Thursday, January 15, 2009

Today's Lesson: Humility

There's a quote I used to have on my email signature "Life is a long lesson in humility."

Still true, but now I'll specify: "Parenthood is a long lesson in humility."

In trying to understand the little monster, er, Angel, I'm learning a lot about myself, including my own intensity, persistance, sensitivity (I hate dry skin + scratchy clothes and socks with the edge in the wrong place!), adaptability, and perceptiveness. More on that later.

More importantly right now, I've learned about my own capacity for judging. I never thought I was particularly judgmental of other parents, though I know I've been less than positive on a few occasions. One in particular sticks in my mind. One day, outside the Yale Child Study Center at the Yale School of Medicine, a little girl about Angelina's age was throwing a temper tantrum in the parking lot. The mom, a professional woman, probably a scientist or MD at Yale, was kneeling next to her saying in the calmest voice imaginable "Honey, we don't yell like that. That's not good behaviour."

My first thought? I laughed.

To myself, but I laughed.

In my mind I said, "Just pick up the kid and show her who's boss. Stick her in the car and let her scream. You can't reason with a 2 yr old."

Now I know she probably just got done reading the book I'm reading about Spirited Children.

Yes, there's a time when you have to insist, when you can't wait for the tantrum-throwing 2 yr old to make the 'right decision,' but should parenthood really be a dictatorship? It's not a democracy either, but how about something in between? Is it so bad if a 2 yr old gets to make some decisions?

The bible, er, my new book, describes such a child, and explains how by modeling the behaviour you expect, eventually the child learns that behaviour. So, if the parent's response is to yell and demand and be forceful, well, guess how the kid behaves? That doesn't mean the parent doesn't set boundaries, quite the contrary, boundaries and rules are extremely important for a "spirited" child. The key is to allow choices within those boundaries. The choices may be "You walk to the car on your own without a fuss, or I carry you kicking and screaming." A 2 yr old may not get it immediately, but over time, will.

It's too early to claim success just yet, but I have already seen a difference. By not getting upset when she doesn't cooperate, by talking through what's wrong or making it a game, and letting it seem like "her choice", by staying calm, she calms down. Three nights in a row now she's gone to sleep without a fuss, and so far two of those nights she's slept straight through to morning and woke up happy. A world of difference from a few days ago.
As much as I hated people saying to me "when you have kids..." or claiming I didn't know what I was talking about because I didn't have kids, even those I'd cared for - sometimes for a week at a time - tons of kids of all ages, they were kind of right. It IS different with your own (which would explain how Nana and Nanny have no problems with her). So, I eat my humble pie. To the mother whom I inwardly laughed at for calmly telling her tantruming two year old "That's not good behaviour," I apologize. You were on the right track. I only had to have my own SPIRITED child to figure that out.

Tomorrow's lesson: Adaptability


misschris said...

I was going to recommend that books to you because a good friend had been telling me it was a bible for childraising. I haven't read it yet bc I never really thought S was necessarily spirited just that he doesn't listen (!!) and I can't reason with him because nothing phases him. Anyway maybe I will read it just to get some insight.

I have NO patience :( but I've been learning over time. Amazing what we can learn about ourselves during this phase isn't it?

Cherise said...

Chris - I'd recommend it for you. We usually think spirited = high energy and extroverted, which A is, but that's not true for all spirited kids. I expect a number who get misdiagnosed with ADHD and put on meds would fall into the "spirited" category. A gets into her zone and doesn't listen, nothing I say matters. The info in the books helps me to interpret this and figure out ways to address it. One of the reasons I really like the book is because it doesn't say "Do X and your child will be perfect and all will be resolved!" But it's realistic that one option may not work, but another may, and to not give up. The key, though, is modeling the behaviour you expect.

This morning was difficult, and I found myself getting irritated, as soon as that showed, A responded in kind. When I calmed down, she calmed down.

I can't recommend this book enough!

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