Friday, June 28, 2013

Reasoning and Redirection (and a few other things)

I've written  couple of posts about sweet Bud lately and I thought it was high time I write one about Annie and what we're going through with her behavior wise. We've been talking a bit about different ways of parenting in my moms group on Wednesday night and it got me thinking about Annie and the place she is at right now. I've said a few times lately that while Graves can be wild and busy and active, she's more of my daily challenge. I think it's because I (obviously) expect more from her and also because she is just so much like me- sensitive and stubborn. Those s's are a hard two. Anyway, I thought it would be interesting to share a little about what I'm doing (or trying to do) with her):

1. Reasoning
While new battles arise daily, one thing I'm so thankful for is that Annie is finally at the stage where reasoning works (most of the time). In most cases, if we can get her to calm down enough to talk about whatever is upsetting her, we can work through it together.

For example, I had said something at mom's group about how I think it's important to know a child's personality and not discipline one way across the board. With Ann Peyton if she is crying (which looks a lot like a "fit") I usually don't just send her off to deal with it. We do have a "calm down chair" and sometimes it comes to that, but there are few times (and there are times when it's just her being difficult and I know she can control) when we punish her for getting upset like that. I fully understand that every child is different and for some just ignoring it and moving on with the day nonchalantly is a great mechanism for success. For Annie, I think it's a mechanism for disaster. She just does better when someone sits and helps her process through something. Oh, how I can relate.

Anyway, one of my good friends from the group and I had our combined four children eating lunch at Chic Fil A and she asked me more about how that looked practically and how I reasoned through things with AP. Well, right at that moment Annie started getting really upset about the fact that I had gotten her lemonade instead of juice like her other friends. Obviously, what I wanted to say was "Have you lost your mind? Lemonade is much better than apple juice. I was doing you a favor. Giving you a treat. Let's get your act together and enjoy the freakin' lemonade". But, I know what works (and also that saying those things would be mean and immature). So...I put her in my lap (I still try to do this whenever I can) and I started speaking really softly to her. I explained first that we were there to celebrate one of her little friend's birthdays because I think it's important that she have a perspective outside herself and when I can point out in a very kind gentle way that "it's not all about you" I try to do so. The next thing I did was that I explained that we were going to eat lunch and play and then go home because Graves needed a nap. If she spent all her time crying it would slow us down and she wouldn't have a chance to play on the play equipment. We don't go to CFA that often, so that's a big deal to her. I knew it was a gamble, because sometimes she still doesn't have the self control to pull it together, but she did great and we were able to move on and enjoy playing. I'd say this sort of thing works about ninety percent of the time with her now.

At this point, reasoning and logical consequences work maybe ten percent of the time with Graves. It's a process, right? ;)

2. Redirection

One thing that I'm sure will decrease with age (it already has some) is that Annie is often able to be redirected. This is probably my main strategy with Graves and one I still use frequently with her. There are many instances where it doesn't, or wouldn't, work like the example I gave above. She was just too far gone for me to distract her with something else. But a lot of times, if I can see that she's about to get worked up over something, I'll just find something positive to do or discuss, something I know will make her happy. For example, she still isn't really ever happy about getting her hair washed in the tub. On one level, I think it really scares her to get water in her eyes (she's happy to put her head under, but she has to be in control...again how I can relate). So a lot of times, I see she's about to tune up and cray and I say "hey, why don't you tell me a princess story?" and it's done before she even notices. The other day she was refusing to eat some BBQ chicken which she loves. I told her that she had to eat it and I wasn't giving her anything else. Well, she got upset and started fussing. I started talking to her about chicken and physically feeding her the chicken on a fork and she ate it all...again without even realizing it. NOW, I wouldn't do dinner that way every night. But she was having a rough night and it worked better than having an argument or sending her to bed hungry. She got to listen to a fun story about chickens and get some food that I know she enjoys in her belly. That's kind of the way she likes to be stubborn now- she'll refuse something I *know* she likes just to exert her independence. Which I know is totally normal, but whew....

3. Choosing battles

This is a hard one for me because, as I said, I like to be in control. And as the mom, I feel like I should be in control. But she's getting to the age where she should be in control with some things. I try very, very hard to let her dress herself most days (which if we're home usually means a costume of some sort) and so when we go somewhere important she's pretty compliant about wearing what I choose.

