So I saw a friend’s Facebook status yesterday about how she had a seat on an airplane next to a baby and a toddler. And she referred to this as her personal hell.
We talked a little, and she mentioned that she feels anxious around kids. And she also mentioned that she has been told by parents that she “doesn’t understand” things because she doesn’t have kids.
So I took all that in, and I truly feel that I understand every feeling she said she has regarding kids. That is, I understand as best as I can…as a stay-at-home mom who rarely flies anywhere, who only leaves the house weekly to teach six 45-min fitness classes, who mostly only has to interact with her own kids.
But I think I “get” both sides. I do.
As a parent of 5 daughters, I cannot tell you how much anxiety I have felt and do feel when I know I am going to have to be in an unavoidable situation when my babies and/or toddlers might do and say…only God knows what.
Clara is 2yrs and 8months. I don’t accept that “terrible twos” is some unavoidable certain misery. Kids understand way more than we give them credit for. And Clara and I figure it out together.
At her young age, she understands the difference in using rude words and polite words. She knows how I expect her to talk to me AND TO ANYONE. She understands this 100%…I promise you.
Not every child grasps that, and I understand not every kid will understand that at the same time. But I hold her to a high standard of obedience and polite behavior because she DOES KNOW. At my house, she will behave, or she will not get what she wants from me.
We talk a lot about expectations when she is in a good mood. Not when she’s hungry, not when she’s tired…those aren’t the role-playing moments, those are the “let’s use what we learned moments.”
Sometimes the lesson works in the naughty moment…not always.
Does she ever throw a toy at my head and scream, “I hate my nice words!!!!!”
And I scoop her up, put her butt in bed, and we can talk after your nap, Clara. Thank you.
Do I ever give in? Do we ever negotiate? Does she ever flat out “win” our battles of will? Yes. And yes. And yes.
But I am pretty firm and pretty stubborn, in a calm and quiet way.
Sometimes, Clara and I make deals. She wants a red Popsicle; I ask her to eat a banana (or some turkey) first and then she can have one.
She likes to watch the same shows over and over and over…and over. Sometimes I just let her. And sometimes I make her try something new. Negotiate.
Theory and practice…and utter exhaustion–hers and/or mine.
There are times I let go of my rules completely. I have let her climb into my bed in the middle of the night, and I just hold her. Even though I’ve asked her to please stay in her own bed and to go back to sleep on her own. It’s just…
I don’t pressure her to potty-train. I don’t and I won’t. She will let me know. I don’t believe she will be in diapers in kindergarten.
I let her have a pacifier, and I don’t care…like even a little bit. I don’t care. If a stranger asks her/me–“Uh! When is she going to stop using that pacifier?!”
I just say–“Maybe never? Is that hard on you? Does it affect your life?” And eye contact is my favorite. People usually forget what else they want to say.
MORE PRIVATE BATTLES
It is a battle of wills, and I’ve found that the best approach is very calm, but very firm and very persistent.
Watch any episode of Super Nanny to see it in action. I don’t think the parent should yell or spank hard. The key is control. Showing self control by example.
You can’t do this every time, but I have had to do it at least once with every daughter–stay at it until you break them. Like a wild horse.
“Your behavior is unacceptable; sit in that chair until I tell you that you can get up.”
And then–ignore. Go about your day happily. Talk to her siblings, talk aloud about everything you are doing, calmly and happily.
If the child gets up, you say–sit down. If she doesn’t or if she screams no…you go get her and put her back down. That’s yes.
Repeat 1000 times.
That’s it. Until the child apologizes or changes her attitude. That’s it. We can do this all day. You will not break Anne Sullivan, Helen Keller.
It’s amazing what level of shrill scream and kicking that I have and can ignore. The rest of us can all play cards or watch a movie…and the “chair kid” is welcome to join us as soon as her attitude changes…or not. Her choice.
So when a child or baby is throwing a fit in public, it’s the parents’ fault 97% of the time. Usually some basic need (nap, meal, etc) has been ignored…sometimes it’s beyond the parent’s control. And sometimes the parent is shopping and ignoring.
