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