 17, 2012 Posted by | food, power struggle | , , | 2 Comments

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