A comment I hear quite often is, "You are so lucky that your child is so well behaved". It's gotten me thinking a lot lately. I've also had a number of moms ask me what my "trick" is...
A. he isn't always but, more importantly,
B. It has nothing to do with luck (or tricks) when he is.
And, maybe even more important than the more importantly is,
C. What does that even mean? What does it mean to be considered well behaved? (I feel like that is a whole other Blog in and of itself)
As a disclaimer: I hold no judgment on other parents and their methods. What works for one family may not fit right with another family. All my siblings have different parenting styles. My friends have their own strategies. I do not think ill of any of them. I just know what works for me and my family.
Hartly and I both work really hard at our relationship and in
navigating through this crazy world of childhood together. Every-time, since infant-hood, that we get into an awesome groove and we match each other's beats, things shift and change and we have to start from square one all over again. It's not easy but it's so worth it and nothing is more important to me.
I work super hard at repeatedly reminding myself to loosen and, ultimately, to drop the "reigns" on Hart. I've learned, through much trial and error with Hartly, that the tighter I hold on, the more he fights back and resists. It creates an unnecessary power struggle. I've learned that counting, timeouts, threats, rewards, punishments and yelling just does not work for us. I've learned that even if and when they have, which was very rare, it was for all the wrong reasons. Do I let him just do whatever he wants? Does he make up all of the rules? Are there no consequences for his behavior? Is he a little tyrant? Is he spoiled? No. No. No. No. No. In fact, as I said, he is often extremely kind and polite and, well... well behaved.
I've also learned that he (even though it may feel like it at times) does not "misbehave" to annoy me or to be "bad". There's always a reason. It's my job/pleasure/work to figure out why and to solve that issue in order to change the behavior. Often times he's overtired or hungry or he's sad and once those human needs are met, the "bad" behavior resolves itself. Oftentimes he just, simply, does not understand or his impulses are stronger than his thoughts.
No matter the reason, ultimately, I want a child that thinks for himself and makes good and healthy and safe and loving choices because it's the good, healthy, safe and loving choice to make - not for fear of repercussions from me or in order to 'get' something from me. I want him to make these choices whether I am in the vicinity or not. I'm looking for long term, not short term. This takes a ton of patience and work. It's not easy but, to me, it's more authentic and feels better in my skin than any of the alternatives. So, what do we do?
We talk about everything:
and its not just that I'm so lucky my child is so verbal.
A. I know I am lucky he's so verbal and
B. whether he was verbal or not, I would still talk and explain as much to him as I do now. I already talk to my 3 month old a ton, all the time explaining what we are doing and why and verbalizing what's taking place around him and chatting about how he's feeling and how others around him are feeling and he, certainly, is not verbal. The point is, this process starts long before the child is speaking full sentences. This starts from day 1.
We also role play constantly - here is a recent example:
me: what if somebody grabs a toy right out of your hands? What are the different things that you can you do and what different results will you get with these different choices you make?
Him: "I could scream"
me: yes, that is a choice you could make. i wonder how the other person would feel if you reacted this way?
Him : They would probably be upset and maybe they would yell back.
Me: yes. Usually when someone yells at us, our first reaction is being defensive and yelling back. Why do you think they grabbed the toy in the first place? Do you think because they are mean or bad?
Him: No Mommy. Probably because they just wanted it.
Me: I think you are right. And if they are not bring mean, thats even more if a reason not to scream at them. What do you think another thing you could do besides scream?
Him: Grab it back.
Me: What do you think would happen if you did that?
Him: I might hurt them or they might hurt me.
Me: Do you think grabbing it back is a good idea or a bad idea?
Him: bad idea.
Me: Is there anything else you could do?
Him: I don't know Mommy. Do you know?
Me: I have an idea.
Him: Can you tell me?
Me: Well, I think people grab because they are so excited that sometimes their bodies act before their brains think it through so maybe you could try saying something like, "don't grab. Give that back to me. I was holding that"...
