It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Just say Yes!

“Husband told me Jazz was a bit of a handful yesterday.” Mom is smiling, her demeanor relaxed, but she would like more information. This is one of those many mom-dad (aka male-female) differences. Dads get the facts, moms want the details. Moms want the nuance. I’m betting dad said, “Jazz was a handful today,” and when Mom pressed for details, he shrugged and said, “Mary said she was pretty negative.”

End of story. Which, for pretty near any woman out there, would only be the beginning of the story.

I know a woman whose son had open-heart surgery when he was about a year old. Everything went just fine (the son is now a thirty-something adult who works for a high-tech company and travels the world for fun), but for a few years after that, the family had to make the trip to Sick Kids in Toronto for an annual check-up. One year it looked like mom couldn’t make it. Dad didn’t see this as a problem. Everything was going well, they didn’t anticipate any bad news, he could take their son. Not an issue.

This wasn’t good enough for mom. “I know what will happen,” she laughed. “I’ll ask him what the doctor said, and he’ll say ‘He said everything’s fine’. Fine? Yeah, fine. End of story. I’ll want more!” Here she started to laugh at herself. “What was his tone of voice while he said that? How did he hold his head? Did he clear his throat? Did he look relaxed? I want details.” Details that she knew her husband wouldn’t even see, let alone be able to convey to her. A level of detail she knew was extreme and would tell her nothing of significance — but she needed it anyway!

She made it to the appointment.

Return to my front hall. Dad told mom something last night. This morning, Mom wants details. I’m a bit puzzled, though, because Jazz wasn’t a handful yesterday.

“No, she was fine.”

“He said she was very negative.”

“Ah.” Okay, I understand. I know what I said, and I now know what he heard — and they’re not the same thing. I didn’t convey my message well. “Yes, she was, but not in an obstreperous way. She wasn’t misbehaving. It’s more that she has a mental habit of negativity.”

We talked about it — in some detail. A child with a habit of negativity tends to regard the world with a certain level of suspicion. Interactions are viewed as potentially threatening, other children are impositions, daily events are to be resisted, not embraced.

Some examples from the previous day:

— Rory offers Jazz a toy. (Well, actually, it was half an empty CD case. No idea where he found it, but it was Special, and he was Sharing.) Jazz scowls, draws her arms close, turns away from Rory and grunts something grumpy over her shoulder.

— Emily stretches her arms wide and tries to draw Jazz into a hug. Jazz howls as if Emily had wallopped her. (And no, Jazz is not autistic.)

— Another child wriggles onto the couch beside Jazz and looks at the page of the book she holds. The other child does not attempt to take the book, nor even to touch it. They’re just looking at the pictures.

“No! No book! No!”

If this happened once in a while — heck, if this happened six times a day (we are talking two-year-olds here) — I wouldn’t think much of it. But these days it’s been happening with almost every interaction. All interactions are viewed with suspicion. Everything is bad, or potentially so … until you tell her it’s good.

— “Rory is giving you a toy! Isn’t that nice? Say, ‘Yes’, Jazz. ‘YES!’ Say, ‘Thank you, Rory!’ ”

“Yes! Sank you, Orry!” She favours him with an enormous full-voltage Jazz-special smile.

— “Emily wants to hug you! She loves you! Say ‘Yes’, Jazz. ‘YES!’ Give Emily a big hug back!”

“Yes, Emmy!”, breaks into that smile again and snuggles into Emily.

— “Say ‘yes’, Jazz, ‘YES!!’ Grace likes the elephant in your book. What’s your favourite picture, Jazz?”

“Butterfly!” (What comes out sounds a lot more like ‘bar-fly’, much to my entertainment.)

“The butterfly? It is pretty. Show Grace the butterfly.”

Jazz plonks a skinny finger on the page. “Bar-fly! Bar-fly, Gace!”

Default for Jazz, at least this week, is negative, suspicion, and withdrawal. It doesn’t seem to be borne of fatigue, hunger, illness, change, teething, any of the usual suspects. It’s just a habit. It’s not a habit I want to linger. I want to replace it with a habit of openness, positivity, cheerful expectation. She needs to say “yes!” to the world.

“Just say YES!”

I can see it’s going to be my mantra for a while.

Yes!

June 1, 2011 Posted by | Developmental stuff, individuality, Jazz, manners, socializing | , | 5 Comments

The Reasonable Meets The Pre-Rational

“Look at that beautiful day! Do you want to go play outside sweetie?”

“Outside!!”

“Yes, it’s lovely outside. Let’s get our coats on and go outside!”

“No coat.”

“It’s cold outside, lovie. Nice and sunny, but very cold. You will need your coat.”

“No coat.”

“If you don’t wear your coat, you will be cold. You need your coat.”

“No coat!”

“Don’t you want to go outside?”

“Outside!!!”

“If you’re going outside, you need to wear your coat. If you don’t wear your coat, you will be cold. Brrr!”

“NO COAT!”

Sound familiar? Parent is being patient and sensible. Expectations are clear. Consequences equally so. Parent is being reasonable as reasonable can be…

and toddler is having none of it. Toddler does NOT want to wear that coat, and no amount of rational sweet-talk is going to change their mind. Cold? Who cares about cold? They are not cold! They don’t need a coat!!!

We have an impasse.

Now, there are a few reasonable and effective ways to proceed from here. What very often happens instead, however, is a protracted coax-plead-and-negotiate session, in which the parent persists in their (very reasonable) position and the child persists in their (utterly unreasonable) one. This does not achieve the goal of going outside, at least not anytime soon, and by the end of it the parent is feeling harried, frustrated, exasperated and helpless.

