"Why the smile?" he asked.
I tried to figure out how to say what I was thinking without offending him. Often, when I give my perspective or offer advice about his relationship with Claire, he hears it like I'm the know-it-all wife carping at a feckless husband.
"Do you really want to know?" I said.
"Yes," he countered.
"You and Claire fight a lot," I say with trepidation. "You guys get into power struggles. She doesn't want to do stuff that you want her to do, so she yells at you. You force her to do it anyway. She yells louder. You yell back."
"Got any advice?" he says. I've gotten him thinking, instead of defending himself. It's time to bend his ear...
"Sure." After all, I was an elementary education teacher before having Claire. I remind him that the advice I have to offer is based on years of professional experience.
Then, I outlined what I had learned in the trenches about the emotional dynamic between adult and child -- the down and dirty, the nitty-gritty of keeping the peace in the classroom. Now that I've shared this list with my husband, I've formalized it for all the blogging world to see*:
HELP! I NEED SOMEBODY: Capitalize on your child's desire to help you and to be needed. Sometimes, when Claire starts to struggle against me, I remind her that I need her help to get the task done. I remind her that putting on her shoes is not going to happen without her. On a good day, she will quickly turn from my foe to my ally. We have now become a team working towards a common good. I always make sure I thank her profusely afterwards for her essential contribution to getting the job done.
FAIR WARNING: Outline expectations of your child ahead of time. My husband is particularly bad about this one. For example, he will expect Claire to abandon the puzzle in which she is completely absorbed, in order to eat lunch. In his mind, he's made her food and it's time to eat. She likes to know what's coming. She can struggle with transitions. If you think about it, adults do too. Kids appreciate a heads-up about what's coming next on the agenda, just like us.
FEELINGS…NOTHING MORE THAN FEELINGS: We tend to forget that kids want the same thing that we want a lot of the time. They want their experience validated and to feel like we understand them. My interactions with Claire tend to be more peaceful, when I acknowledge her feelings and encourage her. "I know its hard to wait for breakfast to be ready. Sometimes, I don't like waiting either. You're doing a great job waiting". Not only am I trying to show my child that I see her, I am putting into words what she probably can't yet.
THE CARROT: I want Claire to learn how to pick up her toys, not generally something that she wants to do. When I dangle the park in front of her, she's more apt to acquiesce. I will say, "It's time to go to the park, but we have to pick up our toys before we go". Works like a charm every time. Of course, eventually I want her to pick up her toys on her own. She isn't there yet. The "carrot" strategy is what we would call "scaffolding" in the educational world. It's a support used in a new area of learning. When she's had enough practice, we will take the scaffold away and see how that goes.
TIMING IS EVERYTHING: When we make a request of a kid, we often assume that he needs to do it right away or we will lose face with him somehow. It's not necessarily true. Kids have a different concept of time, so if there's no urgency, let your little one do it on his own time. You can acknowledge what's going on, "I know you don't want to do this right now, but we need to do it soon". Then, set a timer to remind him that it needs to get done.
READY, SET, GO: Similar to the previous one, when there's no time constraint, ask your child to tell you when she is ready. She just wants to feel some control over her destiny, which is reasonable enough. This strategy works particularly well when your child is close to you with nothing better to do. When Claire doesn't want to have her diaper changed, I will take a step back from the diaper pad and say, "You let me know when you are ready". She gets bored, and it usually isn't long before she thinks it's her idea to have her clothes or diaper changed.
PRO-CHOICE: I think most people are aware of this one. When a child makes a choice, the decision becomes his, instead of something being done to him. It's important to remember to keep the choices simple, and limited to a small number though. Too much choice can be overwhelming for a child.
CHOOSE OR LOSE: When you are in a hurry, you can start by offering choice. If this strategy isn't working or is taking too long, you can say, "if you don't make a choice between x and y, I'm going to make a choice for you". Children don't generally like it when you take charge of the situation, but they seem to have an uncanny, intuitive understanding of the fairness and logic of their loss of choice and are more apt to accept it.
DANGER, WILL ROBINSON: Try keeping the "non-negotiables" limited to dangerous activities and things that you absolutely will not tolerate. Then, kids will take you seriously when you make a "no options" demand of them. It's like the boy who cried wolf. If you cry wolf too many times, they won't believe you when you really mean it.
EVERYTHING BUT THE KITCHEN SINK: What worked yesterday might not work today. You have to be flexible, try different things, try many things, switch it up. Something will usually stick.
ALL IS NOTHING: Sometimes nothing works.
HONESTY IS THE BEST POLICY: So you've tried all of these things and nothing is working. You're late for a doctor's appointment and your child needs to get with the program. Be honest, but keep it brief, factual and calm. "We need to go to the doctor now. I have to put on your clothes. I know you don't like it. I know you're mad". Then, soothe the angry beast as best you can.
HUMAN NATURE: Cut yourself some slack. You won't be perfect. I'm not. After years of teaching, I still lose my shit. I'm tired, hungry, in a hurry, feeling grumpy. Whatever. Remember that kids will not lose their respect for you for being human. You can always talk about your conflict afterwords. You can always apologize. Remember it's not the battle, it's the war (not crazy about the "war" analogy, but it does work).
*Disclaimer: I started this blog with one rule. I was not going to offer advice. I didn't want to tell people stuff they already know. I didn't want to sound preachy. I am well aware that I don't have the answers.
But today I'm wearing my teacher hat, not my mom hat. As a mom, I still don't have the answers. I wouldn't dare tell you how to raise your child. As a teacher, I felt I may have a valuable perspective to offer.
I hope you think so too. If not, feel free to leave me a comment telling me I'm preachy or I've told you stuff you already know.
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Photo Source: Dominic Alves, Flickr, this photo has been altered which does not suggest that the licenser endorses me, this blog or its content. License