Thursday, July 17, 2008

Setting Boundaries Without Punishment, Shame, or Manipulation

That's what the parenting class I went to last night was about. It was super interesting, I took a ton of notes, and I feel like I learned a bunch of language and techniques I can file away for a few months until E makes his foray into toddlerhood. I have to be honest and say that I'm not TOTALLY convinced of everything that was covered. But I'm convinced of a lot of it, and will try to use it whenever possible. It's definitely a very different approach from the popular parenting techniques of today (punishment/reward stuff, time outs).

What was most useful was hearing other parents of two- and three-year-olds ask specific questions about how to handle things their kids are doing. One pushes her baby sister down hard multiple times a day. One mom described her son as a little lawyer who can find a loophole in any rule or argument. One two-year-old doesn't want to do anything her mom wants her to do (textbook, I guess). If it's time to eat breakfast, she won't. If it's time to go on a playdate, she doesn't want to. If it's time to get in her car seat, "NO." Her mom said it can take 45 minutes to get out of the house, and that she's resorted at times to tricking/scaring her. "Okay, I've laid out your snack for later. I guess you'll be staying here by yourself. Mommy's leaving. Bye." Carrie acknowledged that sometimes that's the way it'll go down, despite your best intentions. But she suggested saying things instead like, "I get that you don't want to go, but I'm the mom and you need to come with me." (Pick the screaming banshee up and walk out.) As you prepare to put them in the car, you might say, "This is no fun doing it this way. Yuck, this is hard! I'm really frustrated that you don't want to get in the car." Another idea was to make up a quick game (run around the house three times or whatever) to diffuse the situation and then resume getting in the car. Hmmm, I'll report back on whether this works in another year or so.

We covered so many topics it's impossible to relay them all here, but basically Carrie brought everything back to brain development and what's going on inside a toddler's brain. She made the point that young children aren't able to regulate their own feelings, nor are they capable of having "clearly defined thoughts about manipulating adults," despite how their behavior comes across at times. They misbehave because they're experiencing some form of stress, and it's important to respond to the behavior with sympathy and understanding instead of rage and punishment.

Carries maintains that time outs don't teach kids anything, and that they should be used for parents. The idea is that if your kid has flipped all your switches and you need a break, it's okay to say, "I think we need a break. I'm overwhelmed and need to calm down a minute. You sit here and I'll be right back."

She recommends having a clear set of family rules and expectations, and reinforcing these intentions by repeating beliefs such as, "We have a family that loves each other. We respect each other. We have fun together. We take care of each other." These mantras will be internalized by the kids over time.

Here's some language she suggested using in various situations.
"I know you want to paint, but we're not going to paint right now. We can color, though." Kid flips out. Don't repeat that you're not going to paint. You know you're not, but repeating it won't help. Just say, "I get that you really want to paint" and sit there until they calm down.

If they hit someone: "Hitting hurts people. It makes me sad when children get hurt. In our family we treat each other kindly." If necessary, gently restrain them first and sit down and breathe for a minute or two before talking.

In a nutshell, she advises being transparent and honest with them ("You know what, I'm having a bad day"), since they're more attune to your moods than you are. If you try to fake it with them, they'll push you until you admit it one way or another. They'll force you to be present with them through their behavior if you're not. Sometimes it helps to give them ten minutes of your undivided attention, get them started on play, and then go do the stuff you need to do.

The level of intensity present when you respond to negative behavior should be matched in everyday, positive interactions. Otherwise they'll keep returning to the behavior that results in the biggest reaction.

Give them alternatives to the behavior you don't want to continue. "Pushing your sister is not okay. If you need to push something, you can push this punching bag." Or whatever.

So there you have it. A synopsis of last night's class.

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