Saturday, September 18, 2010

Whale Done Parenting

I just started re-reading "Whale Done Parenting," by Ken Blanchard. The basic premise of the book is that children need to be parented just like the killer whales at Seaworld need to be trained: set them up for success, ignoring or redirecting them from negative or unwanted behaviors, and reward successes. Progress towards goal, as Grandma likes to say, is the desired objective. Okay, The Boy might have an accident, but he might have taken himself to the potty four times in a day. Which is more important to acknowledge? And yet, which do we usually spend more time talking about?

This isn't different from most parenting books that we have read here in the Musical household. We've read a lot on the subject, because we're nerds and we're teachers: part of researching our professions is learning how to deal with students, how to deal with children, and how to deal with large numbers of children in a classroom setting. Surprisingly, it's not that different at home; the biggest difference is that you're dealing with the same kids for years and years instead of for a period or three per day for a school year. "Teaching with Love & Logic" and "Parenting with Love & Logic" comes to the same conclusions.

"That would never work with my kid," we all say. "My kid has special circumstances." You know something? You're right. Every kid has special circumstances, usually known as a "personality." That's not meant to be overly sarcastic, it's the truth. Statistics can be kept and studied and are awesome predictors of large groups of people in similar settings. Run a Google search for when children learn to walk, and results of "11 to 14 months" show up. What does that mean? Well, Younger Bro was walking around 13.5 months, and The Boy was walking around 16 months or so. One is relatively normal, one is physically behind the curve. That's not the point. The point is to find a general set of principles that can be adapted to one's peculiar situation.

Here's what I know about my older son: he seems, personality wise, to be a mini-me. He will NOT do something until he's damn good and ready to do it, come hell or high water. He will actively do the opposite to spite you, if he doesn't feel like doing it. He can be mean, cruel, and vindictive when a person tries to force him to do something. He won't sit still for anybody, unless it's for a reason that meets his approval. Same as me, although I usually manage to mask my mean and cruel spirit (not always, just ask my wife about Tuesday night - but that's a story for another time, and something I regret). He didn't walk until he felt motivated and comfortable to do it. He eats whatever food he's motivated to eat, and he won't even tolerate any other food touching his plate. He'll read the stories he wants to read ONLY, without even considering or staying in the room for other stories. He will only sit and watch the shows he wants to watch, although he'll tolerate baseball on television grudgingly and complainingly. (Is that a word?)

In short: my son is a killer whale, just a few tons lighter.

So, how does one deal with him? Carefully. The Whale Done! principles really and truly apply to him. Put him in a position to succeed; ignore or redirect failure; and reward successes. Badgering him about going to the potty is not going to help, and forcing him to go to the potty is only going to result in poop on the floor in spite. Reminding him about the potty is never a bad thing, but it's not a consistent recipe for success. So, put him in a position to succeed: "The Boy, after this show / puzzle / song, we'll wait to watch the next one until you go potty." "I not need to go potty! I not!" "Okay, that's fine. We'll just wait until you go." "Oh! I go potty!"

It's not your idea, it's his idea. There's no judgment, there's no force involved, there's no arbitrary time limit set. If he doesn't have to go, he'll give it a try, and then we'll still put the show / puzzle on. If he tries to go to a new puzzle or new show or whatever, we'll do the same thing: "The Boy, we'll do that after you go potty, okay?" It's redirecting him to what he needs to do.

Heck, last night, he took himself to the potty about seven times from 7:00 until 9:00, because he REALLY wanted jelly beans. He only went three or four times (tiny bladder, donchewknow), but he really wanted those sugary little treats. I didn't push the jelly beans, but I let him earn them according to his pace. Therefore, no accidents. This morning? Similar, using his puzzle and the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. "We'll play puzzle after you go potty, okay?"

I don't necessarily advocate one method of parenting over another. I try not to say, "This is how you do it," because I'm not you. I don't have your kids, your spouse / mate, your parental issues, your personal issues, your life; you surely don't want mine! But, with my older son, this is the only thing that works. I know that it's a heck of a lot easier to make the big fuss and have the big conversations about the negative stuff: the accidents, the "Stop it stop it stop it!" he says in defiance, or when he pushes his brother or takes a toy from him (or tries to take it and fails, as often as not). Lord knows that I try to follow those general principles as much as I can: complimenting him on his good manners, ignoring rude (non-please) requests until he adds the please, redirecting "stop it stop it stop it" defiance, making a huge fuss over successful potty visits and keeping silent during accident clean-up, and similar behaviors. It's not enough; I think I'm around 60-40 positive-negative, which is better than average but not where I want to be.

What about you? What do you think?

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