It’s Not All Mary Poppins

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

Reasonable Parenting

My clients are reasonable people. For fifteen years, with one or two notable exceptions, I’ve seen lots and lots of reasonable people. And these reasonable people also aspire to be reasonable parents.

“Reasonable” in the colloquial sense, in that they want to be sensible, balanced, measured, common-sense. But also “reasonable” in a more specific sense. They want to raise their child rationally. They want to be the kind of parent who has reasons for what they do, who doesn’t respond in a knee-jerk, reflexive, irrational way to childish flaws and misbehaviours. They will never be the kind of parent who says, “Because I said so, that’s why!” They want to parent with their hearts and their minds.

This is all very laudable. It is how I have always endeavored to raise my own children, how I deal with the daycare children.

This approach, however, has its weaknesses, which most of the parents I’ve seen through the years have not considered beforehand. When they run into them, they are blind-sided. How does a Reasonable Parent deal with this?

One main weakness exists entirely in the minds of the parents. It is not, in fact, a weakness in the approach at all, but rather unhelpful, unexamined — often unconscious — assumptions about Reasonable Parenting.

This weakness arises from their desire to be principled parents. Let me be clear, here: I am ALL FOR principled parenting!! Principled parenting saves you from a world of on-the-fly decisions, rules made up on the spur of the moment when there is no guiding directive to show you the way. Principled parenting provides you with that blessed clue of thread which guides you through the maze of events which are NOT IN THE RULEBOOK, DAMMIT!

Where parents can go off the rails with principled parenting, though, is in the over-application of the idea “I will never be the kind of parent who says ‘because I’m your mother, that’s why!'” In trying to avoid authoritarian parenting — inflexible, uncompassionate, rule- and ego-driven parenting — many of my clients are squeamish about any parenting ‘because I say so’s’.

You know what? Once in a while, it’s totally fine to say “Because I said so. Now do it.” Though you should always have a reason, you do not have to give it every time. It is enough that you are the parent, you treat your child respectfully, and you can expect them to acknowledge this by responding respectfully to an instruction, request, direct order. You don’t do that every time. That would be rude. But to expect, every so often, your child to ‘just do it’, based on 1) your proven track record of reasonable, respectful parenting, and 2) the fact that you are the parent… that’s reasonable.

My clients have a tendency to blur the line between Authoritarian parenting and Authoritative Parenting. There is a world of difference between the two. Authoritarian parenting is hard-line, intolerant, disrespectful of the child. “Because I said so!” is the response to any questioning, no matter how reasonable the question might be. Authoritarian parents may or may not work on principles, but when they do, they are principles which favour the parent’s will, and are unlikely to be shared with the child. Authoritative parenting, while confident, is flexible, compassionate, and respectful. An authoritative parent’s principles focus on the long-term character development of their child. An authoritative parent has rules and expectations, but can be flexible in them. A child is allowed input into parental decisions. The parent is still the authority, but it is a more co-operative, compassionate authority.

Okay, so that’s the flaw in the pre-assumptions which cause Reasonable Parents a world of difficulty. It’s okay — it’s REQUIRED — to make rules and expect the child to obey them. It’s REQUIRED to say a firm and unyielding “no” sometimes. You are not being an unkind, unloving parent when you do these things, so long as you are doing them out of parenting principles rather than a fit of pique. (Which is not to say you can’t lay down the law in accordance with your principles while you are EXASPERATED OUT OF YOUR MIND. Of course you can! You can, you will, and you must.)

The first weakness in Reasonable Parenting, then, is the assumption that it is disrespectful to the child to exert any form of parental authority. Most of my parents would immediately grasp the weakness in that assumption… but many of them stumble over it in practice anyway.

The second weakness of Reasonable Parenting does not exist solely in the parents’ unexamined assumptions. This one is a genuine problem.

Here you are, all prepped and ready to be Reasonable in your dealings with your child. You are going to be rational, measured, sensible. Your emotions will enrich your dealings with your child, but you won’t react in ill-considered emotion. (Yes, I’m kind of smiling now, too. No parent alive will achieve such a paragon of virtuous behaviour at every moment of their life. I know that, and I hope you all know that, too. No beating yourselves up for the times you fall short of pure parental perfection, okay?)

And there you go, being Reasonable with your child… and he is NOT REASONABLE BACK! In fact, she’s positively savage! Shouting, screaming, flailing. No amount of reasonable conversation is bringing him around. Your expectations are reasonable, your demeanor is reasonable, your words are reasonable, and what do you get back?

NO!
NO!
NO!
I WON’T!
DON’T WANNA!
NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

In fact, the little cretin may even be taking swings at you while s/he creates this uproar! The Reasonable Parent confronts the Anti-Rational Toddler.

Now what?

That, my friends, will be the subject of tomorrow’s post.

🙂

February 14, 2011 Posted by | manners, parenting, parents, power struggle | , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Deconstruction

In a previous post, I discussed the widely-held parenting myth that “children behave better for others than for their parents.”

I noted that it was important to distinguish between “stranger” — for whom kids generally will behave better, at least until a certain age — and “others”, anyone else, no matter how familiar. I stated my belief that a child’s better behaviour for a familiar other person is nothing magical or mystical — it has to do with something the parents are/aren’t doing. If the parent and the other person were consistently doing the same thing in the same way, they’d get the same response from the child.

I gave you an example, and asked you to deconstruct it. You did very well! Yes, the issue was that the mother didn’t follow through.

She called the child to her. The child paused. At this point, mom could have gone to get her, but what she actually did — Calling a second time, to see if she’ll come — was reasonable parenting.

The critical point, the crux of the matter, was what mom did when the child SMILED AND TURNED AWAY. No matter how cute and charming the little girl was at that moment (and she WAS, the little devil), that’s deliberate, conscious defiance, people, and needs to be dealt with instantly. At first glance of that smile, mama should have marched over, taken the child’s hand, and explained the situation: “When mama says ‘come over here’, you need to come.”

Clear and effective.

If that happens every single time this direction is issued, the child will be coming, reliably, within a couple of months. (Depends on the child, of course. But by 21 – 30 months, sometimes earlier, you can expect to be heeded with reliable consistency.)

And the problem of running away, which some of you rightly noted might be the child’s response when she sees mama bearing down on her? I say that’s precisely why you need to nail this behaviour now. There is nothing more humiliating than chasing a laughing child when it’s not a game. And talk about undermining your parental authority! Ugh.

There are a couple of ways of dealing with this behaviour, and which you choose will depend on the personality of the child involved. However, not wanting this post to get unduly long, I’ll put them into another post.

Do children automatically behave better for other familiar people than their parents? No. My three (happily secure) children almost always behaved as well for me than for others. Sometimes even better, because my expectations were often higher. My five step-children behaved just as well for their parents as for anyone else they knew. (And even reasonably well for me, the step-mother, though not as well as for their dad. The difference there had to do with how I behaved and certain other political factors that we don’t need to get into here…)

Mamadragon says it well. With toddlers, it’s Tell, Show, Do.

Tell them what you want. “Come here.”
Show them. The mother could have beckoned and pointed to the ground beside her.
Do. See that the requirement happens. Go get the child.

And I would add another “Tell” at the end, when you explain the expectation. “When I say come, you come.”

Do this, and your child will behave as well for you as for anyone else.

Really.

August 8, 2008 Posted by | parenting, power struggle | , , , | 10 Comments