Him: I could say please too Mommy. Me: Yes you could if you wanted to. What if they still don't give it back?
Him: I could tell you Mommy.
Me: Yes. It is perfectly fine to tell a grown up if a child grabs from you and then doesn't listen when you ask them to give it back.
Him: Or Mommy, if it was a little baby and I didn't care much, I could just let them keep it
Me: Yes. That's a choice you could make too because you'd understand they were very little and just didn't know yet...
Rinse, wash, repeat.... And repeat... And repeat...
In the heat of the moment I have learned not to start having a huge intellectual and philosophical discussion with him. If, for instance, a child grabbed a toy from Hart's hand and Hart's reaction was to scream in the child's face or tried to grab the toy back, my first reaction would be to separate him from the child. I'd make eye contact with Hart and I'd reflect his emotion, "you are so upset that the child grabbed from you! That you was in your hand and he encroached in your body and space and took it from you. That feels terrible!!"... I empathize with him first. It's not me against him. That just creates a power struggle. (Plus, when he is overly emotional, he can't hear. understand or process anything I say. I need him first to calm down) "You got so upset that he grabbed from you, so you grabbed your toy back. But, even if a child grabs from us, we never grab. What can we do instead?" He often says, ask for it so I tell him to go ask for it.
Are there days it feels like I wanna pull my hair out? That I feel like a terrible Mom because he's had a meltdown when he didn't get the color blue or he's tried to pick up his baby brother for the 5th time in a row when I've told him not to or when he has been the one grabbing or when all he wants to do is talk about buying poop!!
But when he offers a toy to another child ( which he does all the time and repeatedly without any prompting from me), when he chooses to ask for a child to return a toy that they grabbed (and its crazy how often they actually do when he addresses them kindly and respectfully), when he kisses his baby brother for the 8 millionth time that day and whispers, " ohh baby brother, I love you so, so, so, so much" with absolutely no encouragement or even feedback from me but just because his heart drives him to do it... he's doing all of this because it makes him feel good. He's doing it because he wants to. He's not doing it because he's scared of consequences or because he's going to get a reward if he's nice... This is what I care about.
Long term versus short term.
When I was a teacher I found an experiment I did occasionally very interesting. I would sometimes leave the room for a minute to go down the hall to get something and I would give certain instructions to the children. I would then, unbeknownst to the kids, turn on my phone video camera and leave. I would watch it later and it always fascinated me which kids were doing what. Many of the children, who were very used to punishment and reward systems, would totally disregard what I said as soon as I stepped foot out the door. These were the same kids who worked so hard to get rewards or worked so hard to avoid punishment when I was in the room. But, as soon as those elements(the adult who punishes/rewards them) was not there, there was no internal force driving them to make good choices.
I, ultimately, want Hartly to not run into the street because he recognizes the very real dangers and not because he gets a time out for not holding my hand around the street. This way, I know, if I'm not there, he will be safe around a street. I want him to be kind to other people and children, not for a verbal praise from me but because that's how one feels good about themselves and makes friends and has good relations. That way I'm comfortable when he is left alone with friends.
None of this is easy. But it is so awesome. My heart almost bursts with love and pride when I see him being polite and I witness him being kind and making eye contact and when I watch him struggle over decisions and make the "right" (safe, kind) choice. I know he is doing it because he made an internal decision that felt right to him (all the role playing and talking does stick eventually). But, just like when he learned to roll over and walk and feed himself and become diaper-free - it is not a skill learned overnight. It is a process.
Another cool thing is that Hartly and I do not have power struggles. We disagree sometimes. Hartly will sometimes get mad or sad at choices I have made. But he knows he is free, and encouraged, to voice his feelings, frustrations and emotions. It will not change certain outcomes but I will always listen to him and explain, as best I can, why a certain choice has been made. He trusts me because of our very open communication, so we do not have power struggles. It's pretty awesome.
In regard to his finding poop hysterical... ah well, the thought of buying poop kinda is funny.
And thank you. I am lucky and he is a really awesome and nice kid. But I happen to think all kids are.