6.25.2005

On Parenting. . .

Here's the thing folks, once your child does anything more than sleep, eat and relieve themselves, you loose all control. Well ok, frankly, once your child exits the womb, you've lost all control. But since we're talking the way your child interacts with other people, we'll grant you control over the first few months because merely "crying like a banshee" isn't enough for this illustration.

Toddlers & Preschoolers are funny little beings with great big hot tempers. Their frontal lobes are still developing and so sometimes their impulse control sucks. Ok, much of the time it sucks. Make a 2 or 3 year old mad enough and watch out for frailing arms attached to little fists. They hit. Sometimes they kick. Sometimes they even bite. As a parent you do what you can to gently (or sometimes not so gently maybe) enforce the idea that hitting = bad. That stinky impulse control being what it is, however, means that sometimes even KNOWING what you've said in the past, your child may still lash out physically when push comes to shove -- so to speak.

Any realistic parent knows this. You know that no matter how many times you hear yourself say "Do not hit! Hitting is bad." (or something like that) you're going to end up hearing yourself say it again until FINALLY one day it sinks in. The same realistic parent knows that she's not alone in the repetition. She knows that every other mother with a little ball of horomonal confusion in her charge is chanting the same battle cry.

So when Suzy lashes at playgroup, its not something to judge her mom's parenting skills on. "Oh my! What a rotten little imp! What kind of mother must she be for her child to behave that way?!" Simply silly. Yet this is how some parents react. Your child throws himself on the floor in a giant tantrum in the center of the mall? Some parents shoot you dirty looks making judgements of your skills based solely on the 2-year old writhing on the floor screeching "I WANT A LOLLIPOP!!"

The true illustration of your parenting is not your child's behavior. Its how you react to your child's behavior. And this is what makes me bonkers.

Logan has recently (as in this last week) entered this rotten stage where he'll slap another kid when he gets too frustrated. It tends to come in the midst of a circular arguement.

"Its nice to share," he might say.

"No its not" says his friend, who at that moment does not find sharing her favorite pink bucket a nice idea. Something I think we can all identify with yet have been beaten into the PC reaction of not vocalizing it the way only a 3-year old can.

"Yes it is!"

"No its not."

"YES IT IS!"

"NO ITS NOT!"

"YES IT IS!!"

"NO ITS NOT!!!!"

SMACK! goes Logan slapping his open palm on his friend's arm.

He did it again during art class this week when C didn't think it was a good idea to take turns leaping off the big squishy riser thingy onto the thick mat. A few "yes/no" rounds and he let loose. I saw him start to clench his jaw - a sign that nothing good is about to happen. He used to do this with us. You could literally SEE the anger rising in him as he'd clench his jaw and open and close his hands. Then he'd reach out and try to hit. It got him no where good when he'd hit at us so he seemed to have given up on it. Now you see him start to pull back to smack at us and then he'll pound his hand against his hip. But not so with other little kids lately. No, them he just goes ahead and slaps - typically in the arm.

I started moving to him when I saw the jaw tighten. When I saw the arm start to go back I, now a good 5 feet from him, yelled out "LOGAN DANIEL DON'T YOU DARE!"

But he dared. And when he did, C's Mom shot me the dirtiest look she could muster. I was good though. I didn't say what was on my mind, which was "Hey look lady, if you're kid knew how to take turns she'd not have gotten hit. So there." Instead I ignored her and did what I was about to do anyway - I, without a word, swooped my child up so fast he had no idea what hit him. I walked him to a corner of the gym room and I sat him on his butt away from all the fun. I spoke to him firmly using that "Mom is fairly ticked off right now" voice.

"You sit right there and you do not move until I come back for you. Do you understand me? If you move, we leave. Got it?"

He nodded. He "Humpfed." He crossed his hands aross his chest and he pouted. I went back for him and kneeled down before him, demanding that he look me in the eye. "You do NOT hit. Do you understand me?" I waited for him to nod. "I want you to go tell C that you're sorry." And he did.

