Friday, May 25, 2012

Behavior

Sometimes, your kid is THAT kid. Sometimes, they're perfect little angels. The trick, as a parent, is to love them during both times, remembering that they're human: not as bad as their worst moments, and not as good as their best. Managing them during those down times can be challenging and is a topic worth exploring.

This past weekend, my father came to visit. I'm really, really happy about the reception that he got from my children; even The Baby recognized him and warmed up to him quickly. Thank you, Apple and FaceTime, for making sure that my father has been a part of our lives on a regular basis! They "see" him and hear from him several times per week, so they know exactly who he is and how important he is. When he arrived, the kids bounced up and down excitedly for about twenty minutes, wanting to pull him from room to room to show off a precious toy or drawing.



We went out for a nice dinner on Friday night, which was a service and a picnic at Rodef Sholom. The service was an abbreviated one, consisting mostly of songs with a couple of prayers in the middle. Afterwards was a wonderful, wonderful picnic: hot dogs and hamburgers, chips, Italian Ice from Rita's, cake, croquet, "Mike the Balloon Guy", and lots of friends for the kids to pester. The balloon guys were thorough and epic with their constructions, allowing each kids to have as many balloon structures as they desired.






On Saturday, we had a very nice lunch sitting outside at the Eat'n'Park near the Monogahela River. It was nice, particularly since those seats allowed the kids to wander a path along the river while we waited for our food. That night, The Wife, Grandpa, and I sang a three-part quartet for Little Bear at bedtime, and Grandpa read The Boy a story.

That afternoon, I took Grandpa and The Boy to the Hot Diggity Dog Diggity Days Festival in Canonsburg - the town in PA where Perry Como was born. My quartet sang in the afternoon, so I sang while Grandpa and The Boy ate popsicles and watched. Afterwards, The Boy expended some energy on some cool inflatable things, and I ate a sausage sandwich. Dinner back home was bbq style and was followed by much outside time and playing. Sunday morning, we had a nice breakfast at the Bagel Factory, and then we went for a nice walk before Grandpa got into the car and went home. All in all, it was a blissfully boring and uneventful visit.



So, the big trick was managing the children on Saturday at lunchtime. They were a little overtired and overstimulated, and they did not want to sit down for lunch. They were not cooperating, not using any sort of table manners, and starting fights with each other. Even The Baby was crabby and irritable!

What do you do when your kids are misbehaving? The easy trick is to fall back to parenting "standards": yell, scream, threaten, and escalate threats until they're more afraid of you than they are of the consequences. I've seen a parent go from annoying behavior to a month without tv in a heartbeat! Does this describe you, or your parents? It doesn't work, does it? Certainly, it doesn't make a difficult situation easier to manage. Even yesterday morning, I found myself going from an annoying little misbehavior to "no iPad or tv for you today." Talk about the punishment not fitting the crime! Responding to misbehavior with threats and punishments doesn't necessarily teach what we want it to teach.



From a teaching perspective, you only get once, maybe twice, per year where you can yell at your kids and have it mean something. After that, it becomes background noise and part of the game that they play. Once or twice a year, the response is, "Oh, snap... he's lost it. We must have really screwed up." After that, the kids roll their eyes, hide under the desk until the tantrum passes, and plot the next way to bring out the next one. As a parent, then, that translates up a bit - maybe 3 or 4 a year, where you can yell at your kids and actually have them pay attention.



Kids know when their behavior is really off and when you're overreacting to something. There's a different response to the tones of voice - when it's really important, for the most part, they freeze, look at you with wide eyes, and retreat. If it isn't, they'll ignore you and keep doing what they're doing. Of course, there are times when they ignore the important ones, too. They're children. So, how do you deal with an uncooperative child in public without screaming at them or whacking them upside the head?

Great question. I haven't figured it out yet. Neither has The Wife, and she's had more time with them recently. Some days, one technique will work. Other days, it won't. I've found that removing the children from the situation tends to have the most immediate response, but that's not always possible. I don't want to send a message that a little fuss and bother and they'll be taken somewhere to play; but, at times, it's easier to take Little Bear to another place and let him expend his energy.

I think the biggest fallacy in parenting is that every single action must have an immediate and predictable consequence, and it's a parenting failure when you capitulate and let them win a round of misbehavior. It's somehow "wrong" to let your kids act like fools in public, as if it's a reflection of your personality. It's not. Kids are foolish. It's why they're kids. If they were mature and rational and able to think things through, then they wouldn't be children. Frankly, the failure is not in failing to control your children's actions; the failure is in putting them in a situation where failure is the most likely option.

Every action that kids have does not need to have an immediate and predictable consequence. Some surely need to be instant: when your kid makes a dash towards traffic, or the baby approaches an uncovered power outlet, or your toddler starts dancing on top of a glass table, then you'd better move quickly. With that understanding, there aren't too many other things that need an instantaneous and irrevocable response. Taking your kid out of a crowded restaurant so they can run around on the grass is not going to teach them that, 100% of the time, bad behavior gets them the reward (playing) that they desire. Sometimes, they'll willingly stay. Others, they desperately need to get out of the situation and run around.

"But, you need to teach them the real-world consequences of their actions!" I'm not so sure that that argument holds any water. True, if you show up late for work, you'll lose your job, for instance. Let's reframe that: if you show up early, and if you stay late, then your employer is more likely to notice your hard work. Do you want your kid running to their job because they're afraid of losing it, or because they're eager to work hard and show their talents? Subtle difference, true, but an important on


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