Why, when all we are trying to do is be reasonable, sensible, principled parents, do we so often end up feeling harassed and out of control, as if we the adult are the supplicant, and the child is the one who is making the decision?

Well… Probably because that’s exactly what’s happening. Aggravating, isn’t it? Not to mention embarrassing. And not in the child’s best interest, either. Plays havoc with the whole idea of Harmonious Family Home, to boot.

Here’s the nub of the problem: While the parent has pledged to themselves that they will always be reasonable and fair with their child, the child has made no such pledge. So here we have all these lovely, kind, sensible, reasonable parents behaving reasonably with their child, and expecting the child to be reasonable in return.

This… is unreasonable.

Toddlers are not much interested in reason. In fact, they’re not entirely capable of it just yet. So yes, do have good reasons for your expectations, and express your expectations reasonably. That is good modelling. But if you seriously expect your toddler to, in essence, smack a hand to their forehead and say, “Oh, of course, mummy! You’re so right! What was I thinking??” … you are delusional.

Which is not to say that, from time to time, you won’t get quick and easy compliance with a request. This may be because you have a particularly compliant child, or they’re in a particularly compliant mood. Maybe what you want them to do corresponds exactly with what they want to do anyway. Maybe they did as requested because they know it will make you smile. (Despite their habitual negativity, toddlers do genuinely like to please.)

But, at the early toddler stage, what has almost certainly NOT happened is that the child was convicted by the strength of your argument. They just don’t think that way. Not yet. You will, by your good example and persistent guidance, teach and encourage rationality, but to expect a 16-month-old, or a 22-month-old to cede graciously to rationality when they want to do something else is as unrealistic as expecting your 4-month-old to stand unassisted just because they see you do it all the time.

They’re not there yet.

So, sure. Express your reasonable expectations reasonably. Just don’t be shocked if the child doesn’t respond reasonably. And if they don’t, if they instead respond negatively and passionately, do not attempt to reason them into compliance. It is wasted breath, and only gives the impression that direct orders are negotiable.

So, what to do? You have a few choices.

1. You could choose to let them experience some natural consequences of a bad decision. Going outside without a coat in February is a bad decision, and it won’t take them long to figure that one out. Then you can leap in with the solution, without ever once having to say ‘I told you so’. “Goodness, it’s COLD out here! Let’s get that coat on you quickly, before you FREEZE!” (Obviously, if your child is the uber-stubborn type who really would rather freeze than comply, you’re not going to give them this option.)

2. You could choose to ensure that the coat gets worn, by calmly but implacably putting it on the child. “I know you don’t want to wear a coat, but we can’t go outside without our coats on. I am wearing my coat. You will wear your coat.” And as you say this, you place the coat on the child, ignoring any struggles to the contrary.

3. You could choose not to go outside. “All right. If you won’t put on your coat, we can’t go outside. Would you like to read a book or jump on the mini-tramp?”

These responses all have the advantage of:
– being reasonable
– being consistent with your original position
– refusing to negotiate a non-negotiable

The biggest strength of these responses: None of them demand from the child a level of rationality he/she does not yet possess.

The bottom line: YOU can and should be reasonable. You can and should model rationality. Just don’t expect the same level of reasoning ability from your child.

February 15, 2011 Posted by | parenting, power struggle | , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

It’s just for the day, it’s just for the day

A friend of a friend’s child is here for the day. He’s just turned four. A veteran of a small home daycare in his own city and a year of pre-school, he is well accustomed to group care. There was a possibility that it might be for the rest of the week, but only today was confirmed. I do a certain amount of this during the summers, taking on kids for a day here and there between school and daycare, between gramma and grampa’s visit and the family summer vacation.

There was a possibility that it last more than just today. Until I spent a half-day with this child. So far this morning, we had this…

– Emily plays a game: she hits a hanging balloon with one she found on the floor. Visiting boy (VB) comes along, shoves her to one side, forcing her to watch while he plays the game she devised, and then tells me, “Emily is not letting me play.”

…just for the day, just for the day, just the one day…

– I reprimand VB for some small misbehaviour. He wanders away, scowling, over to where baby Lily is holding onto the chair. Holding on, that is, until he shoves her head violently back, causing her to topple to the floor.

…just for the day, just for the day, just the one day…

– I let VB decide which vegetable we will eat at lunch. He chooses carrots. Then refuses to eat them. When he is cheerfully told he can therefore leave the table, he demands the sandwich he sees the others eating. When it is cheerfully explained he must eat a carrot stick first, he glares at me, then picks up his milk and deliberately upends it.

…just for the day, just for the day, just the one day…

– After he has finished wiping up the milk, he quietly drops the wet cloth on my foot.

…just for the day, just for the day, just the one day…

– VB holds a toy out to Rory. When Rory reaches for it, VB pulls it away and grins. This happens twice, as Rory becomes more upset. When VB sees me heading in his direction, he says, quickly, “The baby is trying to steal my toy.”

…just for the day, just for the day, just the one day…

“I’m faster than you.
I can do that better than you.
My picture is nicer than yours.
My tower is taller.
You can’t do this, because you’re too little.
Fifteen? I can count to fifty!
I have TWO of those.
I’m stronger.
I’m smarter.”
(Yeah, maybe, but you’re not nicer…)

It’s a damned good thing I don’t have to like a child to do my job.

But it sure makes my work more fun.

July 13, 2010 Posted by | aggression, behavioural stuff, manners, Peeve me, the dark side | , , , , , , , | 13 Comments