But if every need is met, and the kid is just testing his limits. Let him know the limits, especially in public. People say–pick your battles. A public battle is a yes, every time.
How the fit is handled is 100% within the parent’s control. I can understand a warning, maybe even a few…but after that, it’s “remove the child from public” time.
I remember clearly a day in the store when Audrey was about 3 years old. She taught me a very important lesson, and I’ve used it since that day.
I was in a hurry, grabbing this, grabbing that, and Audrey was sitting in the big part of the cart. Every time I stopped the cart to look for or grab something, she would stand up and act goofy. I don’t remember exactly what she was doing or saying, but it was funny and entertaining to everyone else in the store…except me, her mom in a hurry.
I chuckled it off the first few times, and then I said–“Audrey, I want you to stay seated.” And I held the “I’m serious” eye contact for a few seconds. Audrey is hilarious, and sometimes she’s so funny that nothing penetrates her thick layer of natural comedy, nothing can extinguish her mischievous eye twinkle, and you have no idea what she will say or do next.
So I stop the cart again, and sure enough…Audrey stands up and does a goofy dance or whatever she had been doing. I get her attention with a swat on the rear, “Audrey. Sit. Down.” Not a hard swat, I barely make pat-contact. It’s the act, not the force. An attention-getter.
Audrey was mortified. When the other person on the aisle left, she asked me incredulously, “Why did you spank me?”
“Audrey…because you didn’t obey me.” Disobedience isn’t cute.
“Well, that embarrassed me. And it hurt my feelings.” I can’t remember my oldest two daughters ever telling me they were embarrassed.
“Well…it embarrassed me that my daughter didn’t obey. Then people will think–oh she lets her kids do whatever they want.”
“You don’t have to spank me. Then everyone knows I’m in trouble.” She was truly hurt, sulking in the cart with her little arms folded.
“What do you think I should do?” Kids have really, really good ideas. Ask them sometimes.
“Just whisper to me and say I am embarrassing you.” Brilliant.
And to this day, her brilliant 3-year-old brain idea has worked with 100% success (with my daughters 2.5 years and older). All I have ever had to do in public, is motion for them to come over to me, and lean in–
“I want you to stop behaving this way. You are embarrassing me. This is your private warning. Do you want me to embarrass you?” And they know they have a choice. You can see wheels turn, smell smoke.
Kids have pride too. And they are brilliant. I have found that their punishment ideas are especially appropriate.
MORE PUBLIC BATTLES
I remember one time Margaret was maybe 18-20 months old. I was pregnant with Hazel. And who knows what went wrong but she started throwing a fit in public.
Threw herself of the filthy mall floor, kicking and screaming. What to do?? I didn’t have our “timeout chair” with me! Plus…all these people were around to watch all this.
A bribe?? Promise her chocolate? Um…heck no. A reward for this insane behavior? NO. But it crossed my mind, sure.
I picked her up and put her on the mall bench, and I sat on the other end of the bench. Here? Now? This battle? Yes.
It was an eternity before she stopped. Probably 5-7 minutes. She flipped herself over to her belly and attempted to flee at least 7 times. Nope. Even pregnant I could catch her, snag her back up, sit her back down. And wait.
It’s tiring. But it’s worth it.
Kids are a curious breed…
Not exactly like a pet (well trained or poorly trained). But a lot like a pet.
Not exactly like an adult–they have no filter or need for social pleasantries. But in many ways, they are like adults.
For good or bad, I’ve always kept a good portion of my dialogue to kids as “adult words” (not cuss words, I mean not baby talk). A respectful conversation between equals.
…and a good portion of my interaction with kids involve “adult expectations.” Kids usually understand way more than adults give them credit for, more than adults give them access to.
And within reason regarding their ages, they will behave and perform to whatever standard you hold them to. That’s the damn truth.
They have basic needs that require regular attendance… that’s the big one that parents try to stretch to limits. A toddler should not be expected to shop for 3-4 hours during his lunch and nap time; it’s going to be bad for all involved.
That sounds a lot like humans of all ages. It is.