So, Sunday night, The Wife and I had a very long, deep discussion about The Boy. The topic of the conversation is probably best summed up by our parenting philosophy: "How can we manage his day-to-day life to put him in the best situation to succeed?" This general, overall philosophy is how we manage crowd control and discipline with the boys: if we are doing our jobs correctly as the grown-up, then we should be able to put our kids in situations that reward them for making good choices, as opposed to punishing the bad choices. Fear of failure and consequences is not the greatest motivator, particularly for someone who inherited awesome stubbornness from both of his parents.
He's been very difficult for The Wife to handle lately. Nothing so awful like physical altercations or abusive situations or things like that: just mouthing off, resisting requests, selective hearing. Typical kid stuff, but not especially usual for our family situation. He's taken off and sprinted away from us a couple of times: once in the JCC (he turned left and ran towards the car instead of joining us turning right and heading for the Eat 'n' Park for lunch) and once from me in K-Mart (where I didn't find him for about 10 minutes, when he finally found me).
So, how do we set expectations for him, to prevent these things from happening? I made the point that neither one of us had specifically stated that he needed to stay close to us. While he is 7 and should be able to follow us without immediate prompting, he's also not a mature 7. We kept him back and started kindergarten a year late for a reason, after all. The Boy is heavily script-based, and if he goes off-script, all heck can break loose. We generally don't have to tell Little Bear (at 5) to stick close to us, but in thinking about it, I frequently call for his hand whenever we leave a general area. I don't WANT to have to continually remind him of something that simple on a repeated basis, but I need to parent the kid I have rather than the ideal kid I imagine.
(Freudian slip - I first typed "I don't WANT to have to continually remind me of something." That's probably more meaningful that one would think.)
Here's what was really nice about the conversation: we were able to have a nice, rational discussion in which we did not necessarily agree with each other's points. However, because our general philosophy was the same, we were able to negotiate a compromise in terms of a plan that might actually work. After all, if one of us had the definitive plan, then that person wouldn't be having issues.
I'm not complaining about The Boy's behavior, believe me. He's a fairly easy kid, all things considered. He's specific and direct, and he likes things set up according to plan. He gets off-track if the plan gets off-track, but that's part of growing up. G-d knows that it took me until my mid-thirties to develop the ability to bounce back quickly. In school, he's an ideal student for his grade level - his personality perfectly matches the expectations of his teachers. So, we don't have much to complain about - however, it's important to keep abreast of things before them become real issues.
This weekend, when I have the kids by myself at my father's house, is going to be a big test. They're going to be around adults with which they're not normally around, and in a permissive environment. There's no REASON to misbehave because everybody around them wants to give them EVERYthing. We'll see what happens.
I do wonder how much other parents talk about their kids - whether they have regular "steer the ship" discussions (like we try to), or whether they wait until there's an issue and try to diagnose and fix things. I'm fairly certain that my parents were of the latter opinion - which worked fine for three of the four of us, mostly because our issues didn't affect schoolwork much.
I think the philosophy of "put your kids in the best situation to make good choices" philosophy is not new. Parents have done that for thousands and thousands of years. I haven't READ that much about it that wasn't written recently, so I'm thinking that stating the philosophy is something relatively new. I hope it's something that catches on. I kind of like disciplining my children without beating them or making them afraid of me.