Friday, April 14, 2006

Trying to be a good parent: a few ideas (part 2)

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Trying to be a good parent: a few ideas (part 2)
Current mood: listless

So here's another thing I try to do to help me be a good parent (and wife, and friend, and family member etc): at least once a day, (and throughout the day if needed) I try to mentally step back from the present and take a look at the broader blessings in my life. So maybe this or that is driving me nuts, and this or that needs fixing, and I haven't slept much for months and Littleman has been illustrating the truly remarkable tenacity and persistence of toddlers. But here I am, doing what I really always wanted to do, with the most amazing kids in the world (OK, to me anyway) and a wonderful daddy for them, and we have a nice little house and an expanding business, and family nearby that love us and want to be a part of our lives. I mean, Wow. Your awesome blessings might be different, but I bet you have some beautiful reminders in your life too, if you stop to look for them. Taking a look at the big picture helps me ground and refocus, giving me a more grateful and tranquil base to stand on as I face the here and now.

I was also thinking about discipline. I am not against spanking, but I rarely do it myself. I don't know if this is because of Littleman's personality (of course this issue hasn't come up with Sweetcheeks yet), or mine, or my parenting style, or what. But so far, spanking has been extremely rare. These are the steps we usually take:

I start by telling Littleman I don't want him to do X, and I ask him to stop. I usually tell him why, and often point him in a different, more acceptable direction. A lot of people think this is stupid with a child his age, but I don't. The important thing is to NOT repeat yourself just because you don't want to deal with it, and don't give too many warnings. I try to be prepared at all times to drop whatever I am doing and go handle the situation. It's hard- I am not always successful. It means being a lot more mentally involved with what he is doing, thinking and feeling than I am able to be, sometimes.

But anyhow if this first redirection isn't successful (as in, if he simply ignores you or worse, grins and keeps right on doing whatever), I tell him more firmly that he has to stop, and if he does not stop I will do ___. The Consequence can be a toughie- it needs to be something I will not hesitate to follow through with, it needs to be effective and it's best to not overdo the consequence if the situation doesn't call for it. So I basically have to think of a custom consequence for every situation, no matter where we are- in very little time and when I am already annoyed. Some people find that having the same consequence all the time is good- a particular time-out spot, for instance. But I think that in that case, the child can begin to disregard the consequence, and not really care that they're being "punished". (Though some form of "time-out" is usually part of my plan- it's very helpful at this age). By tailoring the consequence to the situation, I can make the whole "transaction" more immediate and relevent. I hope.

It's best if this 2nd "no" with the consequence warning is done while I am on his level, holding him still and looking sternly into his eyes. This forces him to pay attention to me, forces him to stop whatever he was doing and makes him uncomfortable. If he tries to pitch a fit I hold onto him until he's through. Even hug him. It takes patience. If there's not enough time to wait a fit out, I tell him (pointedly and repeatedly, so he hears me without me having to raise my voice) to calm down and listen to me, and if he doesn't it will be straight to the consequence. If it's a big fit then it's usually straight to the consequence.

Unfortunately however I usually do the second warning from wherever I am, HOPING it will do the trick and I won't have to stop what I'm doing to take care of things. If that's the case, and I still have to stop, I do the stern talking to as a 3rd warning. Too many warnings, but oh well- it's usually how things end up. Finally, if none of that worked then it's straight to the consequence, no ifs ands or buts, no "born-again"s. No argument. I usually reply, "I told you not to __, and you did it anyway. So you have to __. Sorry." I think it's important to treat it like a law of nature- you do this, this happens- like, you throw a rock in the air, and gravity makes it fall down. If it hits you in the head, well you shouldn't have thrown the rock in the air!

Consequences I use usually involve immobilizing him for a little while, and/or removing him from tempting or busy situations. I still use the playpen and the crib for time outs, and I don't even worry if there's fun toys in there- to me, the consequence isn't so much about punishing as it is about forcing him to do what he should have done himself- that is, stop doing the "bad" thing and go do something acceptable. Sometimes the consequence is more about giving him a good place to cool down for a bit- toddlers can just get over the top sometimes. If we are out and about, sometimes I need to strap him into a stroller or carseat for a little while. Oh, and I always try to give him some idea how long he has to stay there- just a couple minutes, until you calm down and are ready to play nicely, until Grandma gets back from the restroom, or too bad- we're going home. Whatever. Then I have to keep my word. I may ignore him a little in there, but it's not solitary confinement. It's like a law of nature- I may even be a little sympathetic that he got himself into this mess. But I HAVE to follow through, or else he figures out these things are negotiable. Then, once the consequence has been completed, I give him a hug and try to point him in a good direction. And hope we don't have to do it all over again!

Knock on wood, but so far this has been working fairly well. Maybe someone else out there will find it helpful, too?

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