And that's my point. If the tables had been turned, I'd not judge C's mom based on the way her child behaved - I wasn't even thinking of making any 'judgement' calls on her parenting based on C's inability to take turns. Its a normal 3 year old behavior frankly and so C was being a normal 3 year old. The issue is how a parent handles it. C's mom didn't step in and encourage her child to share the gym equipment with everyone else in class. She stood far off watching it all unfold until her kid got smacked and then she whooshed in to hand out dirty looks. Her concern shouldn't have been with how rotten a mom I must be because of how Logan reacted as much as it should been that her kid was not hurt. She could have shot me all the looks she wanted if I had ignored Logan's behavior or softballed a response to it.

Which brings me to the other mom in class that day. This one is mom to wild child and it seems that he is, in fact, the way he is in part because of the way she parents. One day there were no juice boxes at snack time. J was ticked. He wanted juice. He yelled. He cried. He kicked, hit and punched his mother hard. She pleaded with him "Please, J, please don't hit Mommy like that." And then she went and found him juice from the nursery school that shares the building.

As L sat on the floor pouting, Mom to J said to me, "Wow! You have a child that will actually sit and stay when you put him in a public time out?" She looked at her 4 year old and then back to Logan.

"Well, he didn't always, but he's learned." I said.

"Learned how?" she asked.

"When I put him there I told him very simply that if he moved we were going home." I told her.
She stared at me blankly so I continued. "He knows that I mean it. IF he moves, we're going home. He doesn't want to go home so he's going to do what he's told." And she stared some more. It brought back the image of all of J's tantrums during our 4 month session of classes. His mom is queen of idle threats.

And so learn from her, fellow-parents. If you're going to issue a threat, follow-through on it. The only thing your kid learns otherwise is that they can do whatever they want because you don't mean it.

Look, I certainly don't have all the answers to parenting written down in my secret handbook. My child isn't the well-behaved perfect angel - heck, I just admited that he's got this nasty right hook developing. But I do know the very simple, logical, undeniable truths of parenting:

1. No fair judging a Mom/Dad on her/his child's behavior...only on the way they respond to said behavior if you must judge at all.

2. If you say it, mean it. Even if you regret your threat the moment it leaves your lips - you better follow-through or your kid will quickly learn that you bluff.

4 comments:

Melessa said...

I hate those dirty looks too and I know what you mean about how quickly a kid can call your bluff. I recently tried a new trick I learned in a Parenting with Love and Logic Class with Tristan. Boy was it fun! When Tristan gets a time-out, he has to go to his room. He usually stomps up there loudly shouting protests all the way. So last week I said calmly, "Tristan your behavior is disturbing me and your sisters and I'm very sorry, but you have to go to your room now." (no yelling, no sarcastic cheerfulness, just an calm voice) Then I added, "On your way, I want you to stomp on every last step, shout as loud as you can, and slam the door really fast when you get there." The poor kid was completely befuddled. He stood there staring, wide-mouthed for a few seconds before saying, "Well I will go to my room, but I won't make any noise!" Hee! Hee! I just had to share that.

Mandy said...

Okay, I was all set to comment on Sandy's post, but, Melessa, you just cracked me up! Reverse psychology?

Sandy, I think you are right that judgments should be reserved for how a parent reacts. Let's face it, all our kids do things we wish they wouldn't, but the point is that we have a choice about whether or not to address it. Follow through is the key. It is also a pain in the butt! I wish the kids understood and we don't like follow through either! LOL

Sandy said...

Melessa I love it! A friend of mine does that with her kids. When the tantrums start she'll tell them "You know, if you're going to tantrum then you better yell louder and stomp your feet. There is no half-way baby." And the kid just walks off with a huff. . .but no tantrum. Ingenius!

Melessa said...

I'm glad I made you all smile. I wish I could take credit, but most of my good ideas come from Parenting with Love and Logic which started as a book, but now is taught as a seminar and has tapes and DVDs available. It completely revamped the way I work with my only son, who I thought just might push my buttons all the way to a nervous breakdown before he started Kindergarten. I know the authors are Cline and Fay, but I'm embarrassed to admit I'm clueless on their first names.