That same day at CFA she wanted to sit under the table. I realize most people would not let their four year old sit on the floor of a restaurant. And honestly, were it not a fast food place, I'd probably insist on a little more decorum. But I made myself look at the situation and ask myself why it would bother me. Ultimately, I decided a) people might stare (and judge) and b) it was disgusting. I quickly assuaged my own worry about the latter- I'm pretty confident they mop the floors more than they clean the play place- but the former was harder. I get that we live in a society that follows certain rules of behavior and I'm not going to let Annie do things that would be incredibly distracting to other patrons (like be very loud or something) but this seemed minimal. I thought about my own mom who epitomizes Southern etiquette and how she let me wear jeans to church when I was in junior high and everyone else was wearing nice dresses or how she let me wear make-up pretty early because "it washes off". I know people questioned her, even to her face, about those decisions. But (when it was safe and reasonable) my autonomy trumped her desire for her family to "look right". And that will be with me forever. I wear dresses to church now and I don't wear as bright of lipstick as I did when I was ten, but I'll never forget her letting me have those things when I wanted them. And sitting on the floor at a chicken eatery seemed not very different.

4. Preparing for Situations/Conveying Expectations

This is really helpful for Annie. She is so much more successful in situations we prepare her for. For example, if we were going to a restaurant and I brought her and Graves sippy cups to avoid ordering four drinks, it helps to let her watch me fix it and explain that we're not going to be buying a drink because I know that will bother her. Or, we've tried to limit the kids milk (they drink a TON) and Peyton explained to Annie right when she woke up how much she could have for the rest of the day. This goes along with reasoning, obviously, because he also explained why (i.e. it makes her feel "full" and she doesn't eat as much healthy food, we try to buy them the best milk at the grocery store and it's expensive and Papa would have to work more if they drank too much, ect.). Or on days when I want her to wear a certain outfit (usually shorts to the park instead of a dress) it helps if I tell her that morning so she can be prepared. Obviously, I'm not a mind reader and I can't spend my day trying to predict what will upset her, but I know my child and I know this is one small way I can help her feel more in control of a situation. I know for me, this is huge. Like, I don't mind so much if Peyton is working extra or has a meeting if I know a few days before, but when he tells me at eleven o'clock the night before, it's rough.

5. Tone

This is one that has taken a lot of practice, too. My friend, Carrie, whose mothering I respect so deeply told me once that she tries to speak to her children in the same kind tone of voice at all times, even and especially, when she is disciplining them. I was at a loss and thought rashly (and I think I even said) "That CANNOT work. Name *one* family with consistently well-behaved children who do that." I went home and thought on it and the answer came to me myself: the Duggars! Sweet Michelle is definitely not letting herself be a doormat, but from what I've seen she uses a consistently kind, happy voice.

Now, in case you were wondering, this goes a step above not yelling. I was already trying to do that. This means you don't even have a "stern" tone. Because theoretically, my kids should obey me without me having to use a stern tone. They should obey because they know the consequences of not obeying and ultimately I hope they will obey out of a desire for their own holiness and a conviction that Peyton and I have their best interests at heart. There are still times when I do change my voice (like with Graves in a parking lot because y'all...scary times call for stern momma voices and I just can't risk his little life for this cause). But in general, I've tried to adopt this approach and it's been HUGE.

It's done more for me, I think, than for them. I just feel myself loosing control much less easily and we don't get in this spiral where there's this extreme tension and negative energy. Situations get diffused so much more easily *and* I'm treating them more in the way I'd want to be treated myself.

6. Recognizing that My Words Have Meaning

I say this all the time, but I don't always live by it. Sometimes I feel like I just repeat the same thing over and over "Share. You need to share. Please share that with your brother.". One of my favorite things I've ever heard my above mentioned friend Carrie say to one of her children was "I want you to try to think of others before yourself". I had never articulated it that way. I had never explained why it was important to share. I was simply barking orders. Similarly, my friend Morgan mentioned that she tries to use Biblical language in directing her children (e.g. "obey", "honor", ect). I thought that was such a good point and one that I had never considered.

I think that's all for now and it was really much more than I initially planned on writing. Some of this is basic Love and Logic stuff, some of it came via discussions with Peyton and just observing Annie's little temperament, some of it came to me by the way of beautiful friendships and bits of it are tips I picked up at the adoption conference I went to back in March.

I hope this post didn't come off at snooty and know-it-all. As usual, I wrote it largely for myself. But I also know I love reading other people's thoughts and opinions on things like this, so maybe it will be the source of a bit of dialogue.


Jennifer said...

I feel the opposite, Henry is my challenge and Evie is fairly easy. He just whines all the time and is into everything. Maybe things will change as he begins to talk more, I liked this post a lot. I yell way too much and do not always take the time to help Evie work through her emotions. You have motivated me to do better!

Courtney said...

I enjoyed reading your post. I think it is trial and error and getting to know your child. As a teacher I apply this a lot. Things change from year to year as well how I run my classroom.

Megan said...

This is such a great post. I have it bookmarked to read again when I have children of my own. Thank you for sharing so much of your parenting strategies with us!