Thursday, May 17, 2007
5/17/07 Positive discipline
Katrina needed some outdoor time today, so she sat outside watching her brothers buzz around this afternoon. Gabriel thought her little heart shirt was "adorable."
Thanks in part to Julian not always napping, her brothers buzz around outdoors together a lot -- enough that today our next-door neighbor asked me as nicely as anyone could possibly ask, to start working on the boys not to scream and shout so much. I well understand! I gave my neighbor carte blanche to tell the boys himself if he needs to, and also brought the boys over to talk to our neighbor directly, and promised him I'd start working on them not to shout so much. I'm skeptical it'll have much effect on the boys right away, but at least our neighbor knows we're trying.
I went to a "positive discipline" parenting talk tonight, having coached myself ahead of time to think in terms of "normal" kids (Julian) instead of looking for answers for my extra-hard-head (Gabriel), for whom there are no answers.
Most of the good advice I've heard before, and do make some effort to implement already, but hearing it again will help me think in those terms some more. For instance, if possible, I should try more to put things in terms of what they can do, instead of what they can't. Such as, "show me how you draw with the crayons," if they're throwing them. If nothing else, at least I'll have gone through the motions, then will feel completely justified in my usual course of action: "STOP THROWING THOSE CRAYONS RIGHT NOW OR THEY'LL GO STRAIGHT INTO THE GARBAGE DO YOU UNDERSTAND DO YOU UNDERSTAND ME!!!!!!!!!!"
But this talk also included advice that I've come to take issue with more and more over the years, about offering kids choices to prevent battles and give them a sense of control. Of course, we all do that when it's appropriate, and there's no point making a fight out of something that doesn't need to be. But there are times that there are absolutes, that kids just have to do what you say because you told them.
The classic example is about clothing battles. The positive-discipline advice is to let them pick their own clothes. So what if they go to the grocery store in their PJs or wear their Halloween costumes every day for two weeks? Yeah, OK, so what? That's not a conflict yet. That's too easy. It's incomplete.
The problem arises when the parent has to decide for the kid what they're going to wear for a certain occasion. The speaker had a good answer for that: prepare the kid ahead of time, don't create on-the-spot battles about things kids usually have control over.
But once again, there wasn't a good answer for what happens when the kid just has to do -- or wear -- what you say. I remembered the time that Gabriel absolutely refused to get dressed after a swim lesson. That wasn't about what to wear, it was about wearing clothes at all. Actually, it wasn't even about that, it was about creating conflict, as is always the case with him. Gabriel stood in front of the whole swim school stark naked, cold and only slightly embarrassed, while Julian had lunch, for over half an hour. Eventually he had to get in the car and I was going to take him to Tonya's. He had to put clothes on. Non-negotiable. What does positive discipline have to say about that?
The speaker's answer, as is so often the case, was essentially that it was negotiable: "Well, so put him in the car and take him to daycare naked, so what?" No! Not good enough! I said he had to get dressed, he has to get dressed! "Let him suffer the consequences and learn from it." No! First, I'LL suffer the consequences, not him. Second, he won't learn from this. And Third, HE HAS TO DO WHAT I SAY BY GOLLY!!!! I just flat-out disagree that only safety issues are non-negotiable.
So what happened to my self-coaching that I was going to think of this in terms of Julian?
Well, though Julian is a lot more responsive to classic discipline, I still think that the advice to give choices sidesteps the problems I actually have. I can empower them and give them control all I want, but even with Julian, the problem usually starts where the advice stops. "Save timeouts for egregious behavior." That's fine, but the assumption is that the egregious behavior stops with the timeout. With Julian, the battle has juuust begun, though at least Julian will ultimately back down. I come away again thinking the speaker must have raised girls.
And, of course, there are no pat answers for what to do with a pesty 3-year-old.
Who I never tire of looking at. Whose innocent wide-eyed face is easy to conjure with a voice of mystery and anticipation. Who repeats without fail your answer, with a question inflection, to his often-insightful queries. Who sings all the time, songs he knows, songs he makes up. Who colors or digs for an hour at a time, still sitting with his relentlessly adorable crossed feet. Who always wants to give Mommy a hug and a kiss, and with his full pouty lips is the best kisser I know. Who I love dearly.
Maybe I got something out of the positive discipline talk after all.
p.s. Day 10 of hives! Slowing way down, thank goodness, but still, the tiniest scratch turns red and gets raised up. Advice nurse assures me this is still within normal range, but do get baby tested for allergies. You better believe I will!
Posted by nb at 11